Rebecca Steinitz: The Last Book I Loved, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding


9781906462079The last book I loved was Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey. I hadn’t loved a book in a while, but I thought I might love this one because it is a Persephone book, and I also quite loved the cover which features a 1930s Harold Knight painting of a languid young lady in a sea-colored sweater and yellow skirt, reading on a window seat, with downs or cottages or some such British landscape murkily visible through the window beside her.

Predisposed for love, I was in the throes of incipient romance by the end of the first page which comprises sex, class, and empire, as embodied in a widow, a wedding, a country house, the Diplomatic Service, and a middle-aged parlourmaid. Add Strachey’s razor-sharp prose, not to mention repeatedly laughing out loud (rare for me, no matter how funny the book), and there was no doubt: this was love.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding takes place on the day Dolly Thatcham, having drunk half a bottle of rum, with an ink stain the size of a teapot on her dress, is supposed to marry the Hon. Owen Bigham, although Joseph Patten, a young man from the previous summer, may have something to say about that. Then again he may not. Think Nancy Mitford, P.G. Wodehouse, Stella Gibbons, and an oblique touch of Virginia Woolf.

Brief, pointed, and utterly complete, it captures a dozen characters, a handful of relationships, and an entire social world in 119 pages. It gestures toward sentiment and revels in slapstick, capturing the complexities of real emotions in a satirical frame. And the weather! It’s a glaring-bright gale: cheerful to the nth degree, deemed delightful by Dolly’s mother, but quite horrendous for everyone else, which is to say the perfect weather for wedding and book.

When I finished Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, I started thinking about other wedding books, and then I read Dorothy West’s The Wedding—which I thought might be perfect too, but, alas, isn’t quite—and that made me think of how the nature of weddings—their nuclear fission-like essence rending families asunder to create new formations of intimacy and alienation; their embodiment of past, present, and future; their social capaciousness—makes them perfect narrative crucibles, and then I wondered why women (Strachey, West) write wedding books, while men (Robert Altman, Noah Baumbach, Jonathan Demme) make wedding movies, and then I thought once again how very much I loved this book.

Rebecca Steinitz is a writer and editor in Arlington, Massachusetts. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The New Republic, The Utne Reader, Salon, The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, Hip Mama, Literary Mama, and The Women's Review of Books, among other places. She also works with urban high school teachers as a writing coach in the Boston Public Schools. More from this author →