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China Court: The Hours of a Country House
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Hana | 1104 comments Mod
This thread is for discussions on the book as a whole.

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 724 comments Oh, swing and a miss! I adored 97 percent of this book and hated the ending with a purple hatred (was also rather dubious about the insertion of the plot device that led to the ending). Even taking into account that it was written in a different era with different values, I was shocked and disgusted and it pretty much spoiled the book for me. Why couldn't Tracy and Peter simply have inherited the house and farm, respectively, free of conditions, and then been drawn together naturally by their love of place?

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Yes, Abigail. I finished this morning and I'm still digesting that last scene. I thought it packed quite an emotional punch (quite apart from the slap). Both Tracy and Peter were wound as tight as spools of thread with all the carryings on of the Hoard and the suddenness of their marriage. It seemed the slap and Tracy breaking the figurine brought them both back from the edge of emotional disaster.

I'm not at all sure Tracy and Peter would have been drawn together--or they might have been drawn but never crossed the gap. Both are very closed-in, insecure people and have both been damaged--Tracy by her chaotic upbringing and Peter by his London experiences, and the family losing all their money, and by the vocal distrust of Bella and Walter and 'The Hoard'.

B&W might have gotten to Tracy with their endless advice about why she shouldn't trust Peter--and Peter could easily have retreated into his usual 'keeping himself to himself' mode for the rest of his life.

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Abigail, was it the slap that bothered you most, or the forcible kiss?

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
There are a couple of key characters and story arcs that develop in the second half of the book. One, of course is Ripsie/Mrs Quin, but the other that really struck me was Eliza's story. I was open-mouthed about that one right up to the last chapter.

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 724 comments I'd say it was the whole coercive package. What a way to break down your partner's legitimate feelings of discomfort over the circumstances of your marriage! Would it kill him to be a little patient? Peter's actions would have convinced me that I had made a huge mistake, however attractive I might have found him before.

And there were so many other ways not only Peter but also the author could have handled the situation. Were I writing the book, I believe I would have drawn a veil of privacy over their wedding day and revisited them in an epilogue six months later, after they had had time to adjust. The whole thing felt completely out of tone with the rest of the book.

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 724 comments Eliza was a very interesting character, for sure. In modern times we tend to forget just how isolated rural people could be--though she certainly developed some ingenious (if immoral) workarounds. Certainly an object-lesson in the perils of not giving a bright person any positive outlets for their intelligence!

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
But Peter isn't really in great shape. He's not some Regency Buck. He's a down at the heels failure only about a year (see Ch 1-Lauds) into recovery. He's been working like crazy physically with calving and harvesting, had one moment of triumph, and now he's been plunged into the despair of Mrs. Quin's death and the fear of losing the farm.

He's as just as unhinged by events as Tracy is--and maybe even more so.

But he finally realizes he desires her physically, something he admits he's been suppressing. That, on a couple of re-readings, makes the final kiss okay for me and his recognition of the importance of the moment and symbolism of the broken figurine means he coming to know and love her.

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 724 comments You're right, they're both broken or at least damaged people, and I might have been more tolerant had we been given the opportunity to see the house healing them, and both of them growing into the situation. I do think each one had begun to love the other. It was just rather shocking to me, especially as the spot where we left them.

message 10: by Hana (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
I sort of think this was something of an experimental novel for Rumer Godden. It was certainly not in the style of her novels that I've read before.

message 11: by Hana (last edited Jul 12, 2018 06:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Maybe the house and Cecily have already begun to heal them. Ch. 3, Tierce, has the amazing moment when Peter and Tracy first meet as adults ( I think it's important to remember that Tracy is only 21 and probably a virgin). She's in the kitchen helping Cecily and making breakfast with an apron on. "If he had seen me at any other time he would never have liked me," said Tracy afterwards. "He wouldn't have let himself like me."

Barb in Maryland | 500 comments Just finished. First impression is that it has been a long time since I read a book about unhappy people that was so eloquent. The Quins sure did find myriad ways to mess up their lives over the generations. I guess Eliza found some small happiness with her book collecting; I hope Anne was content or satisfied being a missionary. Poor Lady Patrick--such a long cold life and poor Damaris! (Are we to assume that she died in childbirth? suicide? the story just tells us she died after a year of marriage--a marriage she did not want.) I am assuming that Ripsie and John Henry had a good life together--after she got over her infatuation with Boro, that is.
Hana, I agree with your thoughts in #3 and Abigail, I share your desire for a peek at Tracy and Peter 6 months down the road.

