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13. Violet Trefusis, "Pirates at Play"
teapot
el_staplador wrote in queerlit50
(12. was Fair Play, by Tove Jansson; again, I refer you to giving_ground's review.)

If I were to sum up this novel in one word, it would be 'outrageous'. It is about people doing exactly as they please - and getting away with it*. It is also about family life - the first two chapters are entitled 'La Famiglia' and 'The Other Family' - in all its screwed-up glory. And it is about prejudice - class prejudice and racial prejudice are the two big ones, but it rears its ugly head all over the place, and Trefusis variously challenges it and confirms it. It's not exactly a comfortable read, but there's something very compelling about it. I think it's also about the tension between a person being what they are and being what other people expect them to be; when it comes down to it, the ones we respect are the ones who are true to themselves, who refuse to play other people's games.

Plot: Aristocratic English girl stays with middle-class Italian family (they have a title on account of the paterfamilias being dentist to the Pope, but are nonetheless middle-class, as we are assured repeatedly). Plenty of people in both Italy and England have their own ideas as to what should be the upshot of this proceeding. Hilarity ensues. It's rather fun; the Canterdown set-up is instantly recognisable as close kin to the stately homes of England (and P. G. Wodehouse). Uprooting this and plonking it down in the middle of a scandal-driven Florence is more amusing than any amount of what-ho-Jeevesery.

"It is rare enough, God knows, to be two against the world, but when it comes to being ten against the world, why, thrones have rocked for less! Drastic, decorative, devoted, they started as a family, but might well end as a movement. They were Papagallis and Pappagallists. In the fifteenth century they would probably have coined their own currency.

For the time being, they were self-contained, self-sufficient, self-satisfied. Their horizon was bounded by the Appennines; they were content to exercise their budding tentacles in the cascine; they did not suspect there were worlds to be conquered, victims predestined to become the prey of the Papagalli...

They did not know they were an act of God."


"In those days, in the heart of every large untidy upper class British family, like a large untidy cabbage rose, lurked a small black useful parasite: the name of the species was Madamzell. It was the parasite that kept the rose together, that prevented it from shedding its petals all over the place."


"Poor Francie! ... She was one of those popular elderly girls whose happiness was purely vicarious, inasmuch as she looked on at other people being happy. It had taken her the best part of ten years to realize that popularity could become a substitute for love; that, in fact, the loved were seldom popular; that, in order to acquire popularity you had to be not necessarily, but preferably, plain, obliging, self-effacing, a good listener, always available for a last minute invitation for luncheon or dinner."

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* How much of this state of affairs is wish-fulfilment is open to opinion; certainly Trefusis seems to have yearned for a society where romantic love could be lived to the fullest in an accepting social context (wording borrowed shamelessly from Wikipedia).

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