I know I already shared a little bit about Elizabeth Jane Howard's 1950 novel, The Beautiful Visit, which is my January Prompt book, but now I am going to share a further teaser since it is the book I seem to be spending most of my time with at the moment. I just realized, by the way, that the main character, the narrator of the story is named Lavinia. I swear I have not yet come across mention of her name, which is sort of curious since I am a third of the way in. I'm not generally so distracted, but then maybe it's just not been used thus far.
So, Lavinia, is a young woman with all the world set out before her and she is ready for something, for life or adventure or maybe love, though I think she is not entirely sure what really she is ready for. She is just at the end of adolescence, on the cusp of young woman-hood (hence my choice for January's 'fresh start' prompt). She comes from a middle class family and has little experience, and so her first kiss is a rather awkward affair. She has already had her first glimpse at what a crush means (they don't call it a "crush" for nothing--an eagerness for love or affection that when it does not come or comes but is not what is expected or desired, leaves the recipient feeling, yes, crushed!).
Lavinia has a slightly older friend who happens to work in a library. They met when Lavinia was exploring the library and discovering a love of reading. Agnes is more worldly and invites her on a double date with her herself, her boyfriend and one of his friends. Poor Lavinia doesn't know what a musical is (they go see Gilbert and Sullivan), or what to order in a restaurant (since her family does not eat out) and when the group decides to have a little bubbly perhaps with their meal, she is utterly perplexed. She's ready for life but not really. It doesn't help that she's just had her first taste of stout and then port and is worse for wear from both.
"I leaned against him. He put his arm round my shoulders and clasped by wrist. His hand was very hot. We jolted on in the silence while I wished someone would speak but felt too tired and weak to begin. I sighed, and slowly his hand edged up to the back of my neck, his face loomed over me for a second, so that I saw his eyes in the grey blur, and then his mouth was on mine; his moustache soft and dry in contrast. There was a feeling of a very long time or perhaps none at all: still he was kissing me, with warmth and deliberation, and I lay in his arms unresisting, half stirred. He was not a person to me any more, he was a kiss, the part of myself that I wanted to feel alive. He stirred over me and the hat slipped to the floor with a papery rustle. My neck was aching and I pressed against his hand until I was supported by the corner of the cab. He let me go and then gathered me into his arms again more fiercely, his hands hard on my bones through the thin dress. My arms being limp at my sides, he tookthem and pressed them around his neck. There were a little chuckle in the dark from Agnes, some whispered protest, and still Edward's mouth urgent, harsh and warm. I was stifled, could not breathe, almost ceased to exist. I was no longer stirred but endured him with a breathless acquiescence with no thought or hope or desire for an end. The jolting slowed into a walk."
Lavinia is such an innocent. Carried away by events she is not quite ready for though maybe she wants, but maybe not from Edward. These things are so tricky and rarely are those firsts really happy events. Elizabeth Jane Howard captures all those emotions so very well. I feel like flipping to the back of the book and seeing what happens to our young heroine, but I won't and will just let her story play out, but I have a good excuse now to keep those pages turning quickly.
How ever will I follow up next month's prompt, "an affair to remember", after all this? I might have to reinterpret 'affair' and put a different spin on it. 'Affair' does not necessarily mean romance, right?