I will have to admit that I found the scenes with Walter, Bella, the Graces and Tom, Dick and Harry all talking over one another to be very funny to read. But poor Tracy and Peter, to be badgered so! Not funny for them at all. Every time Tracy stood up for herself, I cheered.

message 13: by Hana (last edited Jul 13, 2018 02:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Excellent summary, Barb!

I think Eliza relished her obsessive game of petty larceny. She channeled all the business savvy that in another era would have earned her a corner office into outwitting the whole of her family, running a sort of mafia style protection racket and outfoxing collectors and auctioneers. I thought there was a sort of justice that her collecting means the saving of China Court.

Lady Patrick was the character I thought the most tragic because her misery was mostly her own fault. The priest she threw out of the house had the measure of her very early on.

I was rolling on the floor laughing at the scenes with the Hoard! And that moment when, I think it was Mr. Alabaster, keeps trying to break in on the 'conversation' with his momentous news. I think it takes about six tries for him to get a word in edgewise :D

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 724 comments Damaris really was a loose end, wasn't she? And you're certainly right that most of them led unhappy lives. I was very touched by Ripsie's heartbreak, though as Mrs. Quin she seemed pretty content, despite missing those who were gone. Cecily seems the happiest. I wonder if Godden was consciously making a proto-feminist point about how destructive it is to force females into traditional roles?

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Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Poor Damaris! She must have been like a caged wild bird--I would guess that she died in childbirth because of the timing, but for a wild creature who had given up almost anything would have killed her because she would have lost the will to fight for life.

I'm not sure this was a feminist novel, except for the Eliza story arc. Cecily is happy in her very traditional role and Tracy seems to turn away from a 1960's 'explore the world' ideology to deliberately choose old roots and roles.

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Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Do you think Borowis was Stace's father? I don't remember if it's explicitly said but it does seem to be implied.

Barb in Maryland | 500 comments Hana wrote: "Do you think Borowis was Stace's father? I don't remember if it's explicitly said but it does seem to be implied."

I certainly got that impression--what with Ripsie and Boro spending all that time together in the weeks before the dance and the rather clandestine wedding that she and John Henry had.

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Hana | 1104 comments Mod
I wonder if Ripsie/Mrs Qwin had the second sight? There are some hints to that in the first half of the book. As a child she seemed to be a sort of elf child, a changeling. If she somehow intuited the whole Tracy/Peter connection it adds another dimension to her Will.

I just realized that Tracy and Peter must be cousins of some sort.

message 19: by Hana (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Oh, scratch that last. I think I've got the St. Omer connections all mixed up--so many affairs!

Barb in Maryland | 500 comments Am I wrong in thinking that Eliza's death was caused by some of the villagers (adults and/or children) throwing rocks at her and the pony?

Speaking of Eliza, I was so moved by the idea that she took her books to the graveyard to 'show' Jeremy. Who else could she show them to who would know and appreciate why she acquired them?

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 724 comments I think you're right about Eliza being killed as a result of the villagers throwing rocks at her.

Barb in Maryland | 500 comments One thought about the found books. The author chooses not to bring up the unpleasant fact that the value of the books will be added to the estate for death duty purposes. Mrs. Quin had set aside what she felt would be enough, but she didn't know about the books. I fear that, in the long run, Tracy and Peter aren't going to benefit as much as they hope and dream they are.

message 23: by Hana (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
I was horrified at the way Eliza died--the dark side of village life was that old prejudices were slow to disappear.

I think Walter (it would be him) did mention death duties but, Barb, you raise a good point on the books being subject to duties-- a relatively late addition to the tax codes (1881). The rate on the duties was a staggering 65% by 1940 and then were raised further over the next ten years. Plus the auction house would take a significant cut. The farm might have been eligible for some exemptions and if Peter could make it pay that would certainly help. This is a really sad article on the effect of taxation on British county houses:

Elinor | 209 comments I finished the book last night and read all the above comments with keen interest. I remain hopeful that the slap was Peter’s way of breaking a deadlock and that he would never raise his hand to Tracy again, although it certainly was jarring. And why could they not have agreed to wait to consummate the marriage until they both felt more comfortable? Anyway, their love of China Court is the great common bond that will see them succeed in the long run. I would love to read a sequel to this fascinating novel.

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Hana | 1104 comments Mod
I would love a sequel, too, Elinor. I'm not sure waiting would do much good, though. Peter and Tracy are both shy and inward sort of people and they might have just gone back into their shells and never come out again.

message 26: by Hana (last edited Jul 24, 2018 11:24AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Abigail wrote: ". I was very touched by Ripsie's heartbreak, though as Mrs. Quin she seemed pretty content, despite missing those who were gone.,..." I think she really was content. In Matins there is this lovely passage: 'Ripsie's heart bleeds away at that dance--and she lives happily on with John Henry and makes the garden. "Then what was all the pother about?" asks Mrs. Quin.'

message 27: by Hana (last edited Jul 25, 2018 11:18AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
I don't know if this will turn people off, but I think I've figured out the family tree for Peter and Tracy and it seems they are first cousins, once removed.

