A review of Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert
This is a lovely book, set in an archetypal quaint English village called Much Dithering. It is quiet, so quiet that it is off the bus route, a comment that would evoke no surprise these days when the range of public transport is so lamentably poor, but at the time the book was published, 1938 and now reissued by Dean Street Press under their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint, it was the epitome of isolation. Nothing much happens in the village and its residents live out their lives following a cycle of humdrum, albeit worthy, activities.
The heroine of the story is Jocelyn Renshawe, a young widow whose husband died a year before his father, thus robbing her of the opportunity of inheriting the family pile, which, when Lady Augusta topples of her mortal coil, will pass to a nephew no one knows and who is living abroad. Jocelyn’s marriage was a loveless affair and she has never known romance and is never likely to. Her aunt and mother-in-law are anxious to settle her long-term future in a way which will trap her in Much Dithering and crush what remains of her spirit.
Much to the disgust of the older residents, some newcomers have discovered Much Dithering including the dull, retired army man, Colonel Tidmarsh, whom the old ladies consider suitable marriage material for Jocelyn, and the nouveau-riche Murchison-Bellabys. Jocelyn’s estranged mother, Ermyntrude, descends on the village for an impromptu stay, less to see her daughter whom she treats with contempt, but rather to continue her dalliance with Adrian Murchison-Bellaby. He, though, not only has eyes for Jocelyn, but is entangled with a young beauty, Lucia, who turns out to be the daughter of the local publican. Adrian’s sister, Joyce, has the hots for Lucia’s brother, the dance band leader, Victor.
For such a seemingly dull woman, Jocelyn finds herself with three suitors, the third being the dashing Gervase Blythe, who seems to be a commercial traveller, an army acquaintance of Colonel Tidmarsh, and gallantly rescues her from a soaking. He is a man of some mystery, although the perceptive reader will have little difficulty in working out who he might be.
The villagers, though, are less perceptive and suspect that he may be a thief as there have been some jewellery thefts in the village, something unheard of in such a backwater, around the time of his precipitate departure. After a trip to the Hunt Ball Jocelyn realizes she is in love with Gervase, but his departure and the odium surrounding his name places her in some difficulty, and she feels she cannot give him the alibi that would clear his name.
Inevitably, this complex web of romantic liaisons resolves itself with each of the main protagonists fated to a relationship which even the most churlish of readers would hope would be their lot.
Lambert has an easy style and writes with some wit and warmth, enjoying the opportunity to poke fun at the insularity of country life and the wariness and positive dislike exhibited towards newcomers and their modern ways by the established village folk. It is also a commentary of the lot of a woman who has to struggle to win her freedom and to live the life that she wants to live rather than the one that her elders allot to her. After much dithering, Jocelyn breaks free.
More than that it is a gentle, slightly whimsical tale which is ideal for a holiday read or if you just want to get away from it all.