Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Constant Nymph” as Want to Read:
The Constant Nymph
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Constant Nymph

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  293 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
Tessa is the daughter of a brilliant bohemian composer, Albert Sanger, who with his "circus" of precocious children, slovenly mistress, and assortment of hangers-on, lives in a rambling chalet high in the Austrian Alps. The fourteen-year-old Tessa has fallen in love with Lewis Dodd, a gifted composer like her father. Confidently, she awaits maturity, for even his marriage ...more
Paperback, 344 pages
Published November 26th 2004 by Virago (first published 1924)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede
Jul 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
It's been a while since I read this book, but I remember how much I enjoyed it!

I read this book after I saw the movie version from 1943 with Charles Boyer and Joan Fontaine. The book was just as lovely and sad as the movie was and it was very well written. The story is about a young girl that has a crush on an older man who instead is more taken with her older cousin. A very good coming of age story.
Albert Sanger was a brilliant composer, English by blood, European by choice; a man of loose morals and unpredictable temperament. Following in his wake (and footsteps) is a managerie of children, both legitimate and not. This story focuses on primarily two of these children, Antonia and Tessa, (Tessa being the Constant Nymph of the title) and a young composer named Lewis Dodd whose intimate ties with the family will have far reaching effects...

So this was pretty fascinating. In some ways I coul
This was Kennedy's second novel, and easily her most famous, a bestseller also made into a very successful play and movie. The title character is Teresa (Tessa) Sanger, daughter of bohemian musician and composer Albert Sanger, whose large family lives in the Austrian Alps. They have frequent visitors to their small chalet, including gifted composer Lewis Dodd, with whom Tessa falls in love; since she's only fourteen, though, she has to wait until she's older. Unfortunately, in the meantime, Lewi ...more
Nov 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
The Constant Nymph was wildly successful in the 1920s. A bestselling novel! A popular play! A Hollywood film! And yet it disappeared. Fell out of print, until Virago picked it up and made it a Modern Classic – number 121!

There was an intriguing love triangle at the centre of the story, set against a colourful backdrop.

Lewis Dodd was a young composer, hugely promising and already enjoying a degree of success. He came from a conventional English family but he was drawn to a freer, more bohemian wa
Dec 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"There's no use crying about it."
"No use," agreed Teresa.

But the tears poured down her face, whether she would or no, until she conceived the happy idea of trying to water a primula with them. Immediately the flood was dried, after the manner of tears when a practical use has been found for them.

"And it would have been interesting," said Paulina sorrowfully, "to see if it would have made any difference to the primula."

Margaret Kennedy examines interpersonal dynamics with a keen eye and an acerbi
Bree (AnotherLookBook)
Dec 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
A novel about a circle of bohemian adults and children in the months following the death of their father and mentor, a brilliant but little-known English composer. 1924.

Full review (and other recommendations!) at Another look book

A gem of a book, truly. Not my favorite Margaret Kennedy--The Feast and Lucy Carmichael still hold that honor, as well as the infinitely prestigious awards of #1 and #2 Bree's Best Books of All Time. But The Constant Nymph is still some really solid literature. Kennedy'
Jan 29, 2017 rated it liked it
From what I've gathered from the back-of-book summary, this may have been the 1920s equivalent of 50 Shades. It was the top-selling book of the decade (in England? overall? who knows), has some scandalous affairs, and displays the relationship/character depth of a wading pool.

Now y'all know me: I love my cross-generational shit, but I can't stand romance novels. This was way more 'romance novel' than 'cross-generational shit' -- and because the characters were all so flat and vapid, except mayb
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usmlibrary
A complex tale somewhat flawed by its at-times chaotic mix of too many characters, with some of their fates trailing off into oblivion. The crux of the story lies within a few of the extended bohemian family, and drew me in as it went to its surprising conclusion. I loved the musical angle, which is very much of its time, and can forgive the non-pc nature of the story for the same reason. I plan to explore several more of Margaret Kennedy's novels.
Jul 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
This novel was huge 'n' controversial in its day. Simone de Beauvior was a fan. Tis about a musical genius who renounces the Alps and his soulmate for London and a society girl. It depicts civilisation as an estrangement from beauty. And condemns the common experience of culture as cosmestic. Frustrating ending. *remembrance gah*
Who wants to abscond to the Alps with me?


