Writers Dining with Other Writers: Storm Jameson’s “The Road from the Monument”

Storm Jameson

Years ago, I wrote a local newsletter called A Few Green Leaves. The concept was simple: I selected an out-of-print writer, wrote a brief biography of him or her, and reviewed one or two of her books.

The subject for my first issue was the English writer Storm Jameson (1891- 1986). No one seems to read her anymore, but she is very good. She was born in in North Yorkshire, educated at University of Leeds and King’s College London, active in leftist politics, and wrote 45 novels and numerous reviews to make a living. Her style is seemingly effortless rather than elegant, her plots elaborate, her characters complex, her point-of-view unflinching, and her novels consistently workmanlike and fascinating.

I recently read Jameson’s forgotten 1962 novel, The Road from the Monument, a brilliant page-turner which is (or was) available as an e-book from Bloomsbury Reader. If you are curious about the gossip of bitchy writers, you will adore Jameson’s characters, some of whom struggle, others of whom do well, and still others are jealous of anyone who succeeds.

At the center is a successful writer, Gregory Mott, who is charming, handsome, talented, and very smug, as his bitter invalid wife has learned over the years. The son of an impoverished sea captain, he grew up in poverty. Now, in addition to being a critically-acclaimed writer, he is the director of the Rutley Institute of Arts, and has enormous prestige in the literary world.

Much of the book is told from the point-of-view of other writers, who have decidedly mixed feelings about Gregory, but we also hear from his friends and his wife.

The first chapter is told from the perspective of seventy-year-old Paul Gate, Gregory’s former teacher. Paul was the lowest-paid teacher at the school because he never passed the education exams. He thought so highly of Gregory that he paid the fees for Gregory’s university education. Paul went hungry and lived in a hovel so he could support the brilliant boy. And as the years go by, he is delighted to receive occasional letters from Gregory and read his books, and does not expect to see him.

Finally Paul receives a dinner invitation and will be reunited with his favorite pupil in London. But Paul is shocked by Gregory’s selfishness and what he deems as immorality: he jokes about religion. And he is devastated when Gregory carelessly asserts that he regrets not having gone to Oxford. He realizes Gregory was not who he’d thought he was. And later, Gregory carelessly tells a school friend that he was sure Paul had money or he wouldn’t have paid the tuition.

Most of the characters are writers, and Gregory’s most loyal friend, Lambert Corry, a failed novelist, is the deputy director at the Institute. Lambert is bitter because Gregory gets the credit for the work that Lambert does. He does not understand that Gregory is the idea man. Lambert’s wife lambastes Gregory at her dinner parties while at the same time promoting her latest, not always talented, young proteges. Lambert is pleased by her vituperation of the golden boy, though he always defends Gregory.

Harriet, Gregory’s former mistress, still loves him but knows his faults. One of them is vanity: she knows despairingly that he is better-looking than she, and that was one of the reasons he did not marry her. His wife, Beatrice, also had money. Harriet is a writer, but the critics don’t like her, and she has been grinding out mediocre books for decades to pay the bills. Now she is tired. And I can only imagine that many novelists feel like this when they must go on and on because they have no savings.

She reflected lucidly that she was paying now, in her fiftieth year, for not having made herself any allies. After all these years of hard and on the whole honest work, she was back exactly where she started as a very young woman, without security, without money, and with fast-diminishing energy —she was strong but she had used herself mercilessly hard. An unworldly fool. A freak who does not even amuse. She did not know how to talk to people, she could not make herself respected: no one, not the weakest or youngest, had any reason to fear her —and so no reason to help her.

Gregory finally makes an error that threatens everything he has. But I won’t give away the plot.

I realized while I was writing this that religion plays a big part in this book.

Id you want to read Jameson and can’t find The Road from the Monument, there are many used copies of her Mirror in Darkness trilogy, which consists of Company Parade (1934), Love in Winter (1935), and None Turn Back (1936).