I’m writing this review of ‘Sally on the Rocks’ as part of the British Library Women Writers Series Blog Tour. I’ve been sent a review copy of the book but all opinions expressed about the book are my own.
‘Sally on the Rocks’ is the story of Miss Sally Lunton’s attempts to secure a husband for herself, to ward off future financial insecurity- in an attempt to prevent herself being flung ‘on the rocks’, as such. On the surface, it sounds like a mercenary tale but it is based on a unique social situation, which affected a whole generation of women, maimed by their inability to either earn a living or marry- due to so many men fighting and perishing at the Front, in the Great War of 1914.
Miss Salome Lunton or Sally Lunton is on the rocks. She is single, 31 years old and without means of income in war-struck Paris of 1915. The bohemian lifestyle that was supported by Sally’s dubious painting career is no longer viable. Sally, hence, returns to her place of comfort and shelter – to the small village of Little Crampton under the care of her elderly guardian of sorts – Reverend Adam Loveday. Reverend Loveday is old and ailing, his days are numbered and Sally realises that she must marry and marry well to secure a comfortable future for herself.
A letter from neighbourhood gossip and busybody, Miss Maggie Hopkins, reveals that an eligible bachelor has arrived on the scene of Little Crampton, by the name of Mr. Alfred Bingley. A pompous, self-absorbed, portly man, Mr Bingley, is the new bank manager of the village and already a young widow, by the name of Mrs Dalton has set her cap for him.
Sally and Mrs Dalton both vie for Mr Bingley’s affections. The whole village watches the ongoing attempts to woo Mr Bingley and the question is who will win Alfred Bingley’s heart?
Mr Bingley in the meantime is ruled by his deceased Mother’s ‘Book’. A holy book of sorts, it is a book written by his Mother with all sorts of lessons, insights and quotations to guide Mr Bingley in securing a suitable bride. Whenever, Mr Bingley falls into a predicament, he consults ‘The Book’ and the Book delivers the most astute observations. It is both ridiculous and funny. Mr Bingley is only Mr Bingley in name. He reminded me ever so much of Mr Collins of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ fame in parts.
While this charming love triangle battle is being waged there are more love interests for Sally. As you can tell, the book is full of incident. An old flame from Sally’s past, comes into an inheritance and comes to reside in Little Crampton. This man’s appearance and his connection with Sally, arouses the interest of interfering Miss Maggie Hopkins and she threatens to reveal secrets from Sally’s past that might lead to a compromising situation for Sally. Another wounded and mentally disturbed war veteran also enters Sally’s life and she endeavours to help him recover from his mental and physical wounds. Life is not without excitement in Little Crampton and ‘Sally on the Rocks’ makes for an entertaining read.
Even though the bare bones of the story are serious, the storyline of ‘Sally on the Rocks’ is delightfully light and funny. Filled with the most absurd characters and peppered with satire, Miss Austen would have approved of many of the well drawn characters from Little Crampton in ‘Sally on the Rocks’. Certainly, Mr Alfred Bingley is a nod to ‘Pride and Prejudice’; Little Crampton bears resemblance to Mrs Gaskell’s ‘Cranford’.
‘Sally on the Rocks’ was published in 1915 when the First World War was still being waged and when the full extent of the war was not yet known. The men of the village are hence absent and the women are superfluous and yet without means of earning a livelihood. There is a hint of the hardship and atrocities of war from the narrative of Robert Kantyre, the wounded soldier from the Front. But mostly ‘Sally on the Rocks’ is a novel about the people who were left behind at home. A whole generation of women who were on the brink of great change. They would not only suffer the great hardship of losing loved ones, they would also have to accept social change and a different way of life. As seen in this novel, many women would have to brave a new life and seek opportunities with their menfolk, sometimes on a new continent. It was a time of immense change and more than anything else, ‘Sally on the Rocks’ spoke to me of such upheaval, new horizons, hard work and fresh opportunities. Poised on the precipice of great change, ‘Sally on the Rocks’ is the tale of Sally and many women of her generation.