Original date of publication: 1954
My edition: 1983 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: Amazon UK recommendation
How I acquired my copy: Ebay seller, July 2010
Imogen Gresham is 37, married to a very successful barrister. They have an eleven-year-old son, a rather beastly boy named Gavin. Imogen’s husband, Evelyn, develops a friendship with their neighbor, a wealthy fifty-something-year-old spinster named Blanche Silcox. She and Imogen are completely opposite; and it’s Evelyn’s relationship with Blanche that colors the whole tone of his relationship with his wife.
Imogen is a domestic, preferring home over hunting or any of the other country pursuits that her husband engages in. It’s partly due to this as well that their relationship becomes fraught with tension. They have nothing in common, so it’s really no wonder that Evelyn turns to an older woman (one much closer in age to him than Imogen is) for, at the very least, friendship. It’s an odd affair; usually the femme fatale is a younger, not some staid, aging spinster. So the whole dynamic of the novel shifts. It’s perfectly natural that Evelyn and Blanche should become friends; but their relationship isn’t wholly natural. I still can’t quite figure things out.
What I loved about this book was Imogen’s reaction to the whole affair; it’s because of it, and her discovery of what’s going on, that she grows and matures as a person. When I began to read this novel, Imogen more or less faded into the background; she really wasn’t compelling enough as a main character, and so I really didn’t become attached to her right away. But the more I read, the more I liked her. She displays a quiet strength as she faces Evelyn and Blache’s affair hat I found quite admirable. I don’t think that a lot of people in her situation, with her kind of personality, would have the strength to do what she does in the end. And she gets major points for putting up with Evelyn for all those years! Elizabeth Jenkins has been compared to Jane Austen and Barbara Pym; there’s less humor in The Tortoise and the Hare, but it’s still a wonderful novel.
Elizabeth Jenkins was a biographer who was best known for her biographies of Elizabeth I and Jane Austen. She passed away last month, aged 105.