Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

29 January, 2013

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

Simon T
announced on his blog that he would be doing a January readalong and discussion of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey in preparation for the film release in early 2013. I’d been meaning to read more Persephones and this was one of the titles that I kept coming across on many a blog.

It’s the morning of Dolly’s wedding and as she is getting prepared, her sister Kitty, friend Evelyn, her mother Mrs. Thatcham and assorted relatives are running around getting things in order, arranging food and making sure everyone will be at the church on time. And then there is Joseph, Dolly’s friend, who is not quite part of the wedding party and who seems to be jittery and morose, waiting only for a chance to speak to Dolly. The summer before, they were as thick as thieves, but something had shifted and now Dolly is getting married to Owen and preparing to leave for South Africa. As the hour approaches, Joseph is getting nervous. And Dolly is downing the rum.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was expecting there to be a little more action than what I encountered. Strachey’s short novel is a single morning on Dolly’s wedding. The story is very sparse, and yet there is an awful lot of bickering. I just found it dull and verbose and the most interesting bits of the story and by that I mean Joseph and Dolly’s sub rosa history was very restrained and ultimately confusing. Part of the reason why I probably didn’t gel with the book is that I didn’t really find any of the characters endearing. Mrs. Thatcham is probably the most notable of the characters because of her rather caricaturish treatment a la Mrs. Bennet. And Owen seems an affable bridegroom but a little dim. Joseph, with his weeping and shuddering, I don’t really know what to make of, he seems utterly lacking in charm and Dolly, rather vacuous and obviously not knowing her own mind. I just didn’t really care what happened to them.

Part of the charm may lie in the story’s sparcity but I wished Strachey had fleshed it out a bit more. I get that it’s a slice of life, a glimpse into one chaotic morning. Maybe looking at it as a morning that will have repurcussions is wrong. Maybe it’s better to see it as the critical juncture at which something ends.

However, I felt that I was missing something. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is a favourite of so many readers and I wanted to know what it is about the book that makes people love it so much. So I re-read it a month later with a variety of books sandwiched in between. And I think I’m beginning to understand why Strachey’s prose has bewitched so many.

Yes, I still wish there was more in the tale. But I think that may have been Strachey’s tack, just holding back enough, just hinting, never quite getting to the point, just like her characters and just like so much of real life.

There is no denying Strachey’s ability to write. Her descriptions are so vivid, her snippets of conversation so targeted that altogether they create one vital moment just before a wedding that will change everything. Mrs. Thatcham’s ghastliness kept taut, shattered by Joseph and then rebuilt in a flash is pure genius. The novel is like a snowball, rolling down a hill, gathering momentum, shattering or absorbing everything in its way. And inside is this yearning, this big what if. Sometimes things go wrong and things are left unsaid. And Strachey has bottled this and delivered it in Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. This is a queer one. It’s so intense but suppressed by superficial gentility and inane chatter. The more I think about it, the more interesting it becomes. And I know I will be revisiting it again.

The film adaptation looks exciting and probably has a lot more of the story filled in compared to the novel. Plus there’s Elizabeth McGovern. She makes everything better, doesn’t she?

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12 Responses to “Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey”

  1. Simon T Says:

    Well done for re-reading something you didn’t love the first time! I often wonder (especially after re-reading One Fine Day) whether I’ve missed out on brilliant books the first time around – because, of course, I tend to re-read only books I’ve loved.

    Like you, I appreciated more on the second time around – so, even if I didn’t find it quite so funny, I saw more of what was going on with Strachey’s writing.

    • sakura Says:

      I’m not sure whether I would have re-read it if it had been a longer book. So I’m glad in some ways that it was short. But yes, I think my frustrations with it overshadowed how much I actually liked Strachey’s writing and I would like to read more by her.

  2. Alex in Leeds Says:

    I didn’t fancy a re-read after not quite getting it but I’ve enjoyed seeing what others taking part in the readalong have got from the story and which elements they’ve quoted and highlighted. I have this in an old Penguin edition where it is paired with another story which I intend to read before passing on the book, it’ll be interesting to see whether it’s more ‘fleshed out’ as like you with your first read I found the spare style cold.

    • sakura Says:

      I’m interested in knowing which story it’s been paired with and whether the pairing will change how you remember Cheerful Weather. And yes, it’s very interesting to see everyone’s reactions.


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  4. Lizzy Siddal Says:

    I won’t be re-reading. It felt more like a sketch than a rounded out story to me. Persephone has spun it into a volume in its own right with a lot of white space on the page. I will go and see the film, if only to see how the screenwriters manage to flesh it out and I suspect this will be a rare case of the film surpassing the book.

    • sakura Says:

      There are some books that work better as films (The English Patient is one of them although I may be in the minority). I’m really keen to see the film to see how it turns out too. It looks as though there are quite a few readers who struggled with this book but I’m glad I re-read it.

  5. vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas) Says:

    I really enjoyed your review a lot! I love your comment on suppression – it’s really a key, I think. For me, I don’t really want to know exactly what they did last summer (oh dear, movie pun!). I wonder why everyone thinks Owen is a bit dumb. Misled, I think, not necessarily thick (tho’ if he’s a diplomat, maybe he needs to be a bit more with it!).

    • sakura Says:

      Thank you:) You make a good point there although I’m nosy and do want to know what they did last summer! I’m not sure about Owen, my impression was that he didn’t think much about things compared to Joseph who is all all about the inner life, there’s so much going on. Maybe he’s just less aware than actually dim.

  6. Mystica Says:

    I’ve seen this book coming up on several blogs. All with differing reviews on this book. I enjoyed your post.

  7. Violet Says:

    I read this last year and thought it was a piece of fairly vicious satire. When I read in the intro what a miserable woman Strachey was, I was more certain that she was really sticking it to people she knew in real life. It was not at all what I expected. I did think that Dolly might have got more than she bargained for with Owen. He had a quiet determination about him and I don’t think he was quite the pushover she imagined him to be.

    • sakura Says:

      I think you’re right, Violet, about Strachey writing about people she knew. There was something vicious about the way she described the characters. And yes, it wasn’t what I was expecting either.


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