The Long View

The Long View

by Elizabeth Jane Howard


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The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Howard rose to international stardom with her magnificent Cazalet family saga. The Long View, a revealing portrait of a marriage, is the ingenious construction of a couple's story that offers a remarkable and very real view of the shifting relationship between two people.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671000240
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: 08/01/1996
Edition description: Original
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 695,958
Product dimensions: 0.86(w) x 8.50(h) x 5.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Long View

By Elizabeth Jane Howard


Copyright © 1956 Elizabeth Jane Howard
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3531-6


This, then, was the situation. Eight people were to dine that evening in the house at Campden Hill Square. Mrs Fleming had arranged the party (it was the kind of unoriginal thought expected of her, and she sank obediently to the occasion) to celebrate her son's engagement to June Stoker. The guests were asked at a quarter to eight for eight. On arrival the men would be politely wrenched from their overcoats, their hats, umbrellas, evening papers, and any other more personal outdoor effects by the invaluable Dorothy, until, reduced to the uniformity of their dinner jackets, they would be encouraged to ascend the steep curving staircase to the drawing-room. The women must climb to Mrs Fleming's bedroom on the second floor, where she would afterwards find strange powder spilled on her dressing-table, mysterious hairs of no colour she associated with the heads of her guests caught in her ivory comb, and a composite smell of unremarkable scents. When the women had confirmed before Mrs Fleming's mirror whatever they had thought a little while earlier of themselves before their own; when one of them, perhaps, had made public some small disparaging discovery about her appearance, and heard it indifferently, denied they would troop cautiously down the stairs (it was easy to tread on one another's skirts round the sharp vertiginous corners) to the drawing-room, where they would find the men drinking, and eating glazed dazed little pieces of food. June Stoker would be introduced to a company which had otherwise long ceased to discover anything about themselves likely to increase either their animation or their intimacy, and her immediate future with Julian Fleming (a honeymoon in Paris and a flat in St John's Wood) outlined.

In due course they would descend to the dining-room and eat oysters and grouse and cold orange soufflé, and drink (in deference to June Stoker) champagne. The conversation would consist of an innocuous blend of the world situation, and the St John's Wood situation of June Stoker and Julian Fleming. In neither case would enough curiosity or information be supplied to provoke real interest. After the soufflé the women would retire to the drawing-room (or Mrs Fleming's bedroom) to match up June's potential experience with their own: and the men would continue over brandy (or port if Mr Fleming turned up at his own house in time to decant it) to turn the Korean situation to economic, not to say financial, account. The party would merge again in the drawing-room, until, at eleven, the prospect of another day exactly like the one just spent, would transport them in their mind's eye to the last-minute hitches of the evening – their garage doors sticking; urgent incomprehensible telephone messages left by their foreign servants; their reading-lamps fused – perhaps even the necessity of discussing with one familiar person the threadbare subject of something done mutually and without pleasure. Then they would leave the delightful party: Julian would see June home; and Mrs Fleming would be left in the drawing-room scattered with ashtrays, brandy glasses, exhausted cushions, and, possibly – Mr Fleming.

That, reflected Mrs Fleming, was the only factor of the evening in the least uncertain; and even then there was merely the alternative. Either he would stay, or he would go. How the alternative reduces one's prospect and petrifies the imagination in a way that the possibility can never do. Possibilities, innumerable and tightly packed, could shower forth like mushroom spore between such alternatives as being here, or there; alive, or dead; and old, or young.

Mrs Fleming shut the book she had not been reading, uncoiled herself from the sofa, and went upstairs to dress for dinner.

The view, even from the second floor of the house, was beautiful and disturbing. From the front windows the steeply declining square crammed with lawn and bushes, and the massive trees, which were fading and yellowing in the chill silent sunlight, filled the eye, so that the houses straight across the square were scarcely visible, and a little to the right down the hill were quite out of sight. At the bottom were no houses: the square opened straight on to the main road, like the 'fourth wall' of a theatre, or the 'Terrible Zone'. The effect from Mrs Fleming's bedroom was mysterious and satisfying: the great metropolis knowing its place, and rumbling distantly back and forth.

From the back windows the view was almost a miniature of the front: but instead of the square, narrow strips of back gardens dropped away until only the black tops of their walls could be seen. Beyond the gardens was a sloping row of mews cottages, all a little different from each other, and beyond them lay London, under a sky left hyacinth by the vanishing sun. She glanced down at the mews attached to her garden and observed that her daughter had returned from work. A man's hand, at least not Deirdre's (her daughter did not like women), twitched the scarlet curtains together. Mrs Fleming was genuinely without curiosity, salacious or moral, about her daughter's private life, knowing only that it was conducted with a dramatic symmetry of conflict. There were always two men involved – one dull, devoted creature whose only distinction was his determination to marry her, in the face of a savage series of odds (the other, more attractive, but even more unsatisfactory young man). She suspected that Deirdre was not happy, but the suspicion was an easy one; and since Deirdre herself was clearly convinced that a mutual ignorance was all that held them tolerably apart, Mrs Fleming never attempted to force her daughter's lack of confidence. She supposed that whoever had twitched the curtains was probably coming to dinner, but she could not remember his name ...

