Written in 1920, Tension is set in the Commercial and Technical College for the South-West of England and about the appointment of a new Lady Superintendent, Miss Marchrose. Mark Easter whose wife is in a ‘home for inebriates’ , also works at the college and lives with his two unruly children in a villa near Sir Julian, the chairman of the college and his wife Lady Edna Rossiter. Mark is a handsome, sociable, easy going sort and quickly befriends Miss Marchrose, but Lady Rossiter is sure that this is the same Miss Marchrose that some years ago, jilted her invalided cousin.

Mark Easter’s children are wonderfully real. Squabbling, crying and always sticky they interrupt and disturb without a thought and the book opens with the exasperation of Sir and Lady Rossiter as they try to manage the two urchins who burst in on their breakfast to declare that their aunt has written a book: ‘Why Ben! A Story of the Sexes.’ The scene is fun, farcical and full of humour but from this light beginning the tension grows until I wasn’t squirming (as the preface said I might) but tied in a tight knot of outrage at the gossip and bullying, incredulous to what was being said and aghast at what wasn’t.

Lady Rossiter believes she’s a creature of nature, in touch with her feelings and those of the dear little people that work for a living at the college, living by the maxim ‘is it kind, is it wise, is it true?’ She is utterly appalling. When Aunt Iris Easter arrives on the scene fresh from the publication of her book, she is shocking and modern in her views on free love, but happily arranging her very traditional wedding. When her fiancee asks her about her next book, which will be written with the maturity of a women with ‘deeper experience’ Iris looks

as though she were undecided whether to blush or to look extremely modern and detached’

I expect she blushed, because like Lady Rossiter tradition is everything. And that’s the problem with Miss Marchrose, she really is a modern, and prepared to upset the apple cart.

Edna Rossiter has a keen sense of proprietary over the college, ‘her little family’ , and in particular kind, jovial Mark who she calls by his christian name, touching his arm in conversation. That Miss Marchrose, who is popular with the staff and works successfully for her living might be in a position to have an affair with Mark offends her to her core. This is a different approach to relationships and it undermines her belief that reputation and society are everything. And she’s incredibly jealous, she always thought Mark was hers – she can even admire his chivalry while Miss Marchrose is ‘that unfortunate courtesan’ . It takes Sir Rossiter to point out that it takes two to have an affair!

I hadn’t read anything by Delafield before this and I’m so glad to have finally made the discovery. I completely believed in her characters and while the humour was always present (and I laughed a lot!) it didn’t mask the cruelty of office gossip and slander. This was also my first read from the British Library Women Writers series, which I’ve been wanting to read for ages and it didn’t disappoint. Having some factual notes on the 1920″s and the literary notes from Simon Thomas in the afterword added to my understanding of the era and made it easier to see Tension as a novel of its time.

24 thoughts on “Tension

  1. I think it was a good move to familiarise yourself with what life was like in the 20s. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before reading a book from so long ago. It’s also very strange to think that others in the future will be doing the same, to learn about the times we’re living in right now. 😳😁
    I too find myself intrigued by the young rascals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hurrah for your introduction to Delafield and to the BL series! So glad you found lots to like in this one – and enjoyed the humour as well as the darker side to it. I think it’s hilarious, but not everyone has seen that angle.

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  3. I loved Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady books, which I devoured in one large chunk a few years ago. The humour you’ve mentioned is very much in evidence there too, but if anything this sounds sharper and more barbed. What larks!

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  4. I normally avoid things called “women’s fiction” like the plague, but this one intrigues me. Delafield occasionally turns up in vintage mystery anthologies and is always good. She was friends with Anthony Berkeley, one of the most successful mystery writers of his day, and apparently they each dedicated one of their books to the other. You may have persuaded me to read this one, and if I become addicted to another BL series as a result, I will hold you personally responsible!

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    1. I remember that you don’t like ‘domestic’ fiction but this is very funny and there’s nothing cosy about it, it’s also interesting looking at office life in the 1920’s! I’m working on your tbr!!

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  5. I am not a fan of satire as you know but Delafield seems to have the ability to satirize in just the right way. The Provincial Lady series are brilliant in how they send up the ernestness (and confusion) of women wanting to do their and this book sounds every bit as good. I think she’s a very under-rated author. That said, I’ve still not managed to read anything else by her which is a travesty. And I’ve wanted to try the BL series since its inception so thank you, Jane! You’ve inspired me to finally get started on the series with this one 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d wanted to get started on this series too as soon as I saw it! I hesitated over calling this satire (and chose not to) it seemed to raw – give it a read, I’m very interested in your comments, and I’m looking forward to The Provincial Lady, I think it will be gentler than this.

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      1. I hesitated over the ward satire too, Jane. But a quick look online confirms there are articles referencing Delafield and satire which I must find time to look at. I think you will find The Provincial Lady a gentler read. It’s very funny 😊

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  6. I like that there is a lot of humour to counteract the appalling characters! 🙂 Interesting what you say about the cruelty of office gossip and slander – maybe that is another topic which keep being relevant in classics.

    Liked by 1 person

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