Marry In Haste, Repent At Leisure Sophia Is Twenty One Years Old, Carries A Newt Great Warty Around In Her Pocket And Marries In Haste A Young Artist Called Charles Swept Into Bohemian London Of The Thirties, Sophia Is Ill Equipped To Cope Poverty, Babies However Much Loved And Her Husband Conspire To Torment Her Hoping To Add Some Spice To Her Life, Sophia Takes Up With The Dismal, Ageing Art Critic, Peregrine, And Learns To Repent Her Marriage And Her Affair At Leisure But In This Case Virtue Is Than Its Own Reward, For Repentance Brings An Abrupt End To A Life Of Unpaid Bills, Unsold Pictures And Unwashed Crockery I love these Virago Modern Classic books Anytime I see these distinctive green or black spines with beautiful artwork on their covers at book sales, I pick them up without looking at the titles, because I already know how good they ll be By women authors sometimes long out of print, they are rescued by Virago and brought back into circulation for a new generation Novels by women, about women, of all ages and walks of life I haven t read one yet I didn t like.From a note by the author on the title page The only things true in this story are the wedding and Chapters 10, 11 and 12 and the poverty Those chapters are about the birth of her first child in a charity hospital, which must have been a godawful place in the 1930 s in London The poverty was because her stupid, childish, selfish husband refused to work to support his family, because he devoted himself to his art This story has a happy, storybook ending, which we know from the first paragraph, but the journey to get us there is special because of the voice of Sophia, a naive young girl who believes that love is all you need, but comes to find out that s not quite true She is so funny and eccentric and honest that you want to leap into the pages to save her from herself This goes back on to my Virago shelf, with its sisters, to maybe be re read at some future date, but if not, then just to give me satisfaction when I see it sitting there. Read entirely aloud over Skype with Maya while we re on different continents Probably the slightest of Comyns novels I ve come across yet but it s just her second Even so, she has such a perfect yet completely unaffected and conversational turn of phrase that she s always a pleasure Plus Social realism the precise details of class and place and social atmosphere in depression era England are spot on and create a vivid portrait She crams the pages with perfect particulars Right down to the title.Social surrealism and as with Comyns best works, things can get nonchalantly weird and horrific, blindsiding the reader and then going on as if nothing much had happened.And through those details, those structural rhythms, Comyns has a kind of social purpose Not exactly feminist here as the narrator wouldn t have possibly considered things on those terms, but her strength of character, and Comyns , draw attention to subtle, and not so subtle, realities and gender politics in a constant undercurrent Now if only the protagonist had been able to make her own way out of her troubles an not required the neat ending that this reaches, but again, such was likely outside her the character s, not Comyns imagination in those times. One of my pet hates and my followers will know this is a writer who writes outside their characters sensibilities For instance, we think we know a character but then the author uses observations, allusions and metaphors beyond that character s thought processes Thankfully this isn t the case with the very quirky and unconventional Our Spoons Came From Woolworths.Sophia is a young commercial artist who marries, in haste, an artist called Charles The novel begins quite simply I told Helen my story and she went home and cried Most of the novel is narrated in this matter of fact way, yet by concentrating on often incongruent details, Comyns brings what must be an early example of magic realism to the book Then the morning came and it was light There were half packed suitcases all around my bed The posters that had disguised the ugly wallpaper were lying about in long white scrolls Great Warty looked at me from his glass house, so I took him out and let him walk up my arm until he fell in the bed, then I made tunnels out of the bedclothes for him to walk slowly through and he looked prehistoric Wonderful When Sophia talks about what happens to her as she goes into labour, we realise as readers in the 21st century , the deplorable state of affairs of maternity wards in the 1930s She is not only treated with rudeness and an uncaring attitude but she is forced to carry her suitcase from one ward room to another whilst in the early stages of labour It is not in Sophia s nature to question this and be appalled at the system, nor later to really question her husband s selfish attitude towards her and the children It s just the way things are As a reader I couldn t help enjoy Sophia s take on life, especially her sojourn in the country, and applaud Comyns for her originality Highly recommended Things one dreads usually are it s only the things we look forward to that go all wrong There seemed no point in being good or bad everything was so dreadful in any case At times, sad and pessimistic, and at others, quirky, comical and entertaining, Comyn s Spoons was my introduction to her work I m not entirely sure if I appreciated this as much as many have on here due to reading it in small doses on a long flight to and from a very distant location, but as I rated this a 3 , I can say that I m not turned off by her writing and she was in my opinion better at story telling than writing, and that s why I gave it a higher rating than I initially felt.Not bad, but I didn t always feel like it was worth completing Something to pass the time. I was quickly drawn into this strange novel It is narrated by Sophia in her youthful, passive voice She meets a man called Charles on a train, they are both carrying artists portfolios, and they soon decide to marry We are given an insight into the life of 1930 s bohemian London and their personal decline into financial despair and poverty Sophia and Charles marry in haste and live a chaotic and ungrounded life It is written in a chatty, conversational way as she describes happy and sad events There is an isolated feel to her words as she struggles to understand her new life The novel touches on a variety of themes including marriage and love, happiness and fulfilment It is not as grim as it sounds and there are uplifting, amusing, loving moments too Sophia gains in experience and grows into