Original date of publication: 1947
My edition: 1987 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: Looking at the list of Virago Modern Classics, it piqued my interest
How I acquired my copy: Ebay seller, June 2010
Set in the months leading up to WWII, Chatterton Square focuses on two people living across the street from each other in Upper Radstowe (based on Bristol). There are the Blacketts: Mr. Blackett, a domineering, selfish bore who stifles his very Victorian wife, and their three daughters, especially Flora and Rhoda, who live under the thumb of their father. Across the street live the Frasers, with no discernable man at the head. Rosamond Fraser is a mostly carefree mother of five children growing to adulthood, who lives with her old childhood friend, Miss Spanner. All of the action is set around the eponymous Chatterton Square, yet it's always referred to as the Square, never by its full name.
This is one of those novels that are frequently described as “character driven.” As far as plot goes, there’s not much to this book; for most of the novel, the characters sit in breathless anticipation waiting for something to happen, for the war to start (especially worrying for Rosamund, considering two of her sons could potentially participate). Where the author excels is character description, but she does it very subtlety; instead of saying that Bertha Blackett is Victorian in her mannerisms, the author says that Bertha is one of those women who should have been wearing a bonnet and bustle. With her meek, mild demeanor, constantly demurring to her husband, she’s an interesting contrast to Rosamund, who’s faced with a very 20th-century decision. But somehow, the two women forge a friendship together, despite Herbert Blackett’s disapproval. Herbert’s character lacks the comedy that many bores in fiction possess, but he’s still a well-defined and interesting character.
Another thing that EH Young does very well is depicting the various relationships between her characters—married relationships, young people courting, friendships between two middle-aged people (especially interesting is the dynamic between Rosamund, Bertha Blackett, and Piers Lindsay; equally interesting is the friendship between Rosamund and Miss Spanner). EH Young depicts all of her characters and their complicated relationships with wit and insight, and I found this book to be a joy to read because of that. Because this book was written in 1947, after the war had ended, there’s a fair bit of foreshadowing with regards to the war, but other than that, I really enjoyed this book.