Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917

Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917

3.5 13
by Amy Ephron

View All Available Formats & Editions

Rosemary Fell was born into privilege. She has wealth, well–connected friends, and a handsome fiance, Philip Alsop. Finally she has everything she wants.

It is then, in a moment of beneficence, that Rosemary invites Eleanor Smith, a penniless young woman she sees under a streetlamp in the rain, into her home for a cup of tea. While there, Rosemary sees

See more details below


Rosemary Fell was born into privilege. She has wealth, well–connected friends, and a handsome fiance, Philip Alsop. Finally she has everything she wants.

It is then, in a moment of beneficence, that Rosemary invites Eleanor Smith, a penniless young woman she sees under a streetlamp in the rain, into her home for a cup of tea. While there, Rosemary sees Eleanor exchange an unmistakable look with Philip, and she sends Eleanor on her way. But she cannot undo this chance encounter, and it leads to a tempestuous and all–consuming love triangle –– until the tides of war throw all their lives off balance.

Inspired by a classic Katherine Mansfield short story, A Cup of Tea engages with its vivid –– and often amusing –– cast of characters, wonderful period detail, brilliant evocation of the uncertain days of World War I, and delightfully spare and picturesque sense of story.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ephron turns the notion of the good Samaritan on its head in a bauble of a tale about altruism gone horribly wrong. In New York City in 1917, well-to-do Rosemary Fell offers indigent Eleanor Smith tea, sympathy and shelter from the rain. Little does she suspect what sort of Pandora's box her somewhat patronizing generosity will open. After a friend of Rosemary's helps Eleanor find work in a millinery shop, it's Eleanor's destiny to become romantically involved with Rosemary's fianc, self-made Philip Alsop, as the U.S. prepares to go to war and duty-driven Philip prepares to do his part. Ephron (Bruised Fruit, etc.) alludes to the cataclysmic events about to occur, pitting sense against instinct as Philip leaves not one but two home fires burning brightly behind him. All of the period detail is correct right down to the last street lamp, but the book reads more like a treatment than a fully imagined novel. Ephron gives us a rich situation and a carefully drawn setting filled with recognizable types. But she gives us no character. Even for a lightly satiric period romance, this cup of tea is too thin and watery. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Ephron (Biodegradable Soap, LJ 4/91) spins this tale of romance in New York City circa 1917. Wealthy society lady Rosemary Fell is engaged to marry Philip Alsop. On a rainy afternoon after shopping, Rosemary spots Eleanor, an apparently homeless woman, huddled in the cold. Thinking she is being charitable, Rosemary invites Eleanor home for a cup of tea. When Philip comes home and meets Eleanor, Rosemary notices a spark of interest in Philip's eye and promptly sends her on her way. It is too latePhilip's romantic feelings have been kindled. He begins to see Eleanor while continuing his marriage plans with Rosemary. The betrothed are married ahead of schedule as Philip is to be shipped to Europe to fight in the war. The story of their love triangle continues to unfold to a surprising end. Based on the Katherine Mansfield short story, this brief yet direct novel about duty and honor makes for engrossing reading. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/97.]Robin Nesbitt, Hilltop Branch Lib., Columbus, Ohio
School Library Journal
YA--Rosemary Fell, privileged and accustomed to having all that she wants, is set to marry Philip Alsop. Of the same social class, Philip struggled years to build his own shipping concern into a success after the death of his father. Now their future together seems to promise happiness. Then Rosemary invites Eleanor Smith home with her, offering the seemingly penniless young woman temporary shelter from the weather. Instead, Philip instantly falls in love with her and the star-crossed love pulls all three characters into a dramatic, sorrowful ending. Ephron writes short, intense chapters, yet allows room for emotions and imagination to expand fully. She maintains interest by ending the chapters exactly at the next eventful point in the story, making the novel a natural page-turner. Sustaining the tension between the characters, while subtly interweaving more complexities of the plot, the author builds towards the intense conclusion. Using precise historical details of 1917 New York society, from clothing to moral attitudes, Ephron captures the ambiance of the era as well as the differences in lifestyles between the wealthy and working classes.--Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Entertainment Weekly
An elegant love story...Storytelling as exquisitely sculpted as fine porcelain.
West Coast Review of Books
A jewel...This novel will plunge you into New York City in the turbulent year of 1917 and will keep you enthralled....A page-turner from start to finish, Ms. Ephron's spare novel has classic proportions.
Kirkus Reviews
Screenwriter/novelist Ephron (Biodegradable Soap, 1991, etc., and the film A Little Princess) claims that this tragic romance, set in WW-I New York, is inspired by a Katherine Mansfield story, but her sketchy characters, unconvincing historical detail, and hopelessly wooden prose hardly benefit by the comparison.

