Frances Towers. Tea With Mr. Rochester (1949)
Recently on one of my Tuesday afternoons, I took a cappuccino to Fiction in the Oxford Central Library and worked my way backwards through the alphabet. This book was slim, a lovely gray-blue, and aged. Tea With Mr. Rochester. 1949.
This isn’t properly a novel at all but a collection of short stories that are grouped together so as to contribute to each other. The tone and the flow of the style are gradually built as one progresses through the stories, and impresses the reader at last with a set of ideas that have been accrued so gradually that he is surprised to find himself considering them. Some of the stories are tragic, some slightly mysterious and some amusing, but in all Towers writes with a light, comedic touch. Her characters, particularly protagonists, are developed so delicately that we feel we understand them immediately and we aren’t sure why. Many of the stories are touching and intentionally so but they are rescued from being uncomfortably sentimental by their humor and sense of realism.
I enjoyed this volume immensely. I’m still thinking about it. Towers reminds me of the writing of Dodie Smith, especially her novel I Capture the Castle, a long-time favorite. I would love to read more of Towers, but as I learned from Frances Thomas’ helpful afterword that Frances Towers died the year this book was published, I am to be disappointed. If any fellow readers can get your hands on it, consider it for a book club read. It’s something a little off the beaten path with many vistas to explore.