The consensus seems to be that Ripsie's father was Sir Harry St. Omer. That makes Harry St. Omer Tracy's great grandfather (unacknowledged, of course). The current Lord St. Omer seems to be Harry St. Omer's son. That makes him Peter's grandfather. If you check the chart of cousins you see how that gets us to the first cousin once-removed status.

Given that the St. Omer's and the Quin's have no history of marrying each other there should be no problem with genetic diversity and the kids should be just fine!

message 28: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments Whew! So many thoughts! First comes the obvious one of Eliza, doing evil that good may come, but not for any conscious good. She's stealing and collecting because she wants to, because she wants to get back at a world that never valued her. Eliza wanted what she wanted -on her own terms- and wouldn't ever look around for anything else. It's interesting that Anne made a life for herself, in spite of the things Eliza kept "doing for her". If Eliza had wanted to help Anne do what she really wanted to do, she could have. But Eliza was very like many people who want to "help" - but not in the way they want to be helped. Is it egoism (I know best) or is it laziness (I'll help at my convenience)?

And then there are Jared and Borowis, men who "don't mean" to be evil. Does their lack of intent excuse them? Because Jared didn't mean to destroy his wife, should she have forgiven and forgotten his abominable betrayal? Was it more forgivable because it was unintentional? And then there's Borowis, salving his "conscience" with the knowledge that John Henry, good old stolid, dependable Jod, will take care of Ripsie. And he does. Although he's very much in the background, john Henry is one of my favorite characters.

message 29: by Hana (last edited Jul 25, 2018 02:06PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Wow. Yes, Karlyne. I wonder if Eliza would be glad that her books might save China House? I'm also sure it was not due to any good intent on her part rather more a case of "But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it for good." (Joseph to his brothers in Egypt--Genesis 47-50).

message 30: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments The picture of Eliza showing her books to Jeremy Baxter was so poignant, and as Lady Pat said, "She wasn't mad. She was lonely." A heartbreaker.

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Hana | 1104 comments Mod
It was. And that does give her book monomania a slightly different twist. Jeremy Baxter was the one person in the household that she had a real relationship with and the books were their bond (as well as the cellar-raiding).

message 32: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments The scene where Lady Pat has rushed home to be with Jared and finds him not only sleeping with a slut, but defiling her own bed was another heart-wrenching picture. At the time I thought she should have handled it better, but now I'm wondering how. Her own money was gone, she had children, her family had disowned her, and her life had been shattered, her faith and trust in humanity (and God) completely gone. If she had been less prideful, perhaps she could have salvaged something from the wreck, but I think she thought her pride was all she had left and she clung to it.

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 724 comments I'm an ethical absolutist, I'm told, so I'll answer your rhetorical question about Jared and Borowis with a resounding no! Their lack of intent to do harm in no way excuses them. Children may be judged based on their intentions but adults can be judged based on the effect of their actions. The privileged and adored have a special obligation to put themselves in other people's shoes and bend over backwards to avoid harming others.

Poor Lady Pat--she was a trifling soul but did not deserve what she got. I agree that all she had left was her dignity and she clung to it. So many sad people passing through China Court! And each, to borrow Tolstoy's phrase, unhappy in their own way.

Elinor | 209 comments It seems that Lady Patrick had little choice but to remain in the home, but refuse to sleep with her husband again. And no matter how remorseful he felt, I'm pretty sure he would never have been faithful to her, and she was aware of that once the scales fell from her eyes. She wasn't prepared to accept his infidelities, although she loved him to the end. I did feel terribly sorry for her.

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Hana | 1104 comments Mod
I'm not at all sure that Lady Patrick had no choices. If she had less pride she could have gone back to her parents on bended knee and all and begged them to take her back. They might very well have done just that. Or she could have struck the bargain that so many women did and probably still do--forgive and turn a blind eye to her husband's faults. She might well have been happier either way. With the path she chose she was locked in, frozen--a terrible life.

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Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Lady Pat did forgive her husband in the end. I thought the deathbed scene where she lies once again in her marriage bed and remembers happiness before she passes away was incredibly moving. That was a true healing.

message 37: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments She tells Harry St. Omer that it isn't Jared she can't forgive but herself. She loved him so much that she was vulnerable, trusted him to love her back, believed in him completely. I think it was only after the passing of the years that she was able to look at him without passion, but with some love, after all.

