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Storm Jameson, Love in Winter – TLS

29/01/2010

Storm Jameson’s first trilogy was based on her Whitby ship-building family, ruled by Mary Hervey, a Victorian battle-axe possessed of great self-assurance and – unusual for a woman of the time – power. Her second, Mirror in the Darkness, places her stormy granddaughter centre stage, but as part of the generation who have come through the barbarism of the First World War, the younger Hervey is a more ambivalent figure. With many of the men she encounters wounded in war – and now wary of manhood – she struggles to make sense of her life as a woman and writer.

In Love in Winter, the middle part of this later trilogy (Jameson wrote an astonishing 45 novels) Hervey is in awe of her grandmother, who “would have gone to prison rather than hold her tongue”, but tells herself that to capture the man she desires, she must be quiet, “hoping that if she kept still he would not notice anything”. She is equally divided between pride in her family’s business and the knowledge that its drive to power has led to the disasters of war, imperialism, and a humiliated workforce.

 Love in Winter, like most of Jameson’s writing, a self-descriptive work, was published in 1935 but looks back to an earlier self in the Twenties. There is a reflexiveness caused by this autobiographical time-lag (complicated further for those who have read her parallel memoir, Journey from the North, or later novels featuring Hervey), but this is managed without textual irony or vertiginy. Like Jameson, Hervey wants to write unfussy prose, and of the kind Engels prescribed, achieving realism by presenting a world in total. So the novel’s large, improbably connected cast links Hervey to bankers, businessmen, politicians, writers, scientists, union representatives and factory workers, as well as the destitute and children living in infested basements.

Even more ambitiously, Jameson extends Engels’s ‘whole picture’ to the realm of the individual: Hervey aims to “record every item in the tale of mistakes, joys, cruelties, and simple meannesses that make up our dealings with one another, then to write down the total…” And Love in Winter does achieve a global portrait of sorts, one produced by accumulation of information and honesty to the truth of the matter – as far as the narrator can tell it, which is not entirely – so there are blind spots, oddnesses, middling feelings, and a sense of life happening rather than narrative racing forward to a pre-determined end.

This review appeared in the TLS on 29.1.2010.

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