Mr Charles Curtis, eldest son, rode there and back upon a grey mare, day in, day out, during the prolonged period of his prime; at the last, clad in lavender-grey frock-coat and top-hat, every inch Mayor of Tulverton, he brimmed daily to and from the office within the dignified compass of a brougham. Moving with the times, his son Charles James covered the distance upon a bicycle. Perhaps his only son James Charles will drive there in a motor car. But times are changing. It is the year 1920; and James, last fruit of a late marriage, is but seven years old.
Earlier this year I picked up The Weather in the Streets not knowing that it was a sequel to Invitation to the Waltz. Having loved my first encounter of Rosamond Lehmann’s writing, I decided to give Invitation to the Waltz a chance, too.
This is where we first meet Olivia Curtis. It is the morning of Olivia’s 17th birthday and it is a quarter to nine:
Another five minutes, thought Olivia, and shut her eyes. Not to fall asleep again; but to go back as it were and do the thing gradually – detach oneself softly, float up serenely from the clinging delectable fringes. Oh, heavenly sleep! Why must one cast it from one, all unprepared, unwilling? Caught out again by Kate in the very act! You’re not trying, you could wake up if you wanted to: that was their attitude. And regularly one began the day convicted of inferiority, of a sluggish voluptuous nature, seriously lacking in will-power. After I’m married I shall stay in bed as long as I want to. Girls often marry at my age. Seventeen to-day.
I was hesitant about Invitation to the Waltz because I feared that I would not enjoy the book. I dislike coming-of-age stories and detest romance novels, and Invitation to the Waltz looked like it might combine the two.
The cover is horrible because it makes the book look like an average chick-lit read that I could not possibly take seriously.
Besides, I had already read the sequel and knew what was going to happen to the main character.
The cover does Lehmann a disservice. And I take back every doubt and every hesitation I may have ever had about this book.
Invitation to the Waltz was charming and funny and sincere.
What this story really was, was a Jane Austen novel set in modern times (at the time of publication in 1932). And to my surprise, one of the feared plots never even came to pass!
I loved seeing Olivia as a teenager and finding out where she came from. The interaction between her and the other characters was fantastic. I really felt for her and her sister, especially when they get to the dance.
The Weather in the Streets is set 10 years after this one and a lot more grown up, but it takes up some of the thougths that are alluded to in Invitation to the Waltz. I say alluded to because that is all that Lehmann could do when writing about a 17-year-old girl, who’s just gone to her first dance and has just met her first drunk person.
Both are fun but are very different.
What is even better is that I really enjoyed the other characters and the way that Lehmann wrote this story of Olivia’s first dance without getting sucked into the inner life a 17-year-old. Sure, there are some insecurities and naiveties, but Olivia is very circumspect in her observations of people, and she is very kind and honest towards the people she interacts with. I think she would have been fun to know.
And of course we also meet Rollo:
“Do dance with Rollo! … Rollo superb in his pink coat, tall, ruddy, chestnut-haired, commanding, surrounded by his companions, every inch the only son of the house … But one let oneself be beguiled.”
It confirms my impression from reading The Weather in the Streets that Rosamond Lehmann was a fab writer and that I must read her other books.
They were so kind. This was what real people were like after all, just as she had always imagined; not sinister, inexplicable, but friendly and simple, accepting one pleasantly, with humour but without malice, without condescension, criticism or caresses. How extraordinary to be here with them; from being outcast, flung beyond the furthest rim, to have penetrated suddenly to the innermost core of the house, to be in their home. The dancing, the people beyond were nothing, a froth on the surface, soon to be blown away. This, that she felt as she stood between them, was the reality about the house: kindness, tolerance, courtesy, family pride and affection.