Archives » Antimacassar City

The Puritans by Guy McCrone

Black & White, 221 p. In Wax Fruit, 1993. First published in 1947.

This is the continuing chronicle of the Moorhouse family (from Antimacassar City and The Philistines) who have risen from a farmhouse in Ayrshire to prosperity in Victorian Glasgow, though much of the tale in this one is set in Vienna. The focus is on the relationship between Phoebe, the youngest Moorhouse, and Henry Hayburn who had become engaged towards the end of The Philistines even though he and his family had lost their money in the crash of the City Bank of Glasgow.

Suitable work for Henry being scarce he takes the opportunity presented by Maximilian Hirsch to oversee the setting up of a factory in Vienna to produce new agricultural machinery. First he travels there alone and lodges with the Klem family in a less salubrious part of the city but comes back to marry Phoebe and take her there. They take to the life in Vienna so much that they can laugh at their lack of guilt at availing themselves of the pleasure-grounds in the Prater in Vienna on a Sunday. Henry has few outlets beyond his work but Phoebe makes friends with Hirsch’s maiden aunts.

However, Aunt Bell back in Glasgow is displeased when Phoebe decides she will have the baby she is now expecting in Vienna and intrigues to have her come to Glasgow for the birth – with tragic consequences.

The writing in these tales never rises above the workmanlike. Too much is told not shown. Before Henry ever reaches Vienna the introduction to the narrative of Sepi Klem only ever portends one outcome. She performs much the same function in complicating our main characters’ lives as Lucy Rennie did in The Philistines. I note that – again like Lucy – she is a singer (though in Sepi’s case an aspiring one to begin with) a potential career of which her parents disapprove, wishing her to marry safe bank clerk Willi Pommer. Her flightiness is highlighted by her leaving home without explanation not long after Phoebe arrives in Vienna.

Her return months later allows McCrone to further contrast life in Austria and Scotland by expressing Herny’s internal discomfort of the Klem family’s display of emotion in his origins; coming “from an Island where the show of feeling is counted as weakness.”

The Wax Fruit trilogy is not great literature by any means but it is quick and easy to read.

Pedant’s corner:- “doing it’s best” (its best,) “slid them over over the stanchions of the pier” (has one ‘over’ too many,) “whether Sir Charles was pleased or sorry about his, Henry could not discover” (about this,) hoofs (in my youth the plural of hoof was always hooves,) “He took of his hat” (off,) Island (this was not a proper noun; ‘island’,) “for her seriously to flaunt Bel” (to flout Bel,) “the Hirschs’ landau” (the Hirsches’ landau,) bouganvilia (bouganvillea.) “‘But what’s wrong?’ She asked.” (But what’s wrong?’ she asked.”)

The Philistines by Guy McCrone

Black & White, 1993, 190 p. In Wax Fruit. First published 1947.

Well, it didn’t. Improve that is. The faults that beset Antimacassar City are still to the fore here. The focus of this second in the trilogy is on the youngest of the Moorhouse brothers, David, who begins to wonder, despite never having formed any attachment of the sort, if he ought to take himself a wife. He consults his sister-in-law Bel who asks if there is anyone who has shown any interest in him. There is of course; one Grace Dermott, whose ageing father is the head of Dermott Ships Limited. This would be another advantageous match for the family, whose members seem to be able to climb the social ladder almost effortlessly. Not quite as advantageous as eldest brother Mungo’s marriage into the Ayrshire quality (shipping was after all still ‘trade’ in those days) but good enough.

The fly in the ointment comes with the appearance in the tale of the Moorhouse’s former neighbour from the next door farm in Ayrshire, a childhood friend of David’s, Lucy Rennie, who has made a name for herself singing under the under the name Lucia Reni.

