Review by Jane V:
Lady Clarissa, daughter of a Duke, lives with her parents in their rundown mansion in Mayfair. All their servants have gone to join the war effort so the family is left living in squalid conditions, quite unable to cook and manage a household for themselves. They have lost most of their income and their country house has been taken over by the military. One son is in uniform, the other is doing something rather secretive (which later turns out to be dealing on the black market). Clarissa’s debutante life of parties, theatres, beautiful clothes has disappeared and she is left trying to manage on rations, clothing coupons and an ill-equipped basement kitchen. Life is dull and harsh.
Then Clarissa meets the handsome and enigmatic Sid, a prominent member of the Communist party. He introduces her to a world of people she has never noticed before; left-wing intellectuals and politically active working class individuals who spend their weekends going on political marches and attending communist meetings. This is all very exciting to Clarissa and she tries her hardest to become one of them.
She and Sid fall in love, and Sid sets about converting Clarissa to the ideals of the worker’s party. Clarissa is enchanted by all of this novelty, and longs to join their world. However, when Sid introduces Clarissa to his parents it is quickly obvious that Clarissa will never be able to forsake the class into which she was born and they part. After a short period of anguish Clarissa realises that she should stick with her own and accepts an offer of marriage from the suitable Sir Hubert, chair of the ‘London Committee’ which exists to protect ‘that world of privilege which was our heritage from our forefathers’ and which they intend shall be a bequest to their sons.
This is a humorous book with possibly a serious intention. Laski uses vocabulary usually applied to the working class to write about the struggling upper class. This gives a richly humorous effect while at the same time forcing the reader to examine her or his own prejudices. Love on the super tax could be compared with the social satire of Nancy Mitford’s books.
I think that readers at the time the book was first published (1944) would be aware that the war was changing the social balance around them and that the expectation that life would return to a pre-war ‘norm’ was ill-founded. Communism was seen as a possible solution to social inequality in England at this time. But I think that today’s readers (unless students of changing society during WW2 and afterwards) will not have the knowledge to fully appreciate the background against which Laski sets her novel.