I have really enjoyed reading Girl of Good Family (1935) by ‘Lucian Wainwright’, a pen-name of Rose Allatini. It was written nearly twenty years after her notorious banned novel Despised and Rejected, but returns to the war years described in that book. This novel is at least partly based on Allatini’s own life, but disguises characters and situations, and sometimes skates away from things better left unsaid.
The heroine, Sacha, is born in Vienna, to a Jewish family (the Montadores) whose roots are in Spain. This is very like the situation of Rose Allatini herself, also born in Vienna in 1890, but to a Jewish family whose nationality is Italian. A major theme of the book is Sasha’s sense of belonging both to Vienna and to England.
The first chapters show Sasha as a young girl in Vienna, attending the the arranged marriage of one of her female relatives to ‘the strange gentleman with the short legs and the long beard’, whom none of the intrigued young female guests consider any kind of a romantic figure. It is implied that some such arrangement will be her future, too. A few years later (in perhaps 1908) she is back for the Season in Vienna, and all her female relatives are matchmaking on her behalf.
She falls for Witold, a glamorous figure who flirts with her, but without serious intentions. Her family pushes her towards the staid and respectable Baron Wasserman, but she manages to frighten him way:
By the time she had with studied carefulness declared that she had read Es War, Sudermann’s famous erotic novel and conveyed an attitude of complete sophistication (copied, of course, from Witold) with regard to it, her chances of becoming Frau Baronin Wasserman were very considerably undermined.
She returns unmarried to London, where ‘[e]verything seemed so much flatter and less exciting, to move at a so much slower pace.’ London is ‘more spacious, far more impersonal’; it offers freedom, ‘But what was the use of so much freedom if you didn’t know what to do with it? Some at least of her relatives consider her a failure for not having hooked herself a husband in Vienna, but she is in no hurry to marry, and finds most young Englishmen ‘boring beyond words’. She wants independence, and with what her mother considers ‘well-nigh suicidal intractability’ she finds ways of putting off any men who show an interest in her.
What she really wants to do is to write, and completes a novel called Fairy-tale (Allatini’s own first novel, published in 1914, was called Happy Ever After). It makes little impact, the reviews are grudging, and her relatives consider it not very nice, but it brings her the friendship of David Abrams, a struggling Jewish actor who is alive to the ideas of the time. Conversations with him enable her to write a better second novel (the book gives no real detail of this, but Allatini’s second novel was Payment (1915) which I think must be the book that Samuel Hynes means when he says that before Despised and Rejected she had written a thesis-novel about mercy-killing.)
Before the book is published, war disturbs the family life and the career that Sasha is planning for herself. It throws the cosmopolitan Montadores into:
‘a stage of psychological turmoil unknown to families of pure British extraction, but probably common to numerous others resident in England, yet possessed of international ramifications, international sympathies [….] Gone completely now, that sense of stability and security which had once impelled the Montadores and those countless other Jewish families to strike their roots in the wholesome soil of England, spread their branches in its calm, orderly protective and protected atmosphere.
England had been different from continental Europe,, ‘dark with the nightmare of blood and persecution, dark with perennial menace to the chosen, the branded, the restless race.’ England had offered sanctuary, but now:
England was at war; and together with the heroism and self-sacrifice and the genuine devotion to country, hysteria and suspicion and a multitude of other petty uglinesses reigned, and attached themselves to whoever went in fear of them.
The Montadores vaunt their French and Belgian relations, and keep quiet about the Bavarian ones. Sasha’s mother feels particularly vulnerable, since she had been born in Vienna.
This closely mirrors the situation of the Allatini family, since Rose’s mother, Bronia, had been born in Vienna, though the censuses of 1901 and 1911 both show her as born in Italy. Presumably even before the War this had seemed a less controversial country to hail from.
1901 census. Click for a larger image.
1911 census. Click for a larger image.
In the 1901 census Rose is listed as having been born in Italy; in 1911 she is stated to have been born in Kensington. I wonder whether the governess (an Austrian citizen) was still living with the family in 1914.
In the war years the novel introduces a love-plot that is both like and unlike that in Despised and Rejected. Sasha refuses David, the actor, when he says he loves her, but feeling lonely and dispirited during the war, makes contact with him again. She now falls in love with him, but he cannot love her because he has met someone else, though she is a married woman. This plot situation has the same pattern as that in Despised and Rejected, but substitutes a different kind of forbidden love for the homosexuality that got that book into so much trouble.
Throughout the book the author steers very clear of any hint of homosexuality. She also steers clear of politics. Sasha mixes with a bohemian crowd of actors, but does not introduce the reader to the intellectual pacifists that we meet in Despised and Rejected, and whom Rose Allatini knew in real life. When Sheila Kaye-Smith later remembered the crowd who gathered at Henderson’s left-wing bookshop (‘The Bomb Shop’), she included among them ‘ardent Fitzroy, still fighting the battle of the despised and rejected with her banned book’.
Sasha does write a pacifist novel (‘in its whole trend and point of view it was a complete contrast to the flood of patriotic fiction poured out of publishers’ offices during the past years.’). Her usual publishers refuse it (as Mills and Boon must have said no to Despised and Rejected) but:
the head of a new and enterprising firm quickly realising that the cosmopolitan pacifist standpoint from which the book was written, might have a certain appeal at the present time, decided to risk the publication. His anticipations were justified.
The book is, at least in some quarters, ‘hailed as a masterpiece’. There is controversy, and some reviewers execrate it, but the book is displayed in every shop window, she becomes a celebrity, and ‘she enjoyed every moment of it’.
This is very unlike the publication of Despised and Rejected, whose reviews (at least those that I have seen) were damning, or at best lukewarm and wary. And enjoying every moment is along way from the state of Rose Allatini described (just a little cattily) in Virginia Woolf’s diary:
‘she almost fainted & had to be fed on bath buns, which Ottoline [Morell] had by her & confided, of course, the story of her unhappy love, which made it necessary for her to be fed on Bath Buns’
This is maybe wish-fulfillment – describing the way that her novel ought to have been received. There is maybe wish-fulfillment in the end of the novel too, where Sasha marries, not the English composer that Rose Allatini married in 1923 but a Viennese cousin, just the partner to delight her match-making relatives who want to keep the family together and strong.
Girl of Good Family is a very readable novel. It became most engrossing when there were parallels with Allatini’s own life or with Despised and Rejected, but the whole thing is absorbingly written. I chose this one at random from Allatini’s later novels, because there was a reasonably-priced copy on bookfinder.com, and I definitely struck lucky. Maybe some of her other books would yield equal interest, but maybe not. Oracle, also by ‘Lucian Wainwright’, sounds as though it is influenced by Theosophy (of which her husband Cyril Scott was a notable proponent), since it apparently describes Aquarian methods of healing – not exactly an interest of mine. Her later books are under the name of Eunice Buckley. There are a large number of these, but apparently not all are by Allatini; she shared the pen-name with Melanie Mills, the woman with whom she lived after separating from her husband.
There is plenty of critical commentary on Despised and Rejected, because of its notoriety, but I don’t think that scholarship has looked very closely at Allatini’s other work. On the basis of this novel, I’d hazard the suggestion that she would be a good topic for a Ph. D. thesis.