23 November 2021


 "A divorced American with painted nails and plucked eyebrows, living in a flat."

These words are recorded as the opinion of George V concerning Wallis Simpson. It seems to me that there are some interesting undertones in Christian literature of the 1930s and early 1940s, about living in a flat. 

Jane Studdock lived in a flat. It had but "a small kitchen". It had no guest room; she and Mark slept in twin beds. "She had always intended to continue her own career as a scholar after she was married: that was one of the reasons why they were to have no children, at any rate for a long time yet." Her prim and programmed sterility is so manifest a characteristic that Merlin redivivus sees her as "the falsest lady of any at this time alive"; assured that she is "chaste" and need not be decapitated, he responds that the child destined to be born of her union "will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva were so common among you."

Lewis, whose humour is often at its deadliest when it is understated, draws to our attention that this very Modern girl sees no contradiction between her own willed sterility and her projected doctoral thesis on Donne's "triumphant vindication of the body". "Jane was not, perhaps, a very original thinker".

Sayers' satire is as cruel and targetted as that of Lewis. Her own aesthetic prejudices well to the fore, she allows the "thrilled" Rosamund Harwell to explain the advantages of living in "Hyde House, the big new block in Park Lane ... its appointments constitute a positive miracle of convenience." "We have spacious rooms, and no kitchen at all -- we can eat in the restaurant on the first floor, or get our meals sent up. We have no difficulty with servants, because the service is all run for us. All the heating is electric. It is just like being in a hotel, except that we can have our own furniture. We have a lot of chrome and glass things, and lovely modern curtains designed by Ben Nicholson, and some Susie Cooper vases. The management even keep the cocktail cabinet fully stocked for us; we don't have a large one, of course, just a very neat design in walnut with a built-in wireless set and a little shelf for books."

The Wimseys share a moment of amusement at the thought of the intellectual adequacy to be expected of the books upon "a little shelf".

Sterility is as important to Rosamund Hartwell as to Jane Studdock. Her husband would like a child, but "It's so wonderful, just you and me, and if anything, anything at all came to divide our happiness ... Oh, Laurence, I'm so glad we've had all this out. It's such a relief. So long as I've got you I don't want anything more ..."

There is rather more to say about the sexuality of the Harwells, and, indeed, of Wallis Simpson and her admirer. Not to mention George V.

To continue.



And there’s Brenda Last’s flat in A Handful of Dust, “perfect for base love”


There is no City. Mrs. Beaver has covered it with chromium plating and converted it into flats. Three guineas a week, each with a separate bathroom. Very suitable for base love. Evelyn Waugh, Handful of Dust