Monday, 4 May 1992

The Godmother

Fiction ~ short story
Published in Nash's Illustrated Weekly, 6th December 1919
Collected in Desirable Residences and Other Stories (1991)
Approx. 4,700 words
(First read 04/05/1992) 

Evie Shuttleworth seemingly has everything a 40-year old Benson widowlady could wish for: flawless and entirely natural good looks; a 'delicious doll's-house in Mayfair'; a flourishing hat shop; a talent for producing crayon portraits of her many friends ("Her women all looked thoughtful but dewy, and the men all looked like women"); a boy at Eton; and so on.  Naturally, though, she wants more: she wants ~ though EFB is never so vulgar as to put it in so few words¹ ~ more money, and she wants to hook herself a sound second husband.
E.S. picks V.J. up at the Ritz
With the first aim in mind she 'adopts' Violet Jordan, a stinking-rich widow recently arrived from Canada², and makes her her protégée, introducing her to everyone worth knowing, finding her a country house, etc.³  Unfortunately in doing so she inadvertently introduces Violet to the dull faceless diplomat she's set her 'heart' on as Hubbie No. 2.
The problem with The Godmother is that it's really all situation and no comedy: it toddles along fairly amiably, and not at too great a length, but isn't as funny as it might have been if Benson had been able to think up some plot for it. 

¹ In fact I'm just assuming this is her motive: I can't think of any other.
² Yes, Canada.
³ Benson reprised this theme in one of his 'Old London' novellas, Friend of the Rich (1937).

Evie decides to adopt Violet:
With an insincerity that was as characteristic of her as her beautiful bones, she put it to herself that here was this really charming little woman quite alone [...] in London where, as she so naïvely said, she did not know a soul.
Evie's obscure motives ~ this quote follows on directly from the last:
It was clearly, then, the part of any decent Christian to attempt to brighten so dreary a situation.  That there might conceivably be other lonely women in London, without the alleviation of the Ritz and rivers of diamonds, had not previously presented itself to Evie's mind nor roused the Christian spirit, but it was never too late to begin.  Besides (here sincerity popped out its head like a Jack-in-the-box), who knew what insidious people might get hold of Mrs Jordan [...]?
Evie apparently doesn't scruple to resort to bribery to get rid of the woman who would have been Violet's 'godmother' if she hadn't been delayed in Paris:
The companion from Paris, so luckily delayed in the first instance, proved to be no more than the widow of some perfectly unknown baronet, ... [who] after the briefest sojourn in town [...] returned to Paris with a suitable cheque, astonished to find how London had changed since her day. 

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