Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More Dodie Smith


I spent the lovely day basking in the warm sun in an old Road Runner t-shirt and holey sweats, sipping iced tea and reading Dodie Smith’s The New Moon with the Old. This 1963 pop masterpiece has somehow fallen below the critical radar, but this witty, elegant novel is even more engaging than the classic, I Capture the Castle. It begins with Jane Minton, a glamorous secretary-housekeeper, arriving at the beautiful Dome House to take a job. And though she is intimidated by the size of Dome House and ironically quizzes herself as to why she has taken a job she does not need, the portents are good.

She did not believe in omens but instantly knew that this was a good one: the afternoon sun, coming from behind the clouds, had turned the gray of the glass dome to a shimmer of gold. Seen from this hilltop where she had got out of her car to reconnoiter - and there could be no doubt that was Dome House- the effect was quite dazzling, and extremely cheering.

Only a moment before, her spirits had been low. The slate roof surrounding the dome was so large, the chimneys sprouting from the roof so numerous - and she had undertaken to do the housekeeping. That might prove to be a polite name for housework. One didn’t mind a reasonable amount; as a resident secretary one was usually roped in for it. But with a house that size...!

Now, in this sudden sunlight...

And she promptly falls in love with the Carrington family: Clare, the beautiful, unconventional, but rather harried older daughter who has been the housekeeper since her teens (she hilariously wants to be a king's mistress); Drew, a brilliant 19-year-old writing a historical novel set in Edwardian times; Merry, a 14-year-old aspiring actress who is prone to whimsical statements and can rattle off Chekhov, Sheridan, and Shakespeare: and Richard, a reticent composer who soon accepts her. The family watches TV every night with the two maids, who are treated charmingly as members of the family. But shortly thereafter Jane's absentee employer, Rupert Carrington, a London businessman, visits Dome House and confides that he must flee the country because he is about to be arrested for fraud. And all of them must suddenly get jobs...


Their jobs are fascinating: they reveal much about their psychology. In a way the Carringtons are like the Mortmains of I Capture the Castle: earning power nil (if you remember that scene). But they do embark on a variety of adventures and prove very creative.

I was so fascinated that when I absently spilled tea on it I frantically swabbed the cellophane cover, only to discover that thank God the book was pristine while only my t-shirt was ruined: the book smells of 1963 old library book, a vintage paper aroma that somebody should immediately bottle.

Interlibrary loan can be a godsend...

4 comments:

Vintage Reading said...

This sounds a great book. I had no idea Dodie Smith had written any other adult novels apart from I Capture the Castle (although I knew she wrote plays). Must read this.

Mad Housewife said...

I loved this one. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I'm thinking about rereading it this summer.

I'd love to find her plays.

GlamaRuth said...

That smell has been bottled - google CB I hate perfume; they make a library scent.

Frisbee said...

How astonishing! I never thought they would.