Read as part of Fleur Fisher’s Margaret Kennedy Reading Week.
The Ladies of Lyndon, first published in 1923, was Margaret Kennedy’s first novel. The protagonist of the piece is Agatha Cocks, who, despite her impending marriage, can think of nothing but her brief love affair with her cousin Gerald. The novel begins as follows: ‘In the first decades of the twentieth centry, London contained quite a number of distinguished grey-hheaded bachelors who owed their celibacy to Mrs Varden Cocks’, Agatha’s mother.
The Ladies of Lyndon is highly involved with the family dynamic, and thus we find that many characters are introduced in just a few pages. It can consequently be a little difficult to keep up with the relationships forged between everyone. We encounter the Cocks both as individuals and a familial unit, which is an interesting technique. Despite this, they float around; they are largely self-obsessed and do not seem to be tethered to reality. This does render them less realistic as beings, too. The third person narrative perspective which Kennedy has used does mean that whilst due attention has been paid to the novel in terms of its plot and characters, it does have the effect of creating distance between the reader and everything which goes on.
As one might expect, The Ladies of Lyndon is very of its time, and old-fashioned turns of phrase and vocabulary abound throughout. This can cause some of the sentences to feel a little dense when viewed as a whole – ‘the fatigued erudition of her husband set off her animation with an especial piquancy’, for example. The people whom Agatha meets and converses with are generally ‘tolerably well off’, and a young girl’s wardrobe is ‘a perpetual testimony to a mother’s taste’. As in Kennedy’s most famous novel, The Constant Nymph, the themes of incest and forbidden love are prevalent throughout.
Whilst The Ladies of Lyndon is nicely written on the whole, it does feel rather dated, and it does not seem to have translated to the modern world as well as the work of some of Kennedy’s contemporaries – Katherine Mansfield’s, for example, or Virginia Woolf’s. Whilst the novel is well crafted, of the stories from the 1920s which are currently being reprinted by major publishing house, The Ladies of Lyndon is certainly not amongst the strongest.