The Trelooe Trilogy by Walter Greenwood [So Brief the Spring (1952), What Everybody Wants (1954) and Down by the Sea (1956)].

(This review is longer than usual – it seemed best to review the whole trilogy in one).

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Between 1952 and 1956 Greenwood completed his Trelooe Trilogy (published by Hutchinson – all references are to these first editions). The trilogy was set in Cornwall, where Greenwood had holidayed since meeting the artist Arthur Wragg in the thirties and where he was then living. The Trelooe Trilogy clearly sold steadily and is still highly-readable. However, there were no longer reviews in major national newspapers such as The Times and the Manchester Guardian, though Hutchinson placed display adverts for the novels in these papers. (for example, in The Times on 2/4/1954, p.18 and 5/7/1956, p.13). Instead, the novels’ covers quote from regional newspapers and magazines; an extract from a review in The Lady of What Everybody Wants is reasonably representative, though it under-represents a strand of serious social comment which is still present in the novels: ‘All takes place in a Cornish village. The shrewd humour is unfailing. Recommended for holiday reading’ (quoted on the dust jacket of the Hutchinson edition,1955).

 

All three novels actually show a strong sense of the changes brought about after the War: there are frequent references to increased taxation, the National Health Service, Nationalisation, and the Welfare State by richer and poorer characters alike. The attitudes of the novels to these developments sometimes seem neutral : they work through characters’ thoughts without the kind of explicit authorial narrative interventions in Love on the Dole. However, there are clear distinctions suggested between the post-welfare state respectable and unrespectable poor and, indeed, the post-welfare state honest and dishonest wealthy. The three novels share a number of characters, but each also introduces new characters who interact with the population of the fictional Cornish village of Treeloe; each novel spends considerable effort on portraying everyday life (perhaps, something in the manner of a ‘soap opera’), but also contains one much less ordinary adventure or event. A character who helps knit all three novels together is Randy Jollifer. Greenwood borrowed the name from a small boat which he bought to go sailing with the actor Robert Newton in Cornwall (Reported in a Daily Dispatch article about the play version of So Brief the Spring, 2/10/1945). Newton played Jollifer in the 1945 stage version of this story and the novel is dedicated to him – and indeed the character is based on some aspects of Newton’s life.

 

Randy is the central character in So Brief the Spring, though this is not at first obvious. He has wealthy relatives: his father, the miserly Arky Jollifer, acquires the local manor house and its farm through marriage, but disinherits Randy after his wartime marriage ends in divorce. Having served in the Royal Navy during the war (as did Newton), Randy now earns a modest living as a fisherman and by taking holiday-makers on fishing trips. He lives contentedly in a cottage and some features of his life suggest that he is rural-maritime-post-war kin to Larry Meath in Love in the Dole: his cottage boasts filled bookshelves, a typewriter, a radiogram and a gramophone, as well as records of ‘Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin’.(p.38). The bookshelf is regarded as ‘astonishing’ in such a man’s house by the female character who appears at first to be the novel’s central figure – Ann Halstead (p. 74). This recalls Sally’s observation of Larry’s bookshelf, and, indeed, Ann initially looks as if she is a new version of Sally.

 

She is in Trelooe on holiday alone to think about her future – she is doubtful about marrying her fiancé, and dreads living in a small flat in London, but is enraptured by Trelooe and especially the half-ruined manor house. Her discontent resembles Sally’s to an extent, but her dreams from the beginning have a more material aspect. She is attracted to Randy, but wants to re-acquire ‘his’ manor-house as well. In the course of winning the favour of Arky as part of a longer term stratagem, she receives an offer of marriage from the miserly father and accepts it (something which seems unconvincing in the novel, but which revisits Sally’s ‘arrangement’ with Sam Grundy ). So besotted is Arky that he alters his will in her favour (now disinheriting his two exploited farm-hand nephews Sam and Eb) and tells her that the cellar of his semi-ruinous house is full of biscuit-tins packed full of treasury notes and three cider-barrels of gold sovereigns – all the fruit of tax evasion via cash dealings during the first and second world wars and since. However, Arky dies of a heart attack as Ann accepts his proposal, and Sam and Eb, long on the look-out for their uncle’s hidden treasure, manage to knock over a lantern and set the house ablaze as they struggle to enter the cellar first. Amended will and treasury notes are destroyed – but Randy eventually inherits the melted mass of gold sovereigns. The moral seems to be that what was a desperate choice in the thirties for Sally is an avoidable choice in the nineteen-fifties – material need is different from material greed, and the context is now a different one. Though Ann happily marries a doctor friend of Randy’s, he marries a concert-pianist who frequently plays on BBC radio. Culture is still part of The Secret Kingdom referred to in his 1938 novel, which features the BBC and musical ability as ways out of poverty which also resist loss of personal integrity.