This is fiction designed as entertainment and also to appeal to a certain kind of municipal pride. Too much is told, not shown, the characters resemble puppets, present more to enable the plot than to live and breathe for themselves, and McCrone is keen to insert snippets of Glasgow’s history of the times. In addition he shies away from describing the compromises and accommodations Lucy had made in order to become a reasonably successful singer, merely hinting at past liaisons. Then again I don’t suppose on first publication in 1947 that any such content would have been comfortable to the douce readership he seems to have aimed for.

Pedant’s corner:- “In a year or to” (two,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech inside a sentence (x 2.) “Etiquette was being flaunted at every turn” (was being flouted,) “a childhood’s friend” (normally not rendered with an apostrophe. ‘a childhood friend’.) “The entire Butter family were at home” (that ‘entire’ makes the subject of the verb singular; ‘the entire family was at home’.) Ditto “Everybody that was anybody …. were filing into her drawing room” (everybody …. was filing into.)

Antimacassar City by Guy McCrone

Black &White, 1993, 208 p. In Wax Fruit. First published 1947.

Wax Fruit is  atrilogy of novels set in the  glasgow of the late nineteenth century. Antimacassar City is the first in the sequence.

We are dealing with the saga of the Moorhouse family, originating from an Ayrshire farm in the mid-1800s, though the setting is mainly Glasgow in the 1870s. The youngest Moorhouse, Phoebe, is the result of her father’s second marriage, to a Highland woman, and the book’s first scene describes the night she was orphaned by an accident. Phoebe is portrayed as a restrained, self-possessed girl and, later, young woman. Her older (half)-brother Mungo is the only one of the family left at the farm, the others have moved to Glasgow and are going up in the world. Her brother Arthur’s wife Bel determines to take her in, even though she is expecting their first child.

Phoebe takes a sisterly interest in the child, Arthur, when he is born. A few years later a maid, taking a shortcut home from a visit to his grandmother, loses him in a slum area when distracted by her sister’s presence there. On her own initiative and though still a child Phoebe sets out to find him, braving the shocking – and frightening – conditions of the overcrowded slums, and earns Bel’s everlasting gratitude for his rescue. McCrone’s attitude to the slum dwellers, couched through the middle-class values of the upwardly mobile Moorhouses, is disparaging and dismissive. They are depicted as depraved and dissolute; there is, it seems, nothing to redeem them.

The rest of the book deals mainly with Bel’s attempts to persuade her husband to move out of the city centre to the more salubrious West End and Mungo’s surprising attractiveness to Miss Ruanthorpe of Duntrafford, the local Big House in Ayrshire.

Henry Hayburn, tongue-tied except when enthusing about steam engines and engineering and a friend of another of Phoebe’s brothers, develops on sight a yearning for her. She is less enthusiastic but his family’s exposure to ruin in the collapse of the City Bank of Glasgow brings out her protective side.

The prose here is efficient but fails to spark. Elements of this are a bit like the works of Margaret Thompson Davis (though of course McCrone was published much earlier) but Davis’s attitude to the poor was more empathetic. But she was portraying the honourable poor.

As a cursory representation of Glasgow (a certain echelon of Glasgow) in the mid-Victorian age this is a good enough primer. Literature, though, it is not.

I still have two instalments to go. Maybe it will improve.

Pedant’s corner:- “Gilmour Hill”, “Kelvin Bridge” (1870s designations? now Gilmourhill and Kelvinbridge,) “‘you’ll can move out to the West’” (‘you’ll move out to the West’ or ‘you can move out to the West’,) missing commas before pieces of direct speech. “‘What way, can she not stay at the farm?’” (no need for that comma, it’s not two phrases,) “begging at he door” (at the door.) “Had she been unhappy here she was?” (where she was.) “Sophia as only too prompt” (was only too prompt,) missing quote marks around one piece of speech, “she turned way” (turned away,) “a coil of barbed wire lying rusty and hidden” (Barbed wire was only invented in 1873. There would hardly have been time for it to have been used on an Ayrshire estate and left to rust.)


free hit counter script