Monday, September 7, 2009

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

42. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
by Julia Strachey
fiction, 1932
finished, 9/2/09

When I first began Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, I read it slowly, absorbing the very descriptive prose.

The mirror was rusted over with tiny specks by the hundred, and also the quicksilver at the back had become blackened in the course of ages, so that the drawing-room, as reflected in its corpse-like face, seemed forever swimming in an eerie, dead-looking, metallic twilight, such as is never experienced in the actual world outside.

Sunlight fell in dazzling oblongs through the windows upon the faded wistaria on the cretonne sofas and arm chairs, and lit up the brass Indian tray on trestle legs piled up with magazines and library books. The yellow brilliance was reflected back from the white-and-brown Serbian embroidery hanging on the end of the piano, and from the silver photograph frames, and Moorish paper-knives.

Great stuff, don't you agree?

I didn't enjoy myself so much while within the pages, but now that I've been away from it for a few days, and as I sat down to write, I began to think more highly of the book. It deals most aptly with the stresses and strains of a wedding day. These are particularly acute when some of the extended family members are actually staying at the bride's home. We all bring our own thoughts and memories and emotions to a wedding, as we do to a funeral. In a few words, Julia Strachey conveys much about each character.

The younger sister of the bride who says about herself:

You must think me a kind of great clumsy block-headed rhinoceros in my bridesmaid's frock, I know!

The mother of the bride is ridiculed behind her back by a friend of her daughter's. That same mother makes mistakes and blames others for them. Two younger cousins bicker about socks. An old suitor is miserable. The bride herself is dulling her feelings with rum; and why not? She has been engaged only a month, and is going to embark to South America with her older husband, leaving this home and her family. She says to her old friend:

You will faithfully promise to come out and stay with us; won't you?... I could not possibly exist there for long without you.

I've read Cheerful Weather for the Wedding described as a black comedy, and I suppose that's so, but it is also a pretty darn accurate portrayal of a wedding day. Maybe not every wedding day, but certainly many. We are often not at our best when emotions run so high. Our worst traits easily come to the surface. I think perhaps what I thought of as lack of enjoyment was really discomfort - the same feeling I would have had if I'd been amongst these people. That's high acclaim for a writer if she can make the reader feel like she is there, inside the book; not participating but certainly picking up the atmosphere.

Tom and I have never for a moment regretted not having a big wedding. We went to England. We lived in a London hotel for fifteen days to satisfy a residency requirement, and went to a registry office in South Kensington, where, in a lovely little room with stained glass windows, and a local photographer and the hotel owner as witnesses, we became a married couple. No stress, no anxiety, no details. Perfect.

The cover, a 1932 painting by Harold Knight called Girl Reading, may just be one of my favorite paintings in the world. I love every detail. The eyes that remind me of the Stephen girls [Virginia Stephen Woolf and Vanessa Stephen Bell], the folds of the clothes, the faint look of ennui in her expression, the view out the window.

The endpapers are :

taken from a 1932 design for a printed dress fabric by Madeleine Lawrence for the Silver Studio © MoDA, Middlesex University

The book was first published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press.

Other reviews in no particular order (you may click the numbers):


I'm sure there are many others, and if you've written about it please leave me a comment with the link, and I'll post it.


  1. I have this title on my wishlist. Sometimes I need a little distance from certain books in order to think them over and work out my feelings. I wonder about all the follow up to a wedding and how the stress can take away from the day when two people should be focused on the act of uniting their lives into one. We had a very small wedding, about thirty people, and the little stress that we had (family-related as well as financial) was not pleasant and cast a shadow on the day as well as my memories. I think you and your husband were on to something.

  2. I love the endpapers of that book! How beautiful!

  3. Have you read "Julia: A Portrait of Julia Strachey by Herself and Frances Partridge"? It's a very interesting autobiography of Julia Strachey in collaboration with her oldest friend. Out of print now, but available second hand.

    I lived for a year in the backyard of the Bloomsbury Group in Sussex and had so much fun studying them and visiting their homes while I was there. Thanks for this wonderful post!

  4. Gotta say - love the way you love books. Not only content, but the way they physically present themselves.

    Sometimes I fall for a book for its cover...a human failing I suppose...which is why Kindle will never have me...not even at hello... :)

    - J.

    PS - Wife and I had never had the big wedding and never regretted it either. Taxi'd down to city hall, married by the judge, then back home to our apartment with friends and home made chocolate cake...that was 28 years ago...

  5. BookPsmith, I like that about needing 'a little distance' - and about it being with only 'certain' books. There are some I sit down and write about the minute I finish and others take days and days before I am inspired to say anything. It's so interesting to me. I'm sorry about the 'shadow.' I suspect every single one has some not-so-positive aspect. Mine was that both my parents didn't live to see it.

    Sherri, every Persephone book has these amazing endpapers that are from the same year the book was published. Such a terrific publisher!

    Edelweiss Transplanted, no I haven't, but the preface was written by Frances P. in 2002. I did read A Pacifist's War a few years ago. Lucky, lucky you. I would have loved that - to be completely immersed intellectually and locally with these amazing people. I'm sure it is a treasured experience for you.

    Jeff, thanks! I've thought about the kindle in these terms too - I suppose the words are the thing but it is also the feel, the smell, the look, the essence. Your wedding sounds perfect! Do you make the choc cake each anniversary?!

  6. I love that you were married in South Ken. I find that very romantic, the way you did it. My wedding was more like Four Weddings and a Funeral! I didn't feel stressed though, I think my parents did.

  7. A lovely review of a Persephone that I've not heard of. But it must be a well known one because that lovely cover would indicate that it's been republished as one of their 'classics' or whatever they call it. It also means I may find it in my local Waterstones so I'll look when I'm next there. Thanks for bringing it to my notice, Nan.

    We had a very small wedding with only about 10 close family members and have never regretted it. I was not, and never have been, keen on being the centre of attention at some huge do.

  8. Oh! You had the kind of wedding I wished to have/ should have had. Good for you. I'm sure I'll get reverberations from my own as I read Julia Strachey's novel. Still, I can't wait to read it. As always, thanks, Nan!

  9. That was actually the only and last - but I've now been known to come up with a killer key lime pie... :)

    - J.

  10. Carole, I've got to see the movie again. It's been ages, and I don't remember it that well. My favorite things about our wedding were the violets bought from a street vendor, and the hotel giving us champagne, and the taxi driver giving us a free ride as our 'first wedding present.' The kindness and generosity of the British is something wonderful.

    Yes, Cath, it is one of the 'classics.' I'm with you about being the center of attention. :<)

    June, the amazing thing is that this wedding was 77 years ago, and feels quite fresh and recognizable.

    Now, Jeff, do you really think you can just drop a sentence like that into a conversation without giving the recipe?!!

  11. I so loved this book - so witty and thoughtful.

  12. Stuck in a Book, I'd be interested to know if your mother read it, and what she thought. You are right about 'thoughtful' in the sense of full of thought. There isn't an unnecessary word or sentiment.


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