Martha in Paris is the second book in Margery Sharp’s trilogy based on the character of Martha. Find the review for the first book in the series, The Eye of Love here.
- Title: Martha in Paris
- Author: Margery Sharp
- Published: 1962 by Little, Brown and Company Toronto
- Location of the story: Paris
- Main Characters: Martha (an art student), Eric Taylor (an English bank employee in Paris), Eric’s Mother, Madame Dubois(Martha’s guardian in Paris).
Martha in Paris picks up the story of Martha nearly a decade after where the The Eye of Love left us. At that juncture, Martha (an orphaned child living with her aunt Dolores) and her artistic talent had been discovered by a rich patron, Mr Joyce, a friend of the family. In the subsequent years Martha’s talent has been nurtured with special art training.
Martha in Paris recounts Martha’s student years in Paris. Here, for two years she studies art under the guidance of one of France’s most eminent art instructors. Her tuition and expenses are met by the kind aegis of Mr Joyce, Martha’s wealthy benefactor.
Mr Joyce aptly observes:
“These next two years will show,” thought Mr. Joyce. “Sink or swim!”
Whilst in Paris, Martha meets an Englishman by the name of Eric Taylor. They meet each other regularly under the tromp l’ oeil’ statue of Tragedy and Comedy in Tuileries Garden where Martha sits on the exact same bench everyday to enjoy her half-French loaf stuffed with delicious charcuterie. Eric, hungry for companionship with a fellow English person tries to engage Martha in lively discourse. He mistakes her lack of conversation for reticence, little knowing that Martha would rather shun any kind of interaction whatsoever.
After a week of one-sided discourse on Eric’s part, he invites her to dinner to meet his mother on Friday night. Nothing can persuade her to accept his invitation until she hears of the bathroom renovations the Taylor’s have installed in their apartment. Martha in desperate need of a comforting, hot bath quickly changes her mind and accepts Eric’s invitation with great alacrity.
“Is the bath vitreous?” asked Martha.
“If you mean is it a sort of china, yes,” said Eric.”Pale green.”
Her defences pierced at last-
“What time on Friday?” asked Martha.
Martha arrives at the Taylor’s apartment at the appointed time on Friday, with a mysterious paper packet. Eric mistakes the packet as a thoughtful hostess gift but notices that Martha fails to bestow the gift to Mrs Taylor. Promptly upon arrival Mrs Taylor shows Martha around, based upon the understanding that Martha has a keen interest in viewing the apartment.
As soon as they enter the bathroom and Martha has admired the facilities she laments that she has not had a proper hot bath in months! One thing leads to another and before very long, in fact the ten minutes remaining before dinner, Martha decides to take a hot bath much to Mrs Taylor’s astonishment.
“I’ll have it now,” said Martha, swiftly opening her packet, which in fact contained one clean vest and a pair of clean knickers.”
Despite Martha’s unconventional behaviour, Mrs Taylor tolerates and indeed welcomes Martha’s weekly visits. This is because Mrs Taylor does not find Martha’s appearance or personality intimidating.
The weekly Friday visits and baths become a ritual and Martha and Eric find themselves in a situation which is too close for Martha’s comfort. How Martha deals with the resultant circumstances of her relationship with Eric forms the theme of the remainder of this novel.
Sharp’s writing is at her wittiest best in this novel. The stolid, determined and somewhat selfish artistic temperament of Martha is fully manipulated to render moments of extreme comedic humour in the novel.
Quite disconcertingly, however, Martha’s ‘artistic temperament’ fills us with dismay as we notice a complete absence of love and compassion.
I enjoyed the quirky book and the unusual ending made me immediately put in a library requisition for the third book in the trilogy- Martha, Eric and George.