‘Tea with Mr Rochester’ by Frances Towers

August 18, 2015 at 12:30 am 1 comment

teaAges ago, when Corey was studying in London, she sent me this perfect little slate-blue volume from Persephone Books. Intriguingly called Tea with Mr. Rochester, the book had beautifully flowered endpapers and even a matching bookmark, betraying an attention to detail that I found endearing.

In fact, the book was so pretty that, um, it stayed on my shelf in my “To Be Read” pile for between four and five years (I don’t remember exactly when she sent it to me, but it was a long time ago). Finally, after finishing Far from the Madding Crowd, I was in need of a little palate-cleanser, and I cracked this one open.

I was completely surprised to find that it was a collection of beautiful little short stories, each independent of the others, but perfectly matched to portray the same sort of feeling — of England between the wars, mostly in the countryside, where the old ways are fading even as a certain magic clings to everyday life with tenacity.

Often, short stories are compared to multiple jewels set in the same piece of jewelry. In the case of Tea with Mr. Rochester, the stories are more akin to facets of the same jewel, or maybe a ring of mirrors, each reflecting the same thing from a slightly different angle.

There is something comforting about the settings of these stories. This is an England of drawing rooms and parlors, where all of the furniture is waxed to a shine and the linens are perfectly pressed (mostly). But just as mirrors can cast odd reflections, there are small moments in each story in which author Frances Towers shows the reader something slightly jarring and unexpected. Much like the volume in which they are presented, these stories are carefully crafted to reward the attention of the careful reader.

Towers’ work — published posthumously in 1949 — will appeal to fans of Jane Austen, but also Evelyn Waugh and Sarah Waters. There’s a quaintness to them simply because of the time in which they are set, but also because Towers was looking back with nostalgia on a time gone by. We’re reminded in reading her work that no one knew WWII was coming, that there was this sense that the worst had happened, that the people and things that had survived The Great War would endure forever.

Beautifully bittersweet without being maudlin or cloying, these stories demand to be devoured in a single setting during a rainy afternoon with a cup of tea. Preferably in a drawing room.


Entry filed under: Short Stories. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  August 19, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Ooo, this sounds excellent! It sounds like it could be a good companion read to “Westwood” by Stella Gibbons, too.


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