Entries in Joyce Allingham (2)


Joyce Allingham (in a dinghy)

New Bottle Street Gazette out. Includes my little piece abut Joyce - cameo in the Salt-Stained Book (click here)


Those hatless girls

In 1975 Joyce Allingham cut and re-shaped the text of her sister Margery’s The White Cottage Mystery for re-publication by Chatto and Penguin. Such was the influence of the Penguin edition that Joyce’s version has become unquestioningly accepted. While it was quite normal in the Allingham family for relatives to work on one another’s texts (eg Margery herself editing her brother Phil’s Cheapjack) Joyce’s abridgement, looked at today, does Margery few favours.

Barry Pike has recently loaned me the Jarrold’s Jackdaw library paperback from 1938 in which the 1928 text is reprinted without alteration. It’s a very much more enjoyable read than the standard Penguin edition. A brief comparison between the texts indicates that Joyce was attempting to make The White Cottage Mystery pacier and more up to date. To this end she cuts several passages of reflective dialogue and whole paragraphs of description. Thus we no longer share Jerry Challoner’s regret at the lines of new red and white villas dotted along the main road as he approaches the village where the White Cottage is situated. ‘The whole of East Anglia was becoming a vast suburbia,’ he reflects,  ‘wagging his head over the desecration.’ While one can understand Joyce, in 1975, feeling that this notion has been superseded by the post WW2 building boom, much of the interest in reading Margery’s first novel in the detective ‘box’ is noting how much contemporary observation she is already choosing to include. When Jerry Challoner arrives in Mentone (where Margery and Pip had spent their honey moon in 1927) he is enchanted by ‘the crazy carriers carts from the mountains with their noisy villainous-looking drivers, the hatless girls with their marvellous coiffures …’  Joyce removes the adjective ‘hatless’: in 1975 it was hardly surprising to see girls without hats. Clarry Gale’s tie is no longer ‘a disgrace to the race of tie-makers generally’ (because we don’t expect ties to be handmade) and Norah Bayliss is silently divested of her ‘gown’.

Joyce Allingham was a much more widely travelled person than her sister but Margery’s loyal admirers may regret that she was quite so fierce blue-pencilling what is a rare glimpse of Allingham Abroad. Margery’s impression of Mentone was colourful and probably naïve. I enjoyed seeing it through her 1920s tourist eyes: ‘the quaint old border village that has in it at once such magnificence and such squalor’, the combination of ‘sleek motor cars and strange old canopied victories from the station’ which bring ‘new arrivals to this coast of pleasure’, the breeze-blown ‘jabber and laughter of a foreign town.’

 ‘Jabber’ is not a word we feel comfortable with today when describing foreign-language speakers and there are other places in the WCM when Joyce quietly makes the text more politically acceptable.  ‘The study of peasant peculiarities’ is no longer W.T. Challoner’s ‘dearest hobby’ and ‘Clarry Gale’s expression of surprise was so innocent that it would have aroused the suspicions of a village policemen’ is taken out as a joke too far. Cutting the over-use of the adjective ‘revolting’ when applied to Clarry and some of the frequent generalisations about women’s nature (‘W.T. knew that, woman-like, she had followed his argument but was still not convinced’) may reduce the our opportunities to damn Margery as snobbish or sexist but, in my view, the reader of 1920s detective fiction should be savvy enough to know that it’s in for a penny, in for a pound. And that’s counting in Old Money. *

* (where for those too young to remember there were 240d to £1, not the paltry 100p)