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Hana | 1104 comments Mod
That's true, Karlyne. It seemed as if she viewed her own physical passion for her husband as a kind of sin. Maybe she was punishing herself as much as him.

It was ironic that Harry St. Omer was sent as the peace-maker. He should know about marital infidelity! When Walter was chosen as the go-between to negotiate Peter and Tracy's marriage there was a bit of an echo--the least likely person sent to do the job.

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 724 comments I found that whole passage with Lady Pat blaming herself to be pretty Stockholm Syndrome. If one is to believe that point of view--basically, that he was who he was and it was up to her to accept it--then surely she has a commensurate obligation to accept herself just as she is, without self-blame? The notion that the woman (usually) has to contort her own nature to fit the monolith that is her husband's nature is something I cannot abide.

Whew, this book is really bringing out the Plymouth Rock in me! It certainly offers endless scope for discussion.

message 40: by Hana (last edited Jul 25, 2018 05:29PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Plymouth Rock is one tough rock ;)

I think she did have an obligation to forgive herself and her confessor--I forget his name--pretty much called her on it.

I'm coming at this through the perceptive grid of my Jewish religious belief in which humans have an obligation to forgive other inevitably fallible humans and to leave judgement and punishment to God. We also have teachings about the hidden hand of Divine Providence, a theme that I think Godden is weaving into this tale. I'm not saying I'm right, just that this shared cultural heritage may be informing the author.

message 41: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments Does she blame herself, Abigail? The only part I can think of is where she almost wishes she hadn't come back early so that she wouldn't have found out, but she knows she would have eventually.

I don't think she would have ever felt sinful about her passion for Jared if he hadn't betrayed her. It was her pride that was stabbed through the heart.

message 42: by Hana (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Yes, that makes sense. It wasn't until the terrible night that she thinks about herself as (I think it was phrased) 'a vixen in heat'. And then when Harry St. Omer tries to make peace she thinks of all she did to please Jared in love-making and it appears distorted in her eyes.

message 43: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments She needed to forgive him for her own sake, her own mental health; I don't think there's any question of him deserving her forgiveness. But there's a big difference between forgiving and forgetting. In other words, she can forgive him, perhaps begin to do so by pitying him, but I see no moral obligation for her to allow him back into her bed. Adultery (which I see as a potent form of abuse -talk about Plymouth Rock absoluteness!) is the one thing that most religions agree can legally end a marriage.

message 44: by Hana (last edited Jul 25, 2018 06:10PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
Harry (naturally) says exactly the wrong thing (I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the page) that Jared has always enjoyed sort of low class girls and that delicately bred ladies can't satisfy those cravings. That really must have stabbed her high-bred pride through the heart--how she had "lowered herself" for him!

message 45: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments It's so hard to find passages because the memories are scattered all over! Now I can't find her death scene.

She knew that Jared had no excuse for his behavior, and Harry's "explanation" had to have made her realize that Jared never loved her as she did him. Another blow to her pride.

message 46: by Hana (last edited Jul 25, 2018 06:30PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
I know! That's driving me crazy and I've got so many pages bookmarked that it makes it worse because I can't remember why I bookmarked them :D

Ah! Lady Pat's death scene is the first paragraph in Matins.

Meanwhile, I checked on divorce law in 1878 or so...the fatal year. Lady Pat did have recourse to civil divorce on the grounds of adultery (she would have had to bring other causes but that could all be cooked up with the right legal help). She came from an extremely wealthy, prominent family and if she had gone back to them and begged forgiveness I'll bet they would have helped her with all that. I seem to recall that she was Roman Catholic and since she married out of the faith she could have sought a Catholic annulment since her children were not being raised (as promised) as Catholics.

message 47: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments I think that same pride that wouldn't let her take Jared back as an actual husband wouldn't let her crawl back to her family. Her mother must be dead (she has inherited her money and the pictures), and her father sounds as though he's the one who gave her her pride!

I'm skimming through most of the book again, mainly for Tracy and Peter and their reactions to each other.

Thanks for Lady Pat's death. There was so much in that paragraph it's no wonder I lost it!

message 48: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments And haha! to the bookmarks. I love picking up a note in a book - in my own handwriting yet - and wondering what in the world I meant!

message 49: by Hana (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hana | 1104 comments Mod
That happens to me, too! I think many of my bookmarks are Tracy and Peter related. I'm dripping from a mere 1 mile walk in this humidity so once I cool off and my fingers stop sticking to the keyboard I'll post some of my finds.

message 50: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum | 1964 comments We have no humidity, but this dry heat will be in the upper 90s today. The smoke is trying to clear out, but there are fires all around. I wish we would actually "manage" our lands, but that's another story... I will not be hiking today!

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