a young, optimistic woman It is a very quirky book written in quite a unique style but I found it an intriguing and gripping one. Published in 1950, Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is told in the first person by Sophia Fairclough, who meets and marries Charles in the beginning of the book Her winsome, stream of consciousness narrative is misleading the early part of the book beguiles the reader into thinking that this is a piece of cheery, lively fiction about a young married couple starting their lives Charles is an artist, with firmly middle class roots Sophia is parentless, with a couple of rather uncaring siblings The book is set in the 1930 s, during the global depression between the two wars.That sense of optimism rapidly devolves into something akin to horror Sophia conceives, and having never received even the tiniest bit of education about the reproduction process, is surprised She believed that just wishing to NOT have a baby would work to counteract conception No one is happy about this baby they are too young and too poor and no one is willing to see Charles clearly for what he is.Which is a dead loss as a human being He, initially, lives off of Sophia, his father having stopped his allowance once he married Sophia is working at a commercial studio, and is fired once she has to admit she is pregnant Her sense of pride prevents her from admitting that this is a terrible hardship Even after she is let go, Charles does nothing to try to contribute the family coffers.His family is terrible, blaming Sophia both for the pregnancy, as though she managed that on her own, and for interfering with his ability to develop his great artistic talent Everyone, including Sophia, seems to accept that it is Sophia s responsibility to keep the young couple in food and housing This is infuriating, because it literally never seems to occur to anyone that a man should not allow his wife and child to starve, especially during a time period which does not allow pregnant women young mothers of Sophia s class to work.The chapters that address the birth of Sophia s son, Sandro, are harrowing Comyns describes the process of labor in a charity hospital in both explicit and horrifying detail She is dragged from room to room, never told what to expect, and subjected to the most awful indignities, and once the birth is over, her son is removed to the infant room and she doesn t see him for two days.It actually gets worse from here Her marriage is a disaster, her husband is a loser, and their extended family is completely blind to the poverty and hunger that she suffers Through it all, Sophia s voice remains mostly optimistic and always convincing.This is, or less, a book about poverty about how it grinds and about the experience of being completely powerless due to structural inequalities, such as male supremacy and class based oppression Reading it pissed me off, I was so angry at everyone Charles, for being such an irredeemable asshole Charles s family for being so monstrously uncaring, and, even, Sophia, for not seeming to find her situation as intolerable as I did She was so captive to her own circumstances that it seemingly never occurred to her that she should ve been able to expect from her husband and family There is one briefly satisfying moment when she loses her temper She has started a new job and has to walk to work because there is no money in the house Charles promises to bring her some money in time for lunch, but he blows her off When it comes time to leave I waited to see if he would come fetch me, but again he failed me, so I had to walk home, getting and hungry on the way, and angry too When I arrived home, I saw Charles through the uncurtained window He was sitting reading with a tray of tea things beside him He looked so comfortable, I became even angry, and dashed in like a whirlwind and picked up a chair and hit him with it Even then, though, Sophia is made to feel that she is in the wrong I was ashamed of myself, too, but felt too tired to apologize, so just went to bed and wished I was dead It took me some significant contemplation yesterday to figure out why I had such an emotional response to this book, and it was only after I admitted to myself that I felt a strong sympathy for Sophia based upon a bit of my personal history that it made sense When I was 21, I married my own Charles a man who was just fine with living off of me while he attended and ultimately failed to graduate from law school, as I worked full time and went to college to support us.After I graduated from undergraduate, I applied to and was accepted to law school and left the city where I had done my undergrad My husband was, originally, supposed to move with me, but he had mucked up his final year in law school badly and had to complete an additional term, so I went alone Back then, first year law students had to sign a contract that they couldn t work Our agreement was that he would get a job and send me money for food I needed that money to eat.I had a scholarship to cover my tuition, and some of my rent, and I had some savings, but I was wary of running out of money My entire financial house of cards was built on getting a little bit of money from my husband, a couple of hundred dollars a month, who hadn t worked during our entire marriage, but who was able to work because he only had a couple of classes to finish that term.He sent me one check It bounced I had never experienced hunger before, and like Sophia, I was far too proud to tell anyone how broke I was In retrospect, that is such an act of callousness that I would have been than justified in ending the marriage I didn t I took a few things that I could scrape together and I pawned them for 50.00 so I could buy some food, and then I began secretly temping for about 10 hours a week to make a little bit of money I ate nothing but macaroni and cheese for a couple of weeks until my first paycheck came through No one at the school found out, so I was able to do enough of this to pay for my groceries.As you can probably imagine at this point in the story, the marriage failed completely about six months later But reading this book brought it all back the rage, the helplessness, the sense of confusion, the reality that no one knew that I was married to a child and I was suffering And I was 24, and it was a completely different time Women were able to work, and I didn t have children thank god I didn t have children , but I was still tied to this worthless asshole who didn t care that I was hungry And I internalized all of this by concluding that, somehow, I was