Very slowly working my way through Mary Renault's non-Charioteer
contemporaries. I liked Return to Night
much better than The Friendly Young Ladies
, so am baffled to note that it seems to be much less popular. Only a few brief discussions over at MRF and apparently no fanfic at all, apart from a short mention in ITOW. Maybe because it's not as available in print/otherwise? Whatever the reason, I need this in my life at Yuletide.
It was published in 1947 and is the immediate precursor to The Charioteer
--in writing order, thematically, and also in its setting, as it takes place just on the eve of World War II. It's fascinating to see so many of the tropes of The Charioteer
in play already, just mixed around and reassigned. It is a heterosexual romance but a very queer one, so I would argue that it's a little bit more than just a heteronormativised version of The Charioteer
The protagonist is Hilary Mansell, a doctor in her early thirties. She is in general practice in the Cotswolds, though she had wanted to go on for further surgical training. (Her former boyfriend got chosen over her--there is a lot about the experience of being a female doctor at this early period, and very interesting it is too.) The novel is about her relationship with Julian Fleming, a young man (eleven years younger) who has moved back to his home in the Cotswolds after graduating from Oxford. He longs to be an actor but his controlling mother disapproves. Oedipal issues ahoy.
Hilary is a really compelling and sympathetic character. Julian--well, OUDS types may not have changed at all since the 30s. As said, it's fascinating to see so many of The Charioteer
's themes refracted through this lens. Between them, Hilary and Julian share out parts of Ralph, Laurie and Andrew, and I would love to unpick this at greater length one of these days. By having Hilary so much older than Julian, the novel partly succeeds in rebalancing some of the inherent power imbalance in a heterosexual relationship (and it's also just fairly novel!).( Spoilers )