I have just finished reading the most adorable book – possibly in the universe.
(couldn’t resist – and not even sorry… 🙂 )
First published in 1946 and old enough to have those oh-so-forties cover art that could be advertising anything from kitchen sinks to highlights-in-a-box or girdles, it was so surprisingly clever and funny, I actually LOL-ed in real life…
This is my fifth Sara Seale book, whom I have only just discovered, rather serendipitously through a random posting on a forum. I was searching for more vintage gothic romances; they were asking for romance books that could be read to a bed-ridden 85 yr old mother, who didn’t like the smexy bits in books being read aloud to her… Although it didn’t sound as if she was against them completely – but perhaps something is lost in the translation?? (!)
I saw the name Sara Seale on a post, and, interest peaked, I put on my investigative hat and started researching.
There is a little bit of confusion regarding Sara Seale, who was either a pseudonym used by Mary Jane MacPherson (d. 11 March 1974) and/or A.D.L. MacPherson (d. 30 October 1978)…sources (which sounds ever-so academic, but in reality, was wikipedia & fantastic fiction) seem to waver between referring to the author as a ‘writing team’ or as a single person with two names.
Both entries were similar enough to assume they both found out the info from a single source, Fantastic Fiction, though, had one up on Wikipedia with a darling photo of A.D.L. MacPherson and/or Jane MacPherson with a pet dog.
But despite the confusion, facts be facts: Sara Seale is the named author of over 45 romance novels from 1932 to 1971.
I have so far read:
– Penny Plain
– Beggars May Sing
– Charity Girl
and the current one – by far the best, call Folly to be Wise.
I have noticed there seem to be mostly similar plots:
– orphaned-poor-young-girl, entering marriage of convenience with older (38 (!)) scarred – internally or externally – and made whole by the twu luve
(again…not sorry :))
But the antagonist tends to alternate between:
- evil older beautiful woman who is worldly-wise and had claws in the hero at some point
- mad/insane family member who tries to kill the heroine at least twice.
Folly to Wise, however was a little different – for a start – it was clever and funny, and the heroine was in a happy albeit dysfunctional family.
From the blurb:
Tessa was happy and content with her carefree life on her Dartmoor farm home, with her horses and the uncomplicated companionship of her childhood friend Dick. So when she acquired an unwelcome admirer, she fended off his attention by telling him she was secretly engaged to Max Soames, the wealthy local lord of the manor who had been abroad for several years. Unfortunately, Max chose this unsuitable moment to come home and promptly claim Tessa as his ‘fiancée’. How could she extricate herself from this tangled web she had so impulsively woven?
See? Already I am intrigued…
“He’s the most hateful man I’ve ever met,” she cried. “I never know when he’s serious or when he’s laughing. He’s just like his nose—supercilious and horrid.”
“I haven’t your book-learning, my lover, so I don’t know what that means, but a man’s nose is ever a good guide,” Rosa told her. “You’ve nothing to fear from Belaver’s nose.
“The most awful thing!” Tessa burst out when they were alone. “The Blackbeetle wants to marry me!”
“No!” said Jackie. “How perfectly frightful! What did you say? And how did he say it?”
“And then”—Tessa’s own eyes widened at the memory— “when I said I couldn’t marry him, thank you, he said I couldn’t know my own mind so young, and was still coming to see Father, and I got in a panic because Rosa had been queer lately, talking about courting and husbands and things, and I think she and Aunt Abby are plotting something, and I said I couldn’t marry him because I was pledged to another. You talk like that when you’ve been with him a little while, you know.”
Jackie began to laugh.
“What a joke! But did he believe you? He must know we don’t know any men.”
“We could have walked,” she said. “It’s only three miles across the moor.
“Perish the thought! I never walk if I can drive.”
Her nose wrinkled scornfully.
“Don’t you have the energy for anything?” she asked.
“Oh, some things,” he replied. “I have an idea that our engagement is going to be rather energetic.”
“Well, you might have pretended to be a bit anxious. You’re always telling me that people expect us to show some ardour.”