Lory Hess
Nov 11, 2015 rated it liked it
See my full review at The Emerald City Book Review. I found this novel a fascinating window into a time when the world had been shaken by one war but was not yet foreseeing the next, when social and artistic certainties were being questioned in all sorts of ways. The main characters belong to a Bohemian artistic circle centered around an expatriate English composer living in the Alps, and the first part of the book introduces us to his extremely unconventional menage, including a brood of childr ...more
Carla Remy
May 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This should just be called 'Sanger's Circus.'
Or something like that. Not The Constant Nymph.
The "bohemian", charmingly eccentric family is the heart of the book, the center of the story. Known as Sanger's Circus. Title right there.
Of course, this is 90 years later. And that great beginning to the book lasts only 80 pages. But it is still a very, very good novel. Somewhat in the vein of Wharton.
The end is a bit cheesy. The title is terrible. I think it's supposed to mean something like The Eter
Feb 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
one of the best books i ever read. It leaves you with a dreamy, creative, slightly sad aftertase.
Aug 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked this book until the end. The end was melodramatic and contrived. I won't tell you what happens, but you will probably be able to guess as there is foreshadowing.

Maybe the whole book was unrealistic, but I was willing to go along until those final few chapters.

I'm honestly grumpy about this, so I can't bring myself to write any more.
Nico Macdonald
Aug 10, 2014 added it
Shelves: fiction
Fascinating discussion on this book on Front Row, BBC Radio 4, 08/08/2014 ( This book appears to have been lost to the general public for many decades, but when it was first published it was incredibly well received by critics, other authors, and the public. (Among the authors who wrote to praise Kennedy were Thomas Hardy and JM Barrie, and Noel Coward and then John Gielgud starred in the later stage adaptations.) It appears to be a very modern novel and ...more
Jan 27, 2009 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this. Her writing style was very nice, descriptive but not flowery. And the story was a good one. Based on the description on the back, I was a little concerned that it would be "pedophilia-y" (because the main character starts as a 12 year old) but it's not creepy at all. I thought Kennedy did a wonderful job developing her characters. The story is a little twisty and odd and there were many oppotunities for the characters' actions to feel false, but they never did.
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Constant Nymph was Margaret Kennedy’s second novel, and probably her most successful and well known. I absolutely loved it, at once fully involving myself with the characters, as I became immersed in the world of ‘Sanger’s Circus’. I think Margaret Kennedy might be an author whose work I will have to read much more of.

read full review:
If I'd read this as a teenager I think I'd have a different view of it.I couldn't really get past that Tess was 14/15 and Lewis twice her age. I couldn't understand why no-one in the book ever said it was wrong of Lewis to encourage Tess. There was a scene where she acted as hostess for him in lieu of his wife and everyone thought it natural for them to be together, how suited they were.
That said, the book was well written, but of its time, a bit old fashioned.
Nov 20, 2008 rated it liked it
This novel was a huge hit when it was published and gave way to many film adaptations. It appears old-fashioned and somehow dated now, yet it remains charming, maybe actually because it is old-fashioned, and its strange romanticism remains intriguing.
Sep 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesante visión de dos modos de vida que para la autora son irreconciliables: el de la creación artística contra la rutina bien pensante diaria. La rígida y educada sociedad inglesa contra el apasionado espíritu de los creadores musicales.
Jul 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: funny
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vmc, 2017
I was quite captivated by the early parts of this book, and throughout the dialogue is very sharp and characterisation full of insights. In fact I agree with all the points made in Joanna Briscoe's introduction to this edition. Part I, set in the Alps, has irresistible energy to it. The description of composer Albert Sanger's odd and barely functional establishment, made up of an assortment of children from different marriages and ill-matched guests, is superb. The plot really starts moving when ...more
Dec 21, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ath-stacks
Green buckram rebinding, disintegrating sulfide paper pages, smells divine.

