The Young Visiters, or Mr Salteena’s Plan by Daisy Ashford is that rare thing: a perfectly formed novel. Published in 1919 to great acclaim, it describes the tangled affairs of three friends in a startlingly fresh and unaffected tone. In his foreword, J.M. Barrie praises the author’s ‘air of careless power’ before declaring that the author was only nine when the story was written.
It rattles along at a giddy pace as the lugubrious Alfred Salteena accepts an invitation to stay with a friend in a grand country mansion. He takes a young friend with him, Ethel Monticue. She’s a girl who knows how to make the most of herself: ‘I shall put some red ruge on my face said Ethel because I am very pale owing to the drains in this house.’ (Daisy’s original spelling is kept throughout the novel.)
And so the stage is set for a love triangle played out in country mansions, London hotels, and some delightfully described aristocratic lodgings: the ‘Compartments’ at Crystal Palace. We see Alfred’s acceptance into society and the eye-wateringly awkward wooing of Ethel by Bernard Clark. We weep with Salteena as he watches his two friends get married and cheer that Ethel got to march into Westminster Abbey in a dress golden silk ‘which cost a good bit’.
Few writers have an eye as sharp or a heart as generous as the nine-year old Daisy Ashford and it’s those qualities that make me wish I’d written The Young Visiters.
The Young Visiters, or Mr Salteena’s Plan (978-0-7011-2725-1) by Daisy Ashford is published by Chatto and Windus, £9.99
Cathryn Constable’s new book, The White Tower (978-1-9094-8910-3) is published by Chicken House, £6.99 pbk. Cathryn Constable talks about the book here