His eyebrows shot up.
“This from you! What do you imagine should have been my reaction?”
She looked at him doubtfully.
“You might have wrung your hands, or said: ‘My God, she’s dead!’ or something.”
His mouth twitched.
Both Max & Tessa get some really good lines…
One thing I desperately wanted to find, was a version of the dress that Tessa wore to the first dinner – it was her mother’s wedding dress; and it sounded gorgeous:
‘There was a lace wedding veil, and. a wreath of orange blossom; there were long white suede gloves, incredibly small, and little satin slippers, and under these lay the frock. Rosa lifted it out lovingly, holding it up to the light for Tessa to admire. The little boned bodice looked tiny above the stiff folds of the wide moire skirt, and the delicate whiteness of nineteen years ago had deepened to old ivory.’
Now given that the book was published in 1946 … and no date is given for the year the book was set in, I’m operating under the assumption that is was a contemporary setting/time, as it was a general Harlequin Romance, also the cover art on the original looks to be the forties in style. So, counting 19 years back from that drops us into 1927.
Key words around the description were wide skirt, moire, boned bodice, picture frock.
So I went a searching…
According to the THE NEW ZEALAND RAILWAYS MAGAZINE, VOLUME 4, ISSUE 6 (OCTOBER 1, 1929), the following is charming a description of a Picture Frock.
‘If you are fond of soft feminine lines you will undoubtedly lose your heart to the picture frock illustrated, which would look delightful in a silk fabric, such as silk moracain, plain or patterned crepe-de-chine. Whatever material you finally decide upon, however, do please bear in mind that it should have a fair amount of weight in it if the flare is to be a real success. Light-weight fabrics look well pleated or gathered on the straight, but they are never at their best cut on the circular.
The picture frock is a wonderfully simple one to copy. It has a figure-fitting bodice, the edge of which is piped and joined to the flared skirt, which is set into a few gathers at each side. The neck is cut with a tight V, and has turned revers in front which continue and tie in long ends at the back.’
Although, the picture is slightly less close to our book description…
Incidentally, the next section in the magazine included a ‘delightful way of making coffee’ which was too good to resist… you can find that here…
So using the key words and some long hours fairly near drooling over haute couture of the early 1920s, I have compiled a list of images that maybe close representations of what the dress could have looked like –
if only I had a) lashings of money b) an entire house devoted to wardrobes and clothes…and c) no need for a day job – so I could simply change outfits 14 times a day.
plus — I am pretty sure chartreuse is now my favourite colour – in the world.
BTW did you know that Seale was one of the first Mills & Boon’s authors published in Germany and the Netherlands?
Unfortunately, as a downside, there isn’t a lot of food descriptions in Seale stories – she seems to be much more focused on ingenue’s tearing up at cavalier treatment of the older and somewhat alpha hero….
BUT I think this story is crying out to be eaten with Chocolate Rum Truffles
I found a recipe in a 1972 cookbook called For the Love of Cooking, by Sonia Allison – I haven’t tried it yet – but it looks divine.
I have included here
See? A lazy afternoon, a sunbeam to sit in, a box of truffles, a glass of wine and a happily-ever-after…what more could you want from a day?
À bientôt y’all
One thought on “Folly to be Wise”
Thanks for this lovely article! I’ve recently been reading a tonne of Sara Seale, which has become a kind of project, though I’m not sure to what end.
Folly To Be Wise is definitely one of the better ones I’ve read so far. Some of her novels appear to be lost, eg there are some not apparently listed in the British Library but are mentioned elsewhere, though it’s also hard to get a definitive bibliography. Some of them had more than one title, which may be creating duplicate entries in some records.
The one I’ve just read, “Stormy Petrel” (1941) was very odd and unsatisfying. I’m surprised it was republished as a Mills & Boon (in 1976) because it doesn’t even fit the genre.
I’m fascinated to find out more about this woman, but she seems to be a complete mystery. I don’t know if Mills & Boon keep records of past authors.