A great read. Kennedy's few lapses (Tessa "losing track" of Kate and Caryl; the change from useless duffer to kindly uncle Charles; the unexplained change in Tessa's diction; the romantic death ending) can be easily forgiven when measured against the perceptive exploration of the clash between convention and art, and the painful exposure of all the men's emotional imbecilities.

While the romanticism of Ze Great Artiste is
Verity W
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley
I've read a lot of books about this period and written in this period and I was excited to read this, but I didn't love it. I found a lot of the characters to be irritating, and not in a so irritating you want to keep reading to see them to get their comeuppance kind of way, just in a blah this lot annoy me way.

I'd rather read one of the Nancy Mitford novels again. And I've loved some of the Virago classics and the Persephone ones from the same period. A shame this one didn't grab me.

Still, I'm
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
bastante bosta:

Entrada en el diario 1 de Faedyl desde City Bell, Buenos Aires Province Argentina en viernes, 14 de agosto de 2009
5 de 10

Una historia basada en personajes muy afectados, demasiado al extremo. Entretiene pero puede entreverse el final. Algunos giros de la historia empero son interesantes, y esta bien descripto, lo que más me ha gustado es el desarrollo de los escenarios.
Rachael Eyre
Aug 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
My favourite book when I was younger. While I've read others I like better since, it still packs an emotional wallop. Love really is blind in this case; while a fifteen year old eloping with her dad's best friend sounds like the stuff of tabloid headlines, Kennedy turns it into a sensitive, heartbreaking story. I still don't like Florence, aka the wife, any better, but I understand her motives now I'm her age.
Babe Rainbow
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
For some reason I started this without realising it was essentially about a neglected and abused child being preyed on by various people. It succeeded in being creepy and realistic, although it was more depressing than I had bargained for so I didn't enjoy it much.
Mar 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: virago
Full of sly humor and wide-ranging compassion. Still, Florence's only partly comprehensible transformation from eager young woman into grasping tyrant and Lewis's failure to transform into anything but egocentric made this weary reading at times.
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really surprised by how much I liked this. A sprawling cast of characters, but with a few key personalities at the center holding it all together, and a great wisdom about human affairs underscoring it all too. I suspect I'll be revisiting this later on.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Miss Mole
  • The Crowded Street
  • The Echoing Grove
  • The World My Wilderness
  • The Semi-Attached Couple and the Semi-Detached House
  • The Lost Traveller
  • Sisters By a River
  • A View of the Harbour
  • Illyrian Spring
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • One Fine Day
  • The Rector's Daughter
  • All Passion Spent
  • The New House
  • The Land of Spices
  • The Pastor's Wife
  • Phoebe Junior (Chronicles of Carlingford, #6)
Margaret Kennedy was an English novelist and playwright.
She attended Cheltenham Ladies' College, where she began writing, and then went up to Somerville College, Oxford in 1915 to read history. Her first publication was a history book, A Century of Revolution (1922). Margaret Kennedy was married to the barrister David Davies. They had a son and two daughters, one of whom was the novelist Julia Bir
More about Margaret Kennedy...

Share This Book

“He became so gloomy that she asked him, at last, if he was worried about anything. He assured her, instantly, that he was the happiest man in the world.
And he was. At times he was almost bewildered by his own bliss in being there, with Tony, so terribly dear, beside him; really his own for the rest of his life. It was not her fault if the insatiable sorrows of an unequal love tormented him, the hungry demand for more, for a fuller return, for a feeling which it was not in her nature to give. As she leaned forward, absorbed in the passions staged beneath her, he felt suddenly that their box contained just himself and a wraith, a ghost; as if the real Antonia, whom he loved, was an imagined woman living only in his sad fancy.”
“Having renounced his native land, Sanger adopted no other. He roved about from one European capital to another, never settling anywhere for long, driven forwards by his strange, restless fancy. Usually he quartered himself upon his friends, who were accustomed to endure a great deal from him. He would stay with them for weeks, composing third acts in their spare bedrooms, producing operas which always failed financially, falling in love with their wives, conducting their symphonies, and borrowing money from hem. His preposterous family generally accompanied him. Few people could recollect quite how many children Sanger was supposed to have got, but there always seemed to be a good many and they were most shockingly brought up.” 0 likes
More quotes…