Ada Leverson’s delightful, feather-light novels are a blend of Saki-like epigrams with the saucy rebellion of Elizabeth von Arnim’s heroines. I read Leverson, best known for the entertaining trilogy, The Little Ottleys, when I need comfort.
Much to my surprise and pleasure, I recently discovered her first novel, The Twelfth Hour (1907), which is as charming as her later efforts. And the plot is hilarious, centering on the romantic problems of three siblings.
Leverson raises the question, Why is love so difficult? If you’re with the right person, how can you be unhappy? But the Crofton siblings all have romantic troubles. Felicity is married to the ideal man, Lord Chetwode, but he is never home: he is at the races or searching for antiques in distant counties. And people have started to notice his absence. She becomes susceptible to the attentions of Bertie Wilton, who is always there, unlike Chetwode.
Felicity’s younger sister Sylvia is engaged to Woodville, her father’s secretary, but she hasn’t told her father, who wants her to marry a middle-aged millionaire. Woodville is miserable, but Sylvia insists they wait till her twenty-first birthday. And I must admit, Sylvia can be irritating: she is utterly unconscious of Woodville’s feelings.
Thank God for Savile, their younger brother, who is as wise about their loves as he is silly about his own (he is still at school but in love with an opera singer). He manages his sisters’ relationships beautifully, and I’m astonished by his clever negotiations.
You have to read Leverson’s dialogue to get to know her. Here is an example of Felicity and Savile.
“Look here, Felicity, I want to speak to you.”
“Does Chetwode know what’s going to win the Cambridgeshire?”
“How can he know, darling? Would it be fair? Of course he has some vague idea. Candid friend he said was the favorite. He says it’s a certainty. But his certainties!…”
Lovely and fun– a bon-bon of a book!
By the way, this is the Walmer paperback edition. The publisher Michael Walmer reissues out-of-print books of the kind many of us enjoy (rather like Viragos and Persephones). I bought this online, and I must say, it is a much nicer paperback than the one I found of Bird of Paradise, which I read last winter. I wrote about Bird here.