Louis Vale let himself into his ground-floor flat in Curzon Street, slammed the metallic door, threw his briefcase on to the bed or divan (he preferred to call it a bed), and turned on his bath. His room, one of an enormous block, resembled the cell of some privileged prisoner. Bare but very expensive essentials were symmetrically arranged in a room so small and so dark that colour, untidiness, or time-wasting trivia of any kind would have been lost or unusable in it. Everything possible was flush with the walls. The cupboard for his clothes, the shelf for his alcohol, the wireless: even the lights clung like white bulbous leeches to the grey paint. There was a cringing armchair and a small double-tier table on which lay an ashtray, a telephone, and the current copy of The Architectural Review. The curtains were grey: he never drew them. His bathroom, equipped like a small operating theatre for the business of bathing and shaving, and now slowly suffusing with steam, was a bright uncompromising white. He emptied his pockets, flung off his clothes, and bathed. Ten minutes later he was in his dinner jacket swallowing whisky and water. There was a single drawer set into the wall above the head of his bed. It had no handle and opened with a minute key. Inside the drawer were three unsealed white envelopes. He selected one, shook out of it a latch-key, and locked the drawer.

He parked his car outside the mews in Hillsleigh Road, and let himself into Deirdre Fleming's flat. It was very small, and, he observed with distaste, in a transitional, very feminine state of untidiness. A pile of clothes lay in one corner of the room awaiting the laundry or cleaners. Plates and glasses (the ones they had used two nights ago) were stacked on the draining board by the sink. The bed, or divan (Deirdre preferred to call it a divan), had been stripped of sheets and was now loosely covered by its loose cover. Two half-written letters lay on the table with an unaddressed brown paper parcel. The waste paper basket was full. The only chair was hung with stockings, almost dry, laid on dirty tea-cloths. In a large saucepan he discovered the wreck of an old chicken soaking in water. He read the letters. One was to her father, thanking him for the cheque he had given her on her birthday – and the other, he found with quickening interest, was to him. She felt she must write to him, he read, since he would never allow her to talk. She knew that she irritated him, but he made her so unhappy that she could not remain silent. She knew that he did not really love her, as, if he did, surely he would understand her better. If he really knew the effect that he had upon her when he failed to ring up or to stick to any arrangement, and thought her simply absurd, would he please tell her; but she could not really believe that he knew. He could not possibly want to make anyone so unhappy: she knew what he was really like underneath – an entirely different person to the one he made himself out to be. She knew that his work meant more ...

Here she had stopped. Here we go again, he thought wearily, and put the letter back on the table, with a sudden vision of Deirdre naked, trying not to cry, and waiting to be loved. She has to be stripped of her self-respect in order to dress me in it. By the time she has grown out of being a romantic, I shan't want her. I am a stinking cad to go on living on her emotional capital. Perhaps, he concluded without much conviction, I thought that she would infuse me with her belief. If she had succeeded, I should have made it worth her while – but she will not succeed. She hasn't got what it takes, and I haven't got what it makes.

Suddenly, old and sad about her, he drew the curtains, so that she should think he had been in the dark, and had not noticed her letter. Then he lay down on the uncomfortable bed, and slept.

He heard her cautiously intruding upon his sleep: opening the door carelessly, shutting it with elaborate calm; trying the ceiling light – on, and off – and then lighting the standard lamp. He felt her motionless in the middle of the room, watching him, and nearly opened his eyes, to interrupt her private heart about him – then remembered the letter, and remained still. He heard her move towards him and halt – heard her fingers on the paper; her sudden little breath which had always charmed him, and the indeterminate noises of concealment. Then, because he did not want to be woken up by her, he opened his eyes ...

June Stoker emerged from the Plaza Cinema in a dim tear-soaked daze, stopped a taxi and asked it to go to Gloucester Place as quickly as possible. She felt in a confused way that she was late: not for anything in particular – her dinner was not until a quarter to eight, and she intended skipping the Thomases' drinks party – but simply late: what in fact she always felt when she had been doing something secretly of which she was rather ashamed. For she would die sooner than tell her mother how she had spent the afternoon; alone in a cinema watching a film which in any company at all she would have condemned as sob stuff. To her it seemed frightfully, frightfully sad, and possibly even quite true, if one was that sort of girl. To June the essence of romance suggested the right man in the wrong circumstances – but somehow she could not imagine Julian in those circumstances, in spite of his father, whose behaviour really did seem to be rather odd. She was rather afraid of meeting him: even Julian, who was so calm about everything, seemed a little uncertain about the prospect. His mother had been easy, although June supposed you couldn't really tell in one meeting. Mothers-in-law were supposed to be awful, but one need not see them much. She opened her compact, and powdered her nose. Anyone observant could tell that she had been crying. She looked exactly as though the tears had sprung from all over her face, and not simply from her eyes. She would slip into her room and say that she had a headache. She had a sort of headache now she came to think of it. Home. But it won't be my home much longer, she realized: I shall have a different name, and a different house, and all my clothes will be new (well, nearly all), and Mummy won't possibly be able to ask me where I am going all the time; but I do hope Julian will ask me when he comes back from the office: and we shall have our friends to dinner – I'll be a marvellous cook, he'll keep finding unsuspected qualities in me ... I wonder what it will be like spending a whole fortnight alone with Julian ...

