One From the Archive: ‘The New Moon with the Old’ by Dodie Smith ****

First published in April 2012.

The New Moon With the Old was first published in 1963. It opens with the character of Jane Minton, who has arrived at her new post as secretary and housekeeper at Dome House, deep in rural Suffolk. Her employer, Mr Rupert Carrington, is only normally in residence at the house on weekends. He is a widower with four intriguing children – Richard, Clare, Drew and Merry. The Carrington offspring range in age from Richard’s 23 to Merry’s ‘fourteen and almost six months’.

Jane is a wonderful character. She does things which are perhaps uncharacteristic of someone of her age and standing, such as bouncing upon the bed in her new room with wonderful abandon. Jane believes that ‘it would be pleasant to live in the country after three years in a dull London suburb working for a dull author and his even duller wife’.

The other characters which people the novel are also incredibly captivating, and the dialogue which they use surprises and intrigues. When they first meet Jane, Drew, the youngest Carrington boy and wannabe novelist, introduces himself as ‘a very gentle driver’, and aspiring actress Merry proudly announces that her mother got her full name, Meriella, ‘off a tombstone’. Richard, the eldest son, is ‘austere’ and ‘aloof’, intent only upon his composing. His siblings inform Jane that he is able to play four instruments but ‘very seldom does’. Clare, the eldest girl, ‘only paints’.

Jane settles in immediately to the ‘wonderful’ house and grows to love the ‘charming’ Carringtons. On her first day of duties at Dome House, Rupert Carrington comes back, announcing that he has no option but ‘to leave England, possibly for good… if I am prevented I’m likely to spend an unpleasantly long period in jail, for fraud’. He describes himself to Jane as ‘a very inadequate crook, completely amateur’. Rupert swiftly disappears, leaving no information about where he is going. He hands Jane an envelope of money for the children, leaving her with little choice but to look after them.

The story catapults into action from this point onwards. Having little money to keep the sprawling mansion alive, the Carrington children are all forced to go out into the world and make their livings. Each child leaves one by one, and their adventures are often surprising. Roles reverse, and it is soon the children’s various employments which allow Jane to stay at Dome House.

The New Moon With the Old is told from the third person perspective, which is often informal and chatty throughout. The story has been split up into five different sections, each of which focuses upon a different character. This narrative technique works extremely well. As usual, Smith’s descriptions are both pleasant and intriguing.

Sadly, this edition is not as well edited as it should be. Clare is ‘Glare’ on one occasion, ‘modern’ is written as ‘modem’ and several words, including the surname of the Carringtons, are spelt incorrectly throughout. This is a shame, but it luckily does not subtract from the superb story which Smith has crafted.

The New Moon With the Old is an incredibly amusing novel which successfully holds the attention of the reader. The characters are quirky and eccentric in equal measure, and are all extremely well developed. Through her clever narration, Smith has enabled a series of different stories to combine in order to create a vivid and simply wonderful novel.

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2 thoughts on “One From the Archive: ‘The New Moon with the Old’ by Dodie Smith ****

    • It is indeed! Three of them were reissued a couple of years ago, and were floating around for a while. I’ve not seen copies for a while, mind.

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