I’m still not really sure about Violet Trefusis as a writer; nothing I’ve read so far (in all the two and a half books I’ve got through) has proved as interesting as her personal life. She’s probably a better writer than Vita Sackville-West (the personal life again, but this is how I heard of Violet and why I eventually picked up one of her books, that and it was a virago classic) but given my track record trying to plough through Vita’s books that’s faint praise.
Doubts aside ‘Hunt the Slipper’ is the best Trefusis I’ve read so far (more faint praise but I will definitely have another go at ‘Pirates at Play’ after this). If you don’t care for spoilers it might be as well to stop looking now, this is a book to read to find out why and how things happen, the plot is a fairly pedestrian man meets girl and then it starts to go wrong affair.
Nigel Benson is, at 49, an aging sybarite who has set up home with his sister Molly. They live happily enough together, she has her garden, he has his food, his house in perfect taste, and his bibelots, along with the occasional elegantly conducted flirtation – although to Molly’s relief these are becoming less frequent. Social duty takes them on a visit to the Crome’s; Sir Anthony and his young wife Caroline, Caroline is shockingly rude and that would be the end of it except that the four meet again in Paris. It’s at this point that Nigel begins to see Caroline as attractive, and sees she’s in love with another man. Bad luck for Caroline that other man turns out to be a bounder and she catches flu. Bad luck for Nigel because he keeps her company whilst she’s sick and falls in love with her.
Caroline is able to return to England without a backwards glance, but poor Molly is left to drag Nigel around Italy in a forlorn and tortured state. On the whole it seems to agree with him though because he returns home lean and fit. Meanwhile Caroline and Anthony have been travelling around Italy too where she’s become increasingly restless and increasingly attached to her memories of Nigel. All the while a delicate game is being played out in letters. When they finally do meet again an affair is quickly begun but Nigel is plagued by jealousy and insecurity regarding his age. Caroline in turn is totally ruthless in emotional matters and given to the grand gesture. She wants to marry Nigel and bear his children, welcomes the possibility of a scandal, longs to work and struggle and live (in the way that people who never have had to work or struggle do) and has no compunction when it comes to leaving her existing husband and child.