Read as part of Fleur Fisher’s Margaret Kennedy Reading Week.
Together and Apart, which has just been reissued by Vintage Books, was first published in 1936. Margaret Kennedy dedicated this, her seventh novel, to fellow author Rose Macaulay.
Together and Apart begins with a letter, written from protagonist Betsy Cannon, residing in Pandy Madoc in Wales, to her mother. This technique ensures that we learn about our protagonist from the very beginning of the story, and serves to immediately announce the main thread of plot. It also wonderfully sets the scene and tone for the rest of the novel.
In the letter, Betsy informs her mother that she and her husband Alec are ‘parting company’ and seeking a divorce: ‘… we have been quite miserable, both of us. We simply are unsuited to one another and unable to get on.’ She tells of the way in which she finds her husband’s writing of operettas ‘vulgar’, and does not feel that doing so is a ‘worthwhile profession for an educated man like Alec’. The pair have decided to separate for the sake of their children: ‘I now think that they would be happier if Alec and I gave up this miserable attempt… I don’t want the children to grow up with a distorted idea of marriage, got from the spectacle of parents who can’t get on’.
Divorcing during the 1920s was, of course, a scandal, and Kennedy addresses this fact well in the third person narrative perspective, which she utilises for much of the book. She demonstrates the way in which the divorce affects all of those around Betsy and Alec, from their children to their outraged parents. Despite this, Betsy remains hopeful about her own future: ‘Very much happier was how she had imagined it… Of course she would marry again some time. And the other man, whoever he was, would love her better than Alec ever had, would worship and cherish her’.
Kennedy discusses familial relationships and their breakdown throughout the novel, and everything which she touches upon is shown in mind of the impending divorce. Together and Apart, even all these years later, is still an important novel, just as relevant to our society today as it was upon its publication.