Weatherley Parade

Like all sane human beings, I admire Richmal Crompton’s William books, but I have read only a few of her fifty-odd novels for adult readers, which are quite hard to come by. (The only one easily available is Family Roundabout published by Persephone,and well worth reading.)
Weatherley Parade is a novel of 1943, and like Family Roundabout is a story of several generations; it is both funny and disturbing. Richmal Crompton’s great gift is for seeing children unsentimentally, and seeing they how can be harmed by egotistical adults, even those with good intentions.
The book is typical of its period in starting with the Boer War, taking its characters through the First World War and the restless inter-war years, and stopping in the middle of the Second World War with the future uncertain, but with the reassuring implication that the country has come through bad times before, and will do so again. This time-frame is often found in both books and films of the time.
Crompton is not a sentimental writer. She shows children with flaws in their characters, and shows these flaws growing bigger with time. The perfectionist Clive begins as a finicky little boy and ends as a monster. His slapdash sister also remains what she is, and time reveals her core of selfishness.
There is tough satire at the heart of the book, therefore, but the surface is always engaging and funny, with the humour of predictability as the characters conform to our worst expectations – but sometimes in unexpected ways.
In the William books, Richmal Crompton always has sharp depictions of the people who think that their strong opinions give them the right to be bossy. This is even more so in Weatherley Parade. I especially liked the 1931 scene where sincere ladies (who have read the War books like All Quiet) are unconvinced that ex-soldier Billy, who had come home wounded, understands the full horror of war.

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