Not that I need prompting from other readers to pick up a book from my reading pile or anything, but it seems to happen more and more lately. I have Simon at Stuck in a Book to thank for the (once again) gentle nudge to pick up Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. One of my undeclared goals this year is to read more of the Persephones I have in my TBR pile, and a number of them have I accumulated. And what better place than to start with a novella (I think this is going to be my year of reading novellas).
I went into the story knowing next to nothing about either it or Julia Strachey, but seeing the movie trailer brought a smile to my face and raised goosebumps on the back of my neck. Yes, I do love these sorts of stories. It has promise I thought. So it was with much anticipation that I cracked open my copy and began reading. I must admit, however, that I had been warned that is an unusual story and from the reviews I've seen of the book (and film), it has received very mixed reactions.
So. Julia Strachey. She was married to Lytton Strachey's (of Bloomsbury Group fame) older brother. She herself was born in India but spent most of her life in England. She worked as a model, a photographer and a publisher's reader before she began writing novels, of which there seem to be only a handful. In the preface to the Persephone edition written by diarist Frances Partridge (who was her good friend), this caught my eye.
"Julia was unfortunately a misfit in life. She expected a great deal of attention from men and was very flirtatious, yet she was aloof."
"Her behaviour may have been because she was abandoned by her parents. After she was five she saw her mother only very occasionally; she had a son but Julia only met him once. There is a story about Julia's father running into her mother, who was called Ruby, and saying 'Oh, Ruby, you've done very well for yourself, how many husbands have you had? Is it three?' 'Four Oliver, four'."
That goes a small way (for me anyway) for explaining the quirkiness of the story. It is quirky, and despite being the story of a young woman's wedding, it's bittersweet and slightly melancholic. The story takes place over the course of only one day, really maybe even a few hours. For me, though, Strachey perfectly captures the mood of this unusual (maybe they're really not all that unusual) family as they prepare for the ceremony, which happens off stage. It's what's going on behind the scenes that the story concerns itself with. And Strachey teases out the little mysteries, hidden emotions and secrets that make the story so memorable with an ending that is something of a shocker.
After having read the story I can see why it was made into a film (which I am happy to see that Amazon is streaming, so I'll be watching it very soon) as there is a cinematic quality to it. Strachey so artfully moves from scene to scene, person to person creating a wonderful tableau filled with longing and hopefulness, desire and disorder. All sorts of things some of which you might associate with a wedding and some not.
Cheerful weather for the wedding isn't exactly what you think it is. Dolly Thatcham, twenty-three, is marrying the Hon. Owen Bingham and directly after they're departing for South America as he is in the Diplomatic Service. For Mrs. Thatcham cheerful weather doesn't necessarily mean warm and sunny, especially since on this wedding day it seems to be blowing almost a gale, rather cheerful weather is a clear day where you can see all the way into the next county. The wedding is being held in the Thatcham's country home and it's bedlam. Dolly's young cousins are chasing each other about arguing over a pair of emerald green socks that the one is wearing to the other's consternation (and great embarrassment if their schoolfriends will see), more than one guest seems to be occupying the same best guest room, the bride is taking nips from a bottle of rum (or a bottle of something anyway), and a young man sits waiting for Dolly with flowers in hand. The question is--is Dolly making a mistake? Does she really love Owen or someone else?
I really enjoyed Cheerful Weather for a Wedding. It's filled with wry humor and whimsy even if it's perhaps a little sobering, too. For me, a perfect little slice of life. The Persephone group at Goodreads is planning on reading Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary for February and I am contemplating joining in (have already pulled out my copy). And now I am wondering if I should look for Julia Strachey's other books as well?