Valerie French


Anthony Lyveden by Dornford Yates is one of the books that I shall be discussing in my paper on landscape in twenties novels later this week. It’s a strange book that starts as a light comedy about an ex-officer who can only find work as a servant, and then lurches unpredictably into a gothic mode. It began life as a magazine serial, and you can’t help suspecting that it was improvised from month to month, rather following any coherent plan.

It interests me because the gothic episode is about Gramarye, a malevolent forest, which I link (I hope plausibly) with other nightmare landscapes in post-war novels.

Anyway, I’ve had Valerie French (1923) the sequel to Anthony Lyveden, on my shelves for a while, and it struck me that it might be a good idea to read this before the conference, in case it made a nonsense of my ideas. (The two books were, after all, later combined as a single novel, called Summer Fruit.)

Anthony Lyveden ended on something of a cliff-hanger, as its hero (confused by life and love) had lost his memory, and was believed dead by all who knew him. This book picks up the story at that point, and shows him being discovered and then fought over by his two ex-girlfriends, Valerie French and André Strongi’th’arm (Yes, really.) It’s light romantic tosh, and mildly enjoyable. There’s a good subsidiary character called Sir Andrew Plague, who has all of Berry’s talent for vituperation. And Patch the Sealyham is still loyal as ever, but has been re-christened Hamlet by his amnesiac master.

Just as I was concluding that the book was pretty irrelevant to my research purposes, it started to get interesting in the last chapters. Lyveden has married the right girl (Valerie) but has not regained his memory. On his honeymoon in Egypt he meets an ex-comrade, who reminds him how he won his D.S.O (which he had completely forgotten) so that his military identity, forgotten by the reader as well as by himself during this sequel, is re-established. Then his wife watches him sleeping (In fact, she goes into his room to watch him sleeping! Is that really what honeymoons were like in the 1920s?) Suddenly she intuits that he is remembering in his sleep, and is able to do so because while sleeping “he was relaxed, at play” like a small boy. As Valerie writes in her diary:

My darling must go to sleep, before he can put off care. All day he is on duty – goes armed. His eyes are always vigilant, his jaw set, his nerves taut, his soul patiently possessed. Only when sleep comes does the soldier disappear and the boy come out to play. Poor boy.

The idea that it is military firmness that causes repression and amnesia is rather an interesting one, but Yates doesn’t develop it. Instead, Valerie goes off to see the Sphinx, in the hope that it will give her some mystical counsel. It doesn’t, and she nearly gets raped by an Egyptian. It’s that sort of book.

One Comment

  1. Andy Frayn
    Posted April 23, 2007 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Having remembered DY was one of your interests, I’ve just picked up a ‘well-loved’ copy of _Valerie French_ in my local second-hand bookshop. Looking forward to tucking into it as a break from frantic PhD working! [The bookshop is, possibly, the best second-hand bookshop in the UK (Scarthin Books, Cromford, Derbyshire].

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