Unusual bedfellows, Maria and JB, perhaps. Except they have been side-by-side beside my bed recently. Castle Rackrent I had not read before nor had I heard of its companion, The Absentee. Though Castle Rackrent is the better known, I enjoyed The Absentee more, in the way that it exposes the dire effect of absentee landlords in Ireland. Its exposé of thoughtless landlords and the depredations of the local agents is ahead of its time (published 1812) and Dickensian in the way the evils of the system are attacked through the form of story-telling. Maria Edgeworth’s was the daughter of Robert Edgeworth, a wealthy Irish landowner. She was a prolific and successful writer and was admired by, and a friend of, Sir Walter Scott. She also met and did not like, Lord Byron. A woman of taste and discrimination.
I first read Angel Pavement and a number of other Priestley novels in my late teens. Odd choices for someone of that age but he took my fancy at the time. So much so that I forked out 30 shillings for a first edition of The Good Companions that I found in a Guildford bookshop. Re-reading Angel Pavement, I was struck by the dreariness of the characters and the settings. It makes you sympathise (almost) with the villain who is responsible for the downfall of the business that sustains them all. At least he has some energy and colour. The novel breaks off just as the company goes under and it is hinted that it will be the wives who might step in and rescue what can be saved. But it’s only a hint. It is difficult to shake off the vision of grey people in a grey city (London, not Bradford, btw) and I can’t help thinking how Dickens would have made such a better job of it – introducing some humour, for a start.