There’s an England that lurks in the imagination as much as in reality; an England of villages nestling among green hills, each with its inn, a church, a splendid manor house, Georgian houses and tiny thatched cottages, grouped around a village green.
The England of Agatha Christie and Miss Marple. The England of P G Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle, with imposters lurking within its imposing walls, of Downton Abbey with its family tensions and Gosford Park, full of scheming servants.
Trollope’s England, too, with sly or eccentric clerics, dangerous bishops and gentry families leading tranquil lives on the surface, but seething with disharmony and emotional turmoil within.
And also the England of Evelyn Waugh, of Nancy Mitford and Patrick O’Brian, a land that readers love to visit, an enchanting, deceiving landscape, rich with intrigue and scandal and a life so different from ours.
Imperfect, intriguing, full of ghosts and eccentrics and family values that startle modern minds – this is the England I’ve created for the Mountjoy novels. [from the author's website]
I had a sudden urge to reread these, and Kindle books make it easy to indulge such urges. True, the books are published under the name 'Elizabeth Aston' rather than 'Elizabeth Pewsey'; there are some conversion errors ('nave' instead of naïve, 'corning' instead of coming); and Amazon have unaccountably retitled Divine Comedy as The World, the Flesh and the Bishop (which, come to think of it, is slightly spoilery). But I do still love the slightly supernatural, often ironic portrayal of the English gentry. "Fresh from a hot bath she looked young, squeaky-clean and, thought Seton, very attractive. His feelings towards her were perhaps not a lot stronger than those he felt for a favourite dog; but then he liked dogs very much indeed." [Children of Chance, loc. 1924] And it's hard not to feel sympathy for those involved with the Mountjoy family -- with "their total lack of interest in the rest of the human race, and their unconcern for what other people thought about them" [Unholy Harmonies, loc. 900] -- as well as a masochistic fascination with the Mountjoys themselves.
Last time I reread these novels I was wondering when they were set -- and was misled by a description on Amazon of Children of Chance, which referred to the long hot summer of 1976. I think that's wrong. In Unaccustomed Spirits Cleo heads off to Hungary, which is experiencing political unrest (Hungarian uprising, 1959?), via the Air Terminal in Cromwell Rd (which closed in 1973). On the other hand, she's been sharing a house with two ghosts (one Elizabethan, one from the Civil War) whose favourite TV programme is Star Trek (first broadcast 1966). I have to conclude that the historical period in which the Mountjoy novels are set is simply The Past.