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October 2010 Guest Editor Juliet Gardiner on To Bed with Grand Music...
Sarah Russell’s To Bed with Grand Music first published in 1947 was an extraordinary novel for its time. Russell (aka Marghanita Laski) writes of a wartime rake’s progress, a woman who fails to keep the home fires burning but instead opts for the glamour and seediness of wartime London.
The unusual thing about Marghanita Laski’s novels is that each one is so different. The Victorian Chaise-longue is a ghost story – well, there is no ghost, but it is about a girl who lies down on her chaise-longue and wakes up frozen in the body of her alter ego eighty years before. Little Boy Lost is a heartrending, incisive description of a man’s search for his son in France at the end of the war. And The Village is about snobbery in England just after the war – about the family in the large house living in straitened circumstances and their char- woman’s son who does very well for himself and wants to marry their daughter.
To Bed with Grand Music is different again. It is about sex in wartime. On the first page (a scene as compelling in its way as the five conception scenes at the beginning of Manja) Deborah and her husband are saying goodbye to each other before he is posted overseas. They swear undying loyalty, well, undying emotional loyalty because the husband does not deny that he might not be able to be faithful all the time he is away. But once he is gone, Deborah is soon bored by life in a village with her small son and decides to get a job in London. Here she acquires a lover, and another, and another. As Juliet Gardiner, the historian, says in her Preface, this is a near harlot’s tale. But she admires the book very much because it shows such a different side of the war from that shown in, for example, Jocelyn Playfair’s A House in the Country, which is full of people mostly behaving honourably. The title of To Bed with Grand Music comes from an essay by Sir Thomas Browne called ‘On Dreams’ where he writes, ‘Happy are they that go to bed with grand music, like Pythagoras, or have ways to compose the fantastical spirit, whose unruly wanderings take off inward sleepe.’ And indeed Deborah is both happy at going to bed with grand music, and unruly. Although this is, in some ways, a rather shocking book, it is also very funny. There is a scene when she is making a token gesture about resisting her first lover and he says that if his wife was in the same position as Deborah, ie with her husband away possibly for a long time, he would want her to have a lover so that she would not be bad-tempered. This is rather typical of the ironic, sardonic, yet possibly realistic tone of the book, which certainly throws light on the wartime years in a quite different way from any other novel that we know of.
Publication date: 22/10/2009
Publisher: Persephone Books Ltd
|Publication date:||22nd October 2009|
|Publisher:||Persephone Books Ltd|
|Categories:||Classic fiction (pre c 1945),|
Marghanita Laski was born in 1915 to a family of Jewish intellectuals in London; Harold Laski, the socialist thinker, was her uncle. After working in fashion she read English at Oxford, married John Howard, a publisher, and worked in journalism. She began writing once her son and daughter were born: among her six novels were Little Boy Lost (1949), The Village (1952) and The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953). A well-known critic, she wrote books on Jane Austen and George Eliot. Ecstasy (1962) explored intense experiences and Everyday Ecstasy (1974) their social effects. Her distinctive voice was often heard on the radio on The Brains Trust and The ...More About Marghanita Laski