Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Revolt - and Virginia by Essie Summers

Title: Revolt – and Virginia
Author: Essie Summers (1912-1998)
Publication: Harlequin, paperback, 1970 (originally published 1969)
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Setting: New Zealand
Description: Virginia loves her job managing the advertising of a prominent family-owned department store in Dunedin until the owner’s son improperly snatches a kiss. Hello, Me Too movement!

Even worse, his mother indulges in some victim-blaming by accusing her of pursuing him because he’s a good catch, while the offender laughs and accuses Virginia of having been a “bit stodgy” in the past. Infuriated, Virginia quits her job, then has an annoying visit with her boyfriend’s mother (another dreadful parent) who worships son Leicester, a minister, and has steered him toward Virginia, deemed suitable because her father is also a minister. Virginia is offended by the implication that Leicester has become serious about her for the wrong reasons, and is now sure she's made the right decision to leave town and go elsewhere to concentrate on her writing. Her parents support this move and even buy her new clothes for her adventure, and she sets off for Christchurch (about 224 miles away). There she fortuitously runs into a family friend who has an apartment to rent, and Virginia moves in. While shopping for linens at a local store, she encounters the manager and ends up with a part-time job. Nicholas Muir is even more attractive than the two men she left behind but Virginia is determined not to fall for him either . . .

My Impression: I am a long-time Essie Summers fan and she provides great comfort reading (I don't believe books are guilty pleasures). She was New Zealand’s most prolific author with 57 books that sold over 19 million copies in over 105 countries but received little of the acclaim she deserved because she wrote romances for Mills & Book and Harlequin that were formulaic. However, she provided her own unique touches: heroines who worked or traveled and the wonderful, evocative descriptions of New Zealand scenery, which made many readers want to visit. Essie’s heroines may lose their tempers and put themselves into seemingly compromising situations but they always have a strong moral compass, as befits the creations of an author married to a Presbyterian minister.

There are lots of coincidences in Essie Summers books and to enjoy them, you have to go with the flow! If someone can innocently overhear something damaging, she or he will. If someone heads for a remote part of the world, she is likely to run into her long-lost relatives quickly and in disadvantageous circumstances. If someone tries to keep a secret, it will be revealed at the worst possible moment. And there are a lot of silly misunderstandings that would be easy to fix if people communicated better. In Rosalind Comes Home, the heroine is spitefully told that the man she loves is her half-brother and that’s really the kind of information that needs a fact-checker, not a desperate flight from home!
Although I enjoyed this book, it seems dated, even for 1969. Nicholas Muir is handsome, kind, and fun but there are things about him a modern reader will find jarring. He buys Virginia the perfume he wants her to smell like. When the department store model (in which century did these go out of fashion?) is absent, he takes her measurements with barely a “by your leave” so she can stand in and wear some sample models - another Me Too moment which (one hopes) would get him fired now (when he tries to give her the dress, Virginia declines as that would be improper but is persuaded to buy it at cost, and anyone would yearn for the topaz taffeta dress Essie describes!). He makes insinuating references to her name and that he wants her to be able to wear pure white at her wedding, which she finds touching because it assures her that despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, he won’t ask for intimacy she would find inappropriate or premature. I suppose this is thoughtful but it is also condescending that he wants to decide what she wears and does not wear – I don’t think an off-white brocade wedding dress in the late 20th century necessarily signaled the bride had lost her virginity.

Essie was a big fan of Anne of Green Gables, and while Anne is not specifically referenced in this book, there are several homages to Anne. Virginia has red hair and a temper. She gave up university and got a job when her father had vision trouble. There is a reference to “kindred spirits.” Summers was also a big Georgette Heyer fan.

Source: I was sending someone a duplicate copy but couldn’t put it in the envelope without a reread. 


Katrina said...

Yet another author I've never heard of, I must look out for her. It sounds like her books should be read with disbelief suspended, or tongue firmly in cheek. I find it quite amazing how things have changed for women since the 1970s, despite the fact that I was there at the time!

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

Well, I like any person who likes Anne Shirley and Georgette Heyer, so maybe I should give Essie Summers a try. But I am also thinking of this particular book title, and whether "Revolt" was really the apt word. But when I think of the reference to "Me Too" movement, why not?

CLM said...

Her books are really quite charming, albeit dated. I would say read them with affection rather than tongue firmly in cheek, as they are a glimpse at a bygone world with whimsical idealistic heroines. The "revolt" in this book is setting off on an adventure, rather than falling into an expected role, and we can all relate to that!

Dixie Lee said...

I read quite a few of these some years ago - in those wonderful old large print editions at the library - and really enjoyed the descriptions of New Zealand. Easy reads, like potato chips - they are addictive...then you are sick of them!

Bettina said...

Essie was given a plaque on the Dunedin Writers' Walk this week. Quite a crowd turned out. The walk plaques have generally been quite literary, so it’s great to have a bestselling author celebrated. I know a few of her relatives.

CLM said...

Oh, thank you for sharing that, Bettina! One day I will get to New Zealand! People who go to see the places where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed would be surprised I want to see Essie sites!

Anonymous said...

Hail to another Heyer fan! I have been rereading her books obsessively for five decades - brilliant, funny, wonderful,novels "Jane Austen on roller skates", adored by Stephen Fry - and me. Enjoyed Essie Summers in the past, as well - light, fun, dated but still a nice escape.