This review is for a novel by a member of the forgotten family of writers we looked at last month, the Frankaus. Frank Danby is the pseudonym for Julia Frankau, the mother of Gilbert Frankau. She was a popular novelist in the early twentieth century – see a review of another of her books, Mothers and Children here.
Review by Thecla W:
The heroine, Manuella, daughter of Sir Hubert Wagner, comes home from school abroad. Her socially ambitious stepmother, Loetitia, wants to consolidate her social position by marrying Manuella to an aristocrat. Manuella lacks social ambition and feels stifled and constrained by Loetitia. She is musical and wants to train as a singer.
Manuella breaks off her first engagement to a Duke after his mistress writes to her. She becomes engaged to Lord Lyssons whom she loves but who, she thinks, does not love her. She meets a composer who falls in love with her. She runs away and marries him, not loving him but wishing to support him in his music. She is then cast off by her family and lives in poverty with her husband who is absorbed in his music. She discovers unsuspected talents for homemaking and housekeeping and also has a baby. She begins to grow up. Her husband composes an opera which is to be produced in Italy with an Italian soprano, Alma. He leaves Manuella behind and at risk of succumbing to a practised seducer. The main characters, with the addition of Alma’s husband, converge on Rome for a melodramatic denouement.
I enjoyed this novel although I would make no great claims for it as literature. The heroine is engaging,the characters are sharply drawn and the narrative proceeds at a pace which does not allow the reader to dwell on various implausible coincidences.
There is considerable variation in tone. The selfish behaviour of both Manuella’s stepmother and her husband is the object of some amusing satire while her struggle to find a life for herself and her maturing are treated more seriously. Towards the end the tone becomes markedly more melodramatic and indeed the climax is pure melodrama. Some contrivance is necessary to get the relevant characters to Rome for the denouement; it seems almost as if the melodramatic ending had to take place abroad (and somewhere “passionate” like Italy) rather than in London.
There is a reference to another popular novelist of the period in the novel: While on a train journey, Lord Lyssons is described as having “a yellow-covered novel by Willy”. Willy was Henry Gauthier-Villars (1859-1931) a writer and critic who used other writers to write under his name. He was married for a while to Colette and 4 early novels of hers were published as by Willy.