‘I’ve come,’ announced Mr Joyce, ‘to talk about Martha.’
That’s a real suck-you-in sentence which had me loving Martha without knowing a dang thing about her. I imagined that she’d run rings about Mr Joyce and that she’d make me laugh in the process.
Margery Sharp again manages to combine sheer elegance of language with heroines that are anything but. Martha is fat and plain, but she doesn’t give a toss – or not even that, it’s more that she hasn’t even ever thought about such trivial matters. She’s an artist, obsessed with shape, and then with colour. Nothing matters to her apart from that. Oh, she likes a good bath, and she eats like she is built. But if she had the least reason to think that either of those habits were bad for her art, they’d be out on their ear. Just like Eric.
In fact, just like her baby. She gets pregnant to Eric. Drops him without his knowing that – he had plans to marry and obviously then she’d give up art. She has the baby in secret, and then leaves it with a note at Eric’s front door. It’s the spitting image of him. He lives with his mother. She left formula for the baby. Sorted. Back to painting.
I suppose that all sound awful, but it isn’t. It’s just funny and admirable that she can live in such a male-like way, obsessed with the thing she does and survive even the potential inconvenience, if not trauma, of an unwanted pregnancy.
After reading this and picking up the other Sharp I’d bought at the same time, I discovered I’d read them in the wrong order. The Eye of Love is an account of the charming love affair between Martha’s aunt and her (spoiler) husband-to-be. It will come as no surprise that this pair is as unattractive as Martha. But they have only eyes for each other as those who attempt to part them discover. If you ask me, it doesn’t matter whether you read this or Martha in Paris first. But there is a third and I am pleased that I am going to read that last, when I am able to pick up a copy.
The edition I have of these two is just awful, not least because it wants to turn Sharp’s exceedingly clever writing into the most tawdry of chick-lit, or whatever it was called in the early sixties. The cover of Martha in Paris proclaims:
Martha went to Paris
to learn to paint…
and learnt to love instead.
It’s so insulting to Sharp when love of any kind, of her rellies, her baby, the father of the baby is just not happening. NOT HAPPENING. New English Library what on earth were you thinking?