Published anonymously in 1935, The Bazalgettes is a spoof Victorian novel by E M Delafield, best known for her highly entertaining Diary of Provincial Lady series. The story is set in the 1870s and centres on young Margaret Mardon, who is so desperate to escape her unhappy family home that she determines to accept the first marriage proposal offered. A suitor appears in the form of 64-year-old widower Sir Charles Bazalgette, who essentially wants a mother for his unruly brood of five children. Margaret accepts his proposal with alacrity, becoming “the third of her husband’s experiments in wedded bliss”.
Although Sir Charles is aloof and completely uninterested in his young wife, Margaret does her best to be a good mother and resigns herself to the disappointment of married life. All is well until she discovers the existence of another stepson, Charlie, who is a few years older than herself and the son of Sir Charles’ mysterious first wife. When Charlie pays a visit, Margaret encounters “six-foot-three of muscular good looks” and falls head over heels in love with him. Her feelings are entirely reciprocated, thus placing the lovers in a difficult position. Margaret realises that an expedient marriage has left her thoroughly miserable, and she loses interest in everything – at least until, in true Victorian sensation style, she is rescued by a twist of fate.
Meanwhile, her sister Julia, equally desperate to escape the family home, has fallen for the dubious charms of poet and aesthete Theodore Blanden, who is surely inspired by Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience. He writes verse in the style of Chaucer and woos her with his latest work, ‘Blyth runs the Blud in Springe’:
Blyth runs the Blud in Springe, my Swete,
Nu hosen alle men wear
Yonge maidens pluck the nettyl-leves
And twyne about their hayre,
Then shippity, then hoppity, then sing ye springe with me!
The novel abounds with such comic creations and Delafield’s characteristic acerbic wit. The arch, lighthearted style is reminiscent of Rhoda Broughton, as is the plot device of contrasting the fortunes of two sisters, and causing excitement by the sudden introduction of beefcake. Although delightfully entertaining, it doesn’t succeed as a convincing Victorian novel. Nineteenth-century attitudes are rather bolted on to the plot, and many of the characters simply enjoy far too much latitude, given their societal position. Also, the dénouement (which I shan’t spoil) is utterly unconvincing to anyone familiar with Victorian sensibilities. Notwithstanding my customary pickiness, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and one of the earliest examples of neo-Victorian fiction.
E M Delafield’s novel The War-Workers is available through our Twentieth-Century Vox imprint.