Margaret Kennedy: The Constant Nymph

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Sanger a contemporary composer – unrecognised in Britain – leads a cosmopolitan life around the world, though always using his house in the Austrian Alps as his HQ. Here his extended family of children from various marriages and liaisons led a bohemian life running free in the hills. Others gravitate towards the Sanger house, Lewis Dodd another composer, and Trigoron a ballet impresario, who meet on the extended journey via rail, ferry and footpath that leads to the Sanger house.

Sanger’s death early in the book means the splitting up of the bohemian extended family and the development of a complicated love triangle between Sanger’s daughter, the 15-year-old Teresa (“Tessa”), Lewis Dodd and a cousin of the family, Florence, who has come to Austria to make arrangements for the children.

Here’s where this book becomes problematic for modern readers for two reasons. First, the love triangle features an under age girl and a man twice her age. Margaret Kennedy describes this as an “innocent love” which is one way of describing it, though not, to my mind, a very satisfactory way. The fact that Lewis is an irritating, self-centred bore is beyond the comprehension of Tessa, though not of Florence and will eventually have tragic consequences. The second is the anti-Semitism shown to one particular character. Maybe Kennedy wasn’t an anti-Semite, maybe she was just reflecting the – appalling – views of the times. It’s discussed a bit in this edition of BBC Radio 4’s “Front Row”programme.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04cfzxr

However, putting all this aside I really enjoyed the book. It was funny and very “modern” in its portrayal of the bohemian Sanger family and Margaret Kennedy writes exceptionally good dialogue, probably one of the reasons it was turned into both a stage play and a film. It was performed on the London stage in 1926 and featured Noël Coward and there are three film versions, 1928, 1933, and 1943.

This is my second book for the 1924 Club October read. Click on the picture below to find out more.

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Next on my 1924 reading list Winifred Holtby’s “The Crowded Street”.

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One thought on “Margaret Kennedy: The Constant Nymph

  1. Yes, I can see that there are elements there that could be an issue nowadays! I’ve only read one Kennedy so far – The Feast, which I absolutely loved – but this is on the TBR. I shall suspend my modern prejudices when I get to it! Thanks for joining in with 1924!

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