Kim Herring – see last post, ‘Found Treasures’ - has sent me an image of this 1923 book, its illustration and its inscription which reads:
For Miss Park Who, in the opinion of the authoress must shoulder the blame and some of the credit for this first effort .Affectionately Susan Ertz Menton April1923
The picture and the inscription tells us yet more about the story. Here we have a gracious upright, Edwardian figure, complete with lace cap and collar, set against a frieze of bright young nineteen twenties creatures posing in the brand new fashions of the day and trying to forget the ravages of World War One. Music, fashion, a very twentieth century elegance - what can Miss Claire have to do with this? This is an image of change.
Digging around, I find that Susan Ertz was born in 1894, so when she inscribed this book she would be just twenty nine years old. She went on to write many novels which centre around female characters who enter a challenging world at first timidly and then coming to terms with what is often a hostile environment. So Madame Claire is Susan Ertz’s first novel of many. Apparently one admired novel was The Proselyte a story of a London woman who marries a Mormon Missionary and moves with him to Utah. That sounds interesting.
Digging further, I find that Susan Ertz was born in Walton on Thames, Surrey. However her parents parents, Charles and Mary Ertz, were American. As a child she moved between England and America but chose to live in England when she was 18. So - as this was 1912! - eighteen year old Susan was doing what her heroines were to do – moving into an unknown , possible scary world. In 1932, aged 38 , she married Major John Ronald McCrindle a barrister, formerly an army officer. (Is there a story there, I wonder?)
Information is sketchy. Susan Ertz died in 1985. And it seems that one of her later works, In the Cool of the Day, was the source of a film of the same name which came out in 1963, starring Jane Fonda, Peter Finch and Angela Lansbury.
Digging around my own bookshelves I find I actually have a copy of Madame Claire in a Penguin edition! It was reissued in 1985 as part of a boxed set of facsimiles of the first ten Penguin books published as part of Penguin’s fiftieth anniversary. Susan Ertz sits there alongside Andre Maurois, Ernest Hemingway, Eric Linklater, Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie, Beverly Nichols. Mary Webb and Compton McKenzie. To my shame I have not yet read Madame Claire. But I will.
Madame Claire was first published by Penguin in 1935. Before that this novel was first published by Ernest Benn in 1923 and and went on up be published in fourteen impressions before becoming part of the Penguin revolution in 1935. And here I am, writing about it in 2010.
The 1923 edition has the publishers wonderfully romantic publisher’s imprint. I suppose it would be called a logo nowadays. Isn’t it evocative?
So there you have it. The story of a book and its wanderings through time. For me, though, the real story in in the inscription. Here you have the twenty nine year old aspiring American novelist meeting a Miss Park in the South of France, in beautiful, fashionable Menton in 1923. I feel the young novelist could not have modelled the guru-esque Madame Claire on herself. So perhaps Miss Park was the model for this woman who gives others such wise advice. Perhaps that’s why she should have both the blame and the credit for this first novel. And she signs off affectionately. The inscription is a significant gesture.
As a novelist myself I know how important that first novel is. I also know there is another novel of time, place and character buried in here somewhere.