This irregular series began as a conscious decision to re-read certain books I had enjoyed many years ago when borrowed from Didsbury Library in South Manchester, and to consider how well, or otherwise, they stood up to my recollection of them. Since then, it’s expanded beyond the confines of the Library.
Unlike recent books in this category, Made for Man was indeed something I experienced from Didsbury Library. I borrowed it then, and wanted to re-read it now, because it’s a sequel of sorts to Number Nine, though only in the sense that it features the same characters as the earlier book. Or at least Admiral of the Fleet the Earl of Carraway and Stoke and his shy spinster daughter Lady Primrose.
If anything, the book is more of a sequel to Herbert’s 1934 novel, Holy Deadlock, in that it too is an attack on the ghastly and inhumane Divorce Laws of the Thirties, which remained practically unamended by the late Fifties, and for another decade yet.
The topic is clearly a controversial one, and I don’t think I’m displaying an unjustified prejudice in suggesting that it won’t be too long before the influence of the religious Right on Governments on both sides of the Atlantic, will see a focus on making Divorce much harder to achieve, and no doubt looking to drag it back to next-to-impossible.
APH was a lifelong campaigner for the easing of the Divorce Laws, to make them less cruel and less revolting to human nature. In Holy Deadlock his target was that insidious provision that, since the only ground for Divorce was adultery, there had to be an innocent party: if both spouses had transgressed, instead of this being doubly grounds for ending a marriage bringing no content to either party, it was instead grounds for relieving neither: the marriage must endure.
What’s more, the innocent party who procured their divorce had to remain innocent for six months after after the Decree Nisi (which means ‘unless’) and there was a Government Official, the King’s Proctor, whose sole purpose was to try to find evidence that the Petitioner had succumbed to his or her love for the person they intended to marry the day their Decree was to be made Absolute: if so, then the whole Divorce, no matter how merited, was rescinded. Like I say, inhumane.
Made for Man concerns itself with another cruel provision of the Church of England in relation to marriage. It’s a vastly different book from Number Nine, being wholly serious, lacking entirely of farce, and being as much a polemic as it is a novel, in fact more. Despite that, and despite some sagging in its final fifty pages, it is a much better book than I remember it being, and indeed much better than APH’s first appearance of the Admiral.
The story concerns the Admiral’s family, but as a secondary or shadow setting. Lady Primrose, that shy, malleable, virginal maid of the first book, has fallen in love and wishes to get married. Her intended, Cyril Sale, is a writer of a completely different background to the Anchors, but he loves her just as firmly. Indeed, Lady Primrose is, if anything, the more passionate of the two, unwilling to delay their sexual union any longer than need be.
The problem is that she is a deeply Christian woman, involved in and with her local Church all her life, and only marriage within the Church counts as marriage. Herein the problem that the book was written to illustrate. Cyril was married before. His wife abandoned him, ran off to America with another man. He is undoubtedly the innocent party. But whilst the Laws of the land paint him as innocent and support unequivocally his right to marry again, and whilst Lady Primrose’s Vicar, Mr Richards, is perfectly willing, he is not permitted to do so by the Church of England. Which has set its face against divorce and will refuse to marry any person who has a spouse still living.
This book was written in 1958, and is set in 1960. Incredibly, until 2002, the Church maintained its refusal to marry a divorcee. APH’s book is about challenging that stricture, and about making the point that marriage is made for Man (generically), not Man for marriage, just as in Holy Deadlock. When I first read it, the same heartless rules applied. I am enraged to learn now that it took so long. And to think that when I married in 2000, we chose marriage by Registrar’s Licence, but that if we had wanted to be married in Church, we would have been barred from doing so because my wife was divorced.
That’s a digression: returning to the story, as I’ve said, Lady Primrose and Cecil is a shadow story, whose only serious intrusion upon the book comes when the determined Lady Primrose gives her father an ultimatum, that if she cannot have her Church wedding within seven days, she will go off and live with Cyril. The words ‘in sin’ are not used but they don’t need to be. The depth of her determination though, in her person, in that time, in her family, is extraordinary.
No, there is another story, the same story, a pair of true and innocent lovers who are similarly debarred from marriage, even though she is the Duchess of Clowes and the god-daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury and he is a popular and talented and blameless Naval Flag Lieutenant (shades of Princess Margaret and Group-Captain Peter Townsend, a real-life version of this tragedy that, if not forbidden, might well have meant a not just happier but far better life for the Queen’s younger sister: look it up).
We see this potentially blighted relationship from a remove, and that remove is Dame Marion Horne, star of light musical comedy, a popular entertainer, and Lieutenant Daniel Drew’s first wife, who was divorced by him after she cheated on him.
Marion’s the impediment. The moment she realises that, she induces the Archbishop to attend on her so that she can make crystal clear that Dan is wholly innocent, but he is implacable. It can’t be done. It mustn’t be done. It won’t be done. The Church operates on God’s Laws and they are ’till death us do part’. Of course, he also throws in the mealy-mouthed bit about the Church can never really know who’s innocent or not, and if that doesn’t set you against the bastards…
We don’t know how old Marion is. Dan’s just under thirty but the impression is that she’s older than him, quite a bit older. She’s got a nasty little persistent cough that might be cancer (but isn’t) and she’s just come off a disastrous First Night in which everything has gone wrong, the critics have been savage and, worst of all, she cannot escape the word from the Gods of ‘You should have played the Mum, ducky’. It’s the death knell to her career as a leading lady. These things are set up there for us to see them, and to attribute to them at least part of the reason for her decision that will form the story of this book. She is the impediment to Dan, who she has wronged. She is keeping him from the love he deserves, and which he should be able to share with his lady. He cannot marry whilst she is still alive. Very well, she will cease to be alive. She will commit suicide.