 

Randy Jollifer presumably represents a middle way – he is content to labour and deserves his fortune (which does not seem to alter him), but never becomes avaricious. But if the novel is critical of the money-obsessed rich, it also has some comment on the ‘idle poor’, and revisits thirties themes of ‘respectability’. A ‘disreputable family from the town slums’, the Connors, who have spent the war living in a house requisitioned in a 1939 from an absentee owner get very short shrift:

The mother was a slut and the father a servile loafer, content to draw the dole … As his shiftless wife could depend on her swarm of undisciplined children being fed at school, he could always find a customer for his meat ration coupons, which paid for some of his drink and cigarettes… he thought it just and proper that all who worked hard and were thrifty should be taxed severely to pride him and his with ‘my rights’. (pp.39-40).

 

The language directly picks up the ideas of respectability versus unrespectability of which Love on the Dole is so often critical (it is sadly notable too that this model ‘bad family’ are given an Irish surname). These may be the thoughts of Randy, who is the next door neighbour, rather than directly those of an authorial narrator, but he is normally the trilogy’s centre of sound judgement. This early example of what could be called a ‘Benefits Street’-style discourse of hostility towards ‘undeserving’ benefit claimants might seem very surprising in a novel by the author of Love on the Dole. But the point is presumably that things are now changed: this family are not like the Hardcastles, but more like Helen Hawkins’ parents, and they are not beset by the same pressing needs as the inhabitants of Hanky Park. The implication is that they could choose differently in a post-war welfare state with full employment.

 

Two sets of characters who are dismissive of the post-war working-classes certainly are implicitly criticised in the novel. The miser Uncle Arky comments on some hired workers: ‘Skulking, idle, good–for-nothings. Welfare State! I’d Welfare State ‘em if I had my way’ (p.17). Randy’s other neighbours are exposed to his criticism to an extent when they complain of the Connors: ‘they’re giving them a council house and providing them with furniture out of the rates. Everybody’s up in arms. We’re all paying for this – out of the rates’. (p.41). Randy accuses the speaker of malicious gossip. The speaker is Miss Perrow, who with Mrs Duckett, do indeed recall the ‘gossips’ in Love on the Dole, though their number is now reduced to two. They also appear in each novel in the trilogy, but  Greenwood’s view of gossips seems to have darkened: the pair seem less ambiguous, are never helpful, and are more malicious and less comic than their thirties forebears (they are naturally in competition, but also positively hate each other despite their apparent friendship). They are as materialistic as Arky and as dishonest, and their views of the Welfare State and taxation are entirely opportunistic. They operate at a lower level in society than Arky does, but are equally greedy. In the second novel, Mrs Duckett offers help to an old man in a similar way to a predecessor in Greenwood’s nineteen-thirties story (and one-act play), The Practised Hand: having realised that old Garnet has £1500 hidden in his mattress (he does not trust banks) she takes him in and hastens his end with frequent applications of whisky.

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Happily married by the end of the first novel, Randy is the stable core of the second two, but displaced in both from the star role of working-man made good by the character of Darky Durrant. He is a tough character on the margin of Trelooe society, (perhaps seriously damaged and isolated by his combat experience in the war). He is what the novel terms a ‘gypsy’ and is also a poacher, though with a distinguished war record (naturally of a slightly irregular kind: he was a Commando who was awarded a number of medals for bravery on unconventional missions). He lives in a semi-ruinous cottage and lives hand to mouth – a number of the characters and clearly the novel itself admire his close relationship to the natural world despite his disregard for many property laws. When it comes to real moral questions, however, Durrant always makes the right choices (he rescues the boy Mungo from crooks who steal horses to butcher and sell as beef). In What Everybody Wants he marries a capable orphaned servant girl, who during the course of the final novel, Down by the Sea, brings him to an extent back into contact with society, opening his cottage as a tea-room for tourists.

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As the language used in reviews of the trilogy suggests, it has many features (including happy endings for the good, and pastoral tendencies) which we might call middle-brow.  The three dust-wrappers (all unsigned, and perhaps on stylistic grounds not all by the same artist?) certainly support the review which saw these novels as ideal holiday reading and indeed suggest a focus on (holiday) romance and adventure. Where earlier in his career, Greenwood is happy to use popular conventions allied with an urge for social reform, there is in these fifties novels less pressure from social issues, though there is always a running commentary on obsession with money as a perversion of a satisfying life. In some ways, the trilogy picks up but allows fulfillment of Harry and Helen’s hopeless fantasy on their trip to Blackpool in Love on the Dole – that they could live there simply in a cottage and support themselves by growing vegetables and by Harry working on a fishing boat. However, Treeloe is not idyllic – the fisherman have to sign on the dole to make ends meet and the mean and self-interested are always with us, unfixed by post-war British social reform.

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