at fault for all of it, and my loyalty to this failure of a person prevented me from asking anyone for help.I think probably all women have a story like this.Even with the grim subject matter, though, there is something fresh and appealing about both Sophia and the book that I can t really explain It was very frustrating to read, and, although Sophia does get a happy ending, Charles did not get run over by an omnibus, nor did he artistically starve to death, which were the two proper endings for him.So, I do recommend Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, even if it made me want to hit something. Poignant, funny More people should read and love this.Sophia plunges into marriage with the man of her dreams, but poverty emotional and actual takes its toll There is a happy ending and a second chance at love, but the emotional heft comes in the painful disintegration of Sophia s first marriage What s special about this book written in 1950 is that Comyns relates all the truly awful things that happen to the naive heroine with a Brief Encounter style of dry detachment that can, on the one hand, be very amusingI had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said I won t have any babies very hard, they most likely wouldn t come or Peregrine listened most intently to every word I said, as if it was very preciousThis had never happened to me before, and gave me great confidence in myself, but now I know from experience a lot of men listen like that, and it doesn t mean a thing they are most likely thinking up a new way of getting out of paying their income tax.But the laconic, almost throw away, style also works as a contrast to moments of real tragedy At one point view spoiler Sophia is persuaded to have an abortion I don t feel much like writing about the actual operation It was horrible, and did not work at all as it should The doctor did his best to help me recover, although he was scared stiff to come near me when he saw it had all gone wrong, but eventually I became betterThink about the pain that is contained in that simple phrase, eventually I became better hide spoiler A Celebration of Repetitive FailureTwo young people who are reasonably content on their own decide to create a life of misery for themselves and others by joining forces It happens every day Is this a matter of stupidity, wilful ignorance, a lack of imagination, or species wide psychic disorder In Our Spoons, a naive, hapless, probably slightly retarded but solvent 17 year old girls gets married to a witless, unemployed, somewhat passive aggressive but reasonably well fed artist in Depression era London What possibly could go wrong Well for starters, of course, the merger creates a medical burden She finds that thinking very hard about not getting pregnant is an inadequate form of contraception He finds the facts of life a complete and unwelcome surprise, and considers the pregnancy a betrayal The net level of misery in the world s population has been increased substantially.To call her experience of childbirth medieval would be an affront to primitive medical practice Her labour and delivery are part of an industrialised process as impersonal as it is humiliating The real function of this process obviously is to encourage those who were forced to participate in it not to have any further need for it This warning about expanding the world s population of the miserable will undoubtedly be ignored.Grinding poverty does just that grind whatever unique personality there might be into uniform fragments of various needs His need is to remove himself from responsibility Her need is to protect her child from his irresponsibility He lives on denial she on hope the child on almost nothing Misery expands outward from its epicentre to make any number of family and social relationships untenable It moves like a disease vector throughout a large population with no immunity.But poverty is not the most lethal source of misery It only seems that way to those trapped within it There s the botched abortion and the doomed affair with an older man, and the estrangement between mother and child, and yet another pregnancy, father uncertain None of these things are driven by poverty but by self delusion.The self delusion also suggests a number of obvious but futile solutions a change of air, a new flat, running away with the children Meanwhile the gas gets cut off, then the telephone, then the electricity But even these events don t suggest to her that reality is other than what s perceived The death of an infant child from exposure does raise a glimmer of recognition that perhaps not all one s life decisions have been life affirming.And despite all this experience, she starts it all over again in middle age Nought stranger than folk.By the way is it Woolworths or Woolworth s I can argue both ways and am confused as usual. On the copyright page of Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is the italicized comment The only things that are true in this story are the wedding and Chapters 10, 11 and 12 and the poverty Despite the disclaimer I suspect many dimensions of this novel are autobiographical There are some parallels in Sophia Fairclough s story of a bohemian and artistic life between the wars and that of her creator, Barbara Comyns I believe the poverty, especially, is real I think of this as a novel about poverty It s told in Sophia s voice made infectiously innocent by Comyns It s the strength of the novel, I think, and what makes this novel an infectious read And yet some of the choices Sophia make are those of someone not so innocent, someone possessing a sturdy determination and practicality Even if the story of a young woman s passage to happiness has been told countless times, Comyns makes it interesting The only quibble I have with it is the almost headlong careening into a storybook ending I didn t mind the ending itself but thought it needed development so that it would not be too good to be true But then I remind myself the ending is not included in the truths Comyns claims for the novel in her famous disavowal on the copyright page.
Barbara Comyns Carr was educated mainly by governesses until she went to art schools in Stratford upon Avon and London Her father was a semi retired managing director of a Midland chemical firm She was one of six children and they lived in a house on the banks of the Avon in Warwickshire She started writing fiction at the age of ten and her first novel, Sisters by a River, was published in 1947
- 223 pages
- Our Spoons Came from Woolworths
- Barbara Comyns
- 10 October 2017 Barbara Comyns