Posted by: Lizzie Ross | March 11, 2011

Shops and marriages

One Thing Leading to Another (1984), Sylvia Townsend Warner

S Townsend Warner

This posthumous collection begins with four short stories featuring Mr. Edom, the proprietor of Abbey Antique Galleries, and his invaluable assistant Mr. Collins. Imagine Jeeves in charge of a Goodwill store, or perhaps even Mr. Darcy organizing one of those dusty-windowed shops crammed with treasures and trash from other people’s pasts. That’s Mr. Edom. Proper, properly dressed, always polite, always careful.

We first meet Mr. Edom when two workmen drop off a worm-eaten statue for his consideration. Is it a Renaissance-era saint, possibly by Bernini? It takes some time, and some local scandal, for the mystery to be solved, and Mr. Edom’s steady nerve through this trying situation (after all, what proprietor wants a possibly contagious artifact placed among his valuable wares?). Three more stories feature Messrs. Edom and Collins, as an antique set of dueling pistols, an enameled bronze cat, and a tea set featuring a stately home pass through the shop.

Then there are the four stories about the Finches, Mr. and Mrs., with their two daughters. Mrs. Finch is the most astonishing conversationalist. In “Mr Mackenzie’s Last Hour,” no one hears a woman (Agnes) outside in the rain because Mrs. Finch is so busy talking. Mr. Mackenzie speculates that,

‘… if anything should go wrong, Agnes would ring up.’

‘Of course she would,’ Mrs Finch said. ‘I daresay she’s doing it at this moment, and explaining it all to the grocer because they’ve given her the wrong number. I expect that’s why Willoughby is still barking. He always begins to bark before the telephone rings. But second sight is as easy as winking to animals. My aunt had a poodle, and on All Souls’ Eve he used to go up to the attic, where she kept my uncle’s remains — his belongings, I mean, for the rest of him had withered in the family vault years before — and there he’d scratch at my uncle’s hatbox and moan under his breath, with every tuft standing bolt upright. It showed a generous disposition, for Uncle Cornelius loathed dogs and wouldn’t allow one in the house. Bees, too. Did you know that bees won’t go near a murderer?’

In other stories are the usual Warnerian mix of unhappy couples, ominous guns and seas, and country women oblivious to the disasters that surround them. Some of the plot twists didn’t surprise (I’ve learned that if a rifle is spotted over a door, someone later on will be shot with it), but they’re all satisfying.

BTW, for all interested, there a Sylvia Townsend Warner Society, with annual events (something, in fact, coming up this May, in Bath, UK — wish I could be there).

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