She had paid the taxi and shut herself into the lift. She would have to ring Julian to tell him to pick her up at home, instead of at the Thomases'. She wondered what the dinner party with his parents would be like. Full of awfully clever and interesting people to whom she would not be able to think of anything to say. She sighed, and felt for her latch-key.

Angus, her Aberdeen, yapped mechanically round her feet, and of course her mother called her into the drawing-room. She was having tea with her old school friend, Jocelyn Spellforth-Jones. June first submitted to being told by her mother that she was late, that she looked hot, and that she never shut doors behind her, and then to a general and very unappetizing invitation from Jocelyn Spellforth-Jones to 'tell her all about it'. Nobody but Mummy would think of telling Jocelyn anything: perhaps that is why she always wants to know so badly, thought June, the inevitable blush searing her face and neck, as she protested weakly that there was nothing much to tell, really. Mrs Stoker looked with mock despair at her best friend. Jocelyn returned the look, and invited Angus to search her. He was a sensible little dog and declined. Jocelyn then reminded Mrs Stoker of how absurd they had been when they were June's age, and told a really revolting story about a set of blue china bunnies which she had insisted when she married on transporting from her bedroom mantelpiece in her old home, to a shelf built especially for the purpose by her new bed. Mrs Stoker remembered the bunnies perfectly, and June felt she might reasonably escape. Murmuring something about a headache, she rose to her feet. Immediately, her mother began bombarding her with questions. Had she found a pair of shoes? Did she remember the Thomases? What had Marshall's said about her nighties? Well, what had she been doing all afternoon, and why did she suddenly have a headache? June blushed and lied and eventually fled to her bedroom feeling cross and tired.

Everything in her bedroom was pale peach coloured. She liked this; but when she had suggested repeating the colour in their flat, Julian had said that cream was more suitable. It was more neutral, he had said, and she expected that he was right. She slipped out of her pink woollen dress, kicked off her shoes, and emptied her bag on to the end of her bed. Angus (he was getting much too fat) waddled aimlessly round her shoes and then jumped on to his chair which was covered with a greasy car rug of the Hunting Stewart tartan.

If she had not spent most of the afternoon in tears, June would certainly have cried now. Just when everything ought to be marvellous, it somehow actually wasn't. Of course it was largely that awful woman sitting there with Mummy and talking about her marriage with a deathly mixture of silliness and nastiness – and Mummy (although of course she wasn't really like that) at least putting up with it – not noticing it. What was there to say about Julian anyway? He worked in an office, advertising things; she didn't know much about it, and honestly it didn't sound awfully interesting, and 'they' said that in view of his uncle, and his general ability for the position, he was certain to be a director before he was thirty. Which, 'they' said, was very good indeed. Julian would not have been able to marry so young without such a prospect, and to start with they would certainly have to be careful. She tried hard to imagine what being careful meant, but she could only think of cottage pies, and not going to the Berkeley. Julian was determined to keep his car, and she simply could not set her own hair. It was dark brown, thick, and rather wiry – frightful hair – although her friends said how lucky she was to have a natural wave. But Julian ... Well, he was rather good looking, and they thought the same about things, like not believing much in God, and thinking circuses were rather cruel, and not bringing up children in a new-fangled way – and – all that kind of thing. Masses of things really. They had met at a dance and got engaged in Julian's car by the Serpentine. That evening was only a month ago; it had been simply wonderful, and she had thought about it so much since then, that now she could not remember it properly – which was a bore. One ought to remember the night of one's engagement. Julian had seemed a little nervous – she had liked that – and he had talked very fast about them, except when he had touched her, and then he had not talked at all. She could still remember his fingers on the back of her neck just before he kissed her. He had never held her head again in the same way, and she had not dared ask him in case, when he did, it would be different. She lived nostalgically on that little shiver, and the hope that it would return and envelop her when circumstances permitted.


Excerpted from The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Copyright © 1956 Elizabeth Jane Howard. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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The Long View 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
DaneWeimMama More than 1 year ago
This book had an interesting narrative style & a unique chronological order but I struggled with it because it was extremely wordy. I felt like the story got lost in all the details. Advanced Reader Copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.