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Daisy Ashford


Mr Salteenas Plan

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
This novel was written in 1890 when the author was aged nine. She rediscovered it in a drawer in 1917 when she was 36 and it was published two years later, spelling mistakes and all; the only editorial concession made was to insert paragraphing to aid readability. (Incredibly, a reviewer on Amazon recently complained that the publishers should have corrected the spelling!) The book was an instant success, being reprinted 18 times in the first year alone; it is still in print today.

The plot has two strands. Mr Salteena, 'an elderly man of 42', is 'not quite a gentleman' but would like to advance himself in society. He lives in the country where various people, especially young ladies, come to stay. One of these is the heroine of the story, Ethel Monticue.

Mr Salteena and Ethel go to visit Bernard Clark, a well-off friend of Mr Salteena. Ethel falls for him, of course, and he for her. Mr Salteena, who also loves Ethel, is naturally 'rarther jellus', but realising there is nothing he can do about the situation he asks Bernard to help him become more like a gentleman. Bernard gives him a letter of introduction to his old pal, the Earl of Clincham, who has 'compartments' in the Crystal Palace where he provides training of the kind that Mr Salteena is seeking. This will cost £42 in total, which Mr Salteena is happy to pay.

The plot skilfully intertwines the twin threads of Mr Salteena's education and Ethel's relationship with Bernard, which of course results in their marriage. (The newly-weds return from their honeymooon in Egypt already equipped with 'a son and hair a nice fat baby called Ignatius Bernard'.)

The book offers a fascinating insight into how a very observant child saw late Victorian society. This is extraordinarily funny, of course, but that doesn't obscure the fact that Daisy has constructed a remarkably coherent and sophisticated story. She sees her characters with a dispassionate and surprisingly mature intelligence. Ethel clearly has an eye to the main chance; she is determined to make a good marriage and knows how to go about it—something that Bernard is unaware of. 'She had a rarther lazy nature but Bernard did not know of this.'

At the end of the book we are given a summary of the later lives of the characters. Ethel and Bernard had six more children, some of whom were twins. Mr Salteena married and had ten children, but his life was not particularly happy; his wife 'was annoying at times', especially when he still pined for Ethel, but he found solace in prayer. The earl's marriage was even less satisfactory and he contemplated divorce, but gave up the idea after several attempts and decided to offer up his situation as a Mortification.

Daisy wrote some short stories as an adult and also a short novel, The Hangman's Daughter, which she thought was her best work. She died in 1972.


%T The Young Visiters
%S Mr Salteenas Plan
%A Ashford, Daisy
%I Chatto & Windus
%C London
%D 1919
%P 86pp
%K fiction
%O preface by J.M Barrie

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