That impulse is the heart of the novel. Its second string is how to avoid the ‘necessity’ for this to happen to enable two people to be happy together. This is the polemic aspect. To conduct it, APH introduces, well, basically, himself.
Named Sir Ewen Harker for the novel (APH was actually Sir Alan Patrick Herbert), he’s summoned into the story by the Admiral, who needs a co-conspirator for the task of enabling his daughter to marry as she wishes and deserves. Sir Ewen is a writer, a waterman, once an Independent MP, and a highly intelligent man who will espouse causes that expose the illogic of the world, with a particular interest in reforming the divorce laws to make them, and I say it again, more humane. In every aspect of Sir Ewen’s career as explained to us, he is APH, very effectively.
Because it’s Sir Ewen that has to expound to us, at great length, what the law is as it stands in 1960, and how it came to be, from the first institution of Civil Divorce Courts in 1857 to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937 – the one sponsored by APH – and how the Church responded to its proposals and, eventually, cheated Parliament, as Sir Ewen puts it.
I doubt this would go down well with any modern reader. It is, of course, greatly outdated, it’s conducted at a length that would try most contemporary readers’ patience and it is dry, as befits the seriousness of the subject. I would normally have expected to get bored with it myself, and indeed, towards the end of the book, when a Bill to reform the Laws is debated from all sides in the House of Lords, it does get tedious, yet APH manages to present this material in a readable manner, without tarting it up with funny distractions. That’s good writing for you.
That is the approach Sir Ewen and the Admiral want to take: a short Bill, introduced by the Admiral into the House of Lords, to clarify the Law as it was not clarified in 1937, and to remove the impediment upon divorcees being barred from remarriage in Church. And, as a back-up, they introduce a second, much shorter Bill, taking the Church’s logic to its natural end, by barring everyone from being able to re-marry under any circumstances. It’s not even that much of a reductio ad absurdism though it’s clearly meant to be.
It is of course the sensible approach. It’s drawbacks however are two: that it may well not work, and that if it does it will take ages. Too long for Lady Primrose and her now burgeoning desire for Cyril. Too long for Dan and Di, the Lieutenant and the Duchess. And thus far too long for Dame Marion Horne.
She’s failed to persuade the Archbishop, who presents the Church’s case in these pages with great energy and conviction, and she fails to convince him of how serious she is about doing away with herself to clear Dan’s path. The pair like each other as people: Dr Brayne almost falls in love with her. They are kind and courteous to one another, which is more that you can say for the Admiral and Sir Ewen’s dealings with him.
This pair are also made privy to Dame Marion’s intentions – the Admiral is an old friend. They persuade her against suicide, and instead concoct a plan where she will merely appear to have committed suicide, by jumping into the Thames off Lambeth Bridge and being picked up by the waiting Sir Ewen. Dame Marion will ‘die’, but in truth she will become her twin sister, who has lived in America for a couple of decades and whose fortuitous death has been announced, by telegram, early in the book.
It’s a complicated con, worked out in precise detail, but at the last the Dame withdraws from it. She’s set herself up as her own sister, Mildred, established the latter as a presence and a personality, but decides she can’t go through with it.
But that’s a lie, and it leads to the book’s best sequence. Sir Ewen is disturbed by Dame Marion’s apparent withdrawal, after he’s seen her determination. Suspecting, he takes his craft to Lambeth Bridge at the appointed time. Because Marion has decided to really go through with it. They have plotted for her the perfect death by suicide, and so she will use that plan to kill herself. For real. The anxious sequence that leads to her being unwillingly saved, by both Sir Alan and his wife, Lady Frances, whose previous objection to the whole thing does not affect her commitment to saving the day, is utterly compelling.
So we enter the endgame. A telegram arrives from America, regretting to inform Cyril of the death of his former wife enables Mr Richards to go ahead with Lady Primrose’s wedding (a telegram from his former wife wishing him every happiness arrives at the reception and is promptly destroyed by the Admiral, oh yes, we were properly suspicious). The Bill passes. The Commander and the Duchess are married in Westminster Abbey, the Archbishop performing the ceremony. Mildred Horne settles into a quiet life. Of course she can’t sing, not like her late sister, but she can play small parts in serious plays, leading to a career as a serious actress.
The one thing she can’t do, now and forever, is be Dame Marion. For the rest of her life she has to be an actress, twenty-four hours a day. No-one, not even her closest friends, recognise her. That’s not quite true. Hugh Creek, her Solicitor and her lover, who cannot be put in a position where he ‘knows’, recognises her. And so does one other person, from her voice when she privately sings a line from one of her recordings, and this is Doctor Brayne.
After he has been, in so many ways, the villain of the book, the evil that thinks it is merely being right, APH is generous with the Archbishop. Dr Brayne’s first thought on his discovery is, “Thank God she’s alive.” Moreover, despite her having perpetuated a wicked deception upon him, causing him much loss of face and personal scorn, he decides to keep her secret. And APH dips into the future, confirming that by his death, ten years hence, he was a pillar of the Church and its great reformation under his leadership, making it a kinder gentler, more humane church, in fact, more Christian.
So, this was Made for Man, the ‘sequel’ to Number Nine. Anthony, Viscount Anchor is present but not the hero in any way. His wife, Peach, plays a larger role: they already have two children. The Admiral’s made the Estate over to them and is determined to hang on for the statutory five years to defeat the Tax collectors’ ability to claw a lot of in back in Death Duties (only five? In my professional career it was seven). Only the Admiral is a real point of continuity, bluff and naval and reactionary as Hell, but you’d still automatically line up behind him, the mad old buffer. You may not agree with where his head is, and the book allows him many lectures to the young Moderns Peach gathers, including Cyril, but his heart is always with people, and that’s where it always should be.
A forgotten book, but still a worthwhile one.