RogerBW's Blog

Jonah and Co., Dornford Yates 04 December 2023

1922 fixup of comic short stories. Six friends go to France for the winter.

This is very much a book of its time: by which I don't mean the snobbery and self-satisfaction, though that's there, but that the author himself bought a villa in Pau in 1922 (it being frankly cheaper to live there than in London post-War, not to mention a kinder climate for his rheumatism), so when his characters do the same it seems reasonable to assume that these are incidents at least loosely inspired by the life. The typical pattern here is that something seems to be going well, and then it goes wrong in some way; or it starts off badly, but then comes out all right. Nothing is ever terribly serious, except in the final chapter, which requires some heroic driving in order to catch up with a train and warn the people on it of the bad guys waiting for them at the far end of the trip.

But the plots aren't really the point at this stage of Yates' writing; rather, it's the dialogue among the principals. This certainly has its moments, though for my taste they're rather aggressive, constantly doing each other down even though they'd certainly claim it's all in a spirit of fun. I can't say it's unrealistic – I've been in groups that talked that way; but it can get quite wearing at length.

"I must confess," said Daphne, "that, for some reason or other, Bordeaux doesn't attract me. Incidentally, I'm getting rather tired of unpacking and packing up."

"So far," said her husband, "as the bestowal and disinterment of my effects are concerned, I can confirm that statement. Indeed, if we had another week on the road, you'd both be exhausted. You left my sponge and bedroom-slippers at Boulogne, my dressing-gown at Rouen, and my pyjamas at Chartres. I wish you'd tell me what you've left here. I'm simply dying to know."

"No," said Daphne. "You must wait till Angoulême. I wouldn't spoil it for anything."

These characters are often described by later reviewers are bright young things, but they aren't quite – they're the slightly older generation who went through the war, while most of the bright young things were too young for it and weren't living in the shadow of all their dead friends. These people may share fashions, but their attitudes are from more orderly times in which everyone was expected to know their place – and so is this book. As with much popular fiction of this era, one has to grit one's teeth and get past those attitudes; at least here it's mostly self-satisfaction and the invisibility of other classes rather than explicitly doing people down.

Make that mental step, and it's quite enjoyable, both as light-hearted entertainment of its time and as a window into 'tween-wars culture.

Freely available from Project Gutenberg.

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