It's the winter of 1917, and the US is on the brink of war, but New York socialite Rosemary Fell refuses to let international events interfere with her wedding plans. Motherless from a young age, Rosemary depends on her fiancé, Philip Alsop, and best friend, closet lesbian Jane Howard, to provide her with diversion, advice, and news of the world. But she acts on her own whim when, out shopping one day, she spots a poor young woman on a street corner and decides to take her home and fix her up. It takes only a few hours for Rosemary to realize that Eleanor Smith, the unfortunate product of a broken family but younger and prettier than she, is far too attractive to Philip to keep around. She dispatches Eleanor back to the streets at once, a few dollars clutched in her hand. With Jane's help, Eleanor finds a job in a hat shop, and inevitably she's there the day Philip drops by to pick up an order for his fiancée. The two become lovers, irresistibly drawn to each other despite Philip's ensuing marriage, and continuing so even after his posting to Europe and after erroneous report of his death on the battlefield. When Philip returns to America to find that Eleanor has borne his illegitimate child, he swears he'll leave Rosemary—only to be foiled by his distraught young wife, who turns out to be not so oblivious after all. A failed experiment in historical fiction. Ephron should stick to what she knows.

Read More

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.12(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Cup of Tea

A Novel of 1917
By Amy Ephron

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Amy Ephron
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060786205

New York City
January, 1917

A young woman stood under a street lamp. It was difficult to make her out at first because she was standing almost in shadow and the mist from the ground, the rains and approaching night made the air and the street seem similarly gray and damp. It was dusk. A light rain was falling.

A man walked up and solicited her. It startled her. She shook her head and turned away. Without another thought of her, he hailed a cab which stopped for him at once. She pulled the thin sweater, hardly protection from the rain, tighter around her shoulders as she stepped back from the curb to avoid the spray of dirt and water as the taxi pulled away.

Down the streets a very different scene. In an antique store famous for accepting only quality estates and European shipments where not a speck of dust had ever been allowed to gather on the shelves, a woman, slightly older than the woman under the street lamp, stood in front of a display case. Her name was Rosemary Fell. Her clothing was exquisite. Her dark hair framed her face even though in the morning she had put it up severely but it was of such thickness that no amount of Coaxing, particularly in damp weather, could ever get it not to fall, a few moments later, softly around her face. She liked the effect and would sometimes play with one of the curls about her forehead when she wanted to appear as though she was thinking of something. Her stance was casual, almost disinterested, her gloves and coat still on as though she had not yet decided whether she had stopped in long enough to actually consider anything. Mr. Rhenquist, the owner of the antique store, was all over her.

"You see, I love my things," he said, in low respectful tones, waiting for her reaction. "I would rather not part with them than sell them to someone who has not that"-he gestured with his hand displaying a pale green jade ring on his ring finger that Rosemary could not help but notice -- "feeling of appreciation which is so rare."

He unrolled a tiny square of blue velvet and pressed it on the glass counter with his pale finger-tips. It was an enamel box he had been keeping for her with a glaze so fine it looked as though it had been baked in cream. "I saved this for you."

On its lid, a minute creature stood under a flowery tree. A hat, no bigger than a geranium petal, with green ribbons, hung from a branch. And a pink cloud like a watchful cherub floated above the creature's head. Rosemary took her hands out of her long gloves to examine the box ...


Excerpted from A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron Copyright © 2005 by Amy Ephron. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >