Family Roundabout

Another great title re-issued by Persephone! Richmal Crompton gets added to my list of people to read more of, especially as I closed the book with a laugh, reading how Mrs. Fowler teases her old adversary, Mrs. Willoughby, on the eve of her 70th birthday, about how she’d like to “encourage” the baker’s man to make eyes at her.

Mrs. Fowler is a great character—we open with her sitting in a shabby wicker chair in 1920, six years into widowhood, recognizing that she had stifled her intelligence in her marriage to become a replica of her husband’s mother, self-effacing, ready to defer to his judgement, essentially becoming “Milly” and biting her comments that Millicent would say. Her children only know her as Milly, and Millicent comes forth at odd moments, surprising them all, like at the end as she sasses Willoughby.

Having five children seems to be the British norm of this period, and Milly’s are: Matthew, Peter, Anice, Helen, and Judy. Widow Willoughby’s are: Max, Florence, Gertrude, Oliver, and Cynthia. Helen marries Max, uniting the families. Matthew’s away in Kenya; Peter has made a terrible match in Belle who throws fits and tosses him into the arms of their child’s nurse, Rachel; Anice is horribly jealous of Helen, who’s been more beautiful and now more rich than she is; Judy waits years for Oliver to escape from his mother’s clutches before chucking it and marrying an older writer who gives her entrance into London circles.