‘Dolly knew, as she looked round at the long wedding-veil stretching away forever, and at the women, too, so busy all around her, that something remarkable and upsetting in her life was steadily going forward’
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, Julia Strachey, pg. 52
After consecutively reading Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, I have decided to take a short break to read a book from my Persephone collection before MaddAddam is released next week (the 29th!!). Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is a short, almost novella-esque, book first published in 1932 by Hogarth Press, Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s own publishing house. Virginia Woolf describes this book as ‘complete and sharp and individual’ so I was excited to finally get round to reading it.
At only 119 pages, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding spans the space the monumental wedding day of Dolly and Owen. The humour is dark and pervades every area in the book, as does the stress and upheaval of a wedding and the effects this has on the whole family, and in particular the bride. The novel first opens to a brief description of the couple who are to be married. Almost like a nineteenth-century novel, Mrs. Thatcham, the mother of the bride, has engineered the whole thing. Her eldest daughter, Dolly, is to marry the Hon. Owen Bigham, a member of the Diplomatic Services. They are to be married after only a month’s engagement as Owen is due to work in South America and Dolly is to join him as his wife.
Although Strachey uses the convention of humour to excellent and, at times, infuriating effect (for example Dolly’s cousins, Tom and Robert’s ongoing argument over Robert’s lurid red socks), there are glimpses of seriousness in this short novel, which determinedly and deliberately lacks in interiority:
‘For five or six minutes the pale and luminous orchid remained stationary, in the centre of the mirror’s dark surface. The strange thing was the way the eyes kept ceaselessly roaming, shifting, ranging, round and round the room. Round and round again … this looked queer – the face so passive and remote seeming, and the eyes so restless’.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, Julia Strachey, pg.10
This ‘pale and luminous orchid’ is, indeed, Dolly the bride, and the image of a flower, rooted and immobile, suggests a sense of passivity. Despite her fear and foreboding at this wedding, seen in those ‘restless’ eyes, she is unable to do anything to stop these events from taking place – she is rendered immobile, whether by fear of disappointing her mother, of damaging her reputation or of making one of the biggest mistakes of her life.
Unsurprisingly, there is a love-triangle (of sorts) in this novella. As Dolly attempts to drown her pre-wedding nerves with a bottle of rum, she remembers the previous summer with her friend, Joseph, who is waiting downstairs to talk to her. She is frustrated at this memory and that he never declared his love for her, which she eventually puts down to the fact that he probably didn’t feel the same way. However, little does she know that Joseph is becoming increasingly anxious as the wedding draws closer. He is desperate to talk to Dolly but cannot comprehend what he would say or how he should act. Much like how Dolly is rendered immobile at the beginning of the novella, Joseph is rendered immobile and speechless by his conflicting emotions. It is unclear whether he is actually in love with Dolly, but it appears evident that he is not willing to undertake the responsibility of marriage, which would inevitably have to happen if he is to declare his love.
The ‘revelation’ at the end of the novella is so sudden (and wiped under the carpet just as quickly), that I found it difficult to believe. Joseph, in his increasing state of anxiety and exasperation (which isn’t alleviated by his previous encounter with Dolly before she leaves for South America), appears to direct his aim at Mrs Thatcham and unleash a huge build-up of angst-ridden emotion. Maybe instead of declaring his love for her daughter, he fabricates a damaging lie about Dolly which appears to gain momentum when he realises and revels in the attention he is gaining. Throughout the short story, which flitters from various points-of-view, there is no indication that Joseph can be trusted. There is also no indication from Dolly that what he says could have been true. However, it is these errors in communication that are the cause for comedy in this little novella and makes it an unlikely and unconventional romantic comedy. Although the novel does touch on some serious issues, which are explored in more depth by other authors of the 1930s, Strachey, I believe, accurately portrays – on a surface level – how these issues were indeed dealt with at the time.
During my research into this book I was originally delighted with the idea that Cheerful Weather for the Wedding has recently been made into a film. But after thinking some more about the originality of the book I fear that many aspects of this novella, such as Joseph and Dolly’s previous summer together, may be exaggerated and distorted. I am, therefore, cautious to watch it without being disappointed!