In considering words to describe the books of Elizabeth Cadell (1903-1989), I realized that those early Cadells were more influential than I realized. Cadell’s books are heartwarming tales involving a community of memorable relationships. The focus is on the relationships among the characters, relationships that generally include but that are not limited to a romance. Plots may involve a mystery, but they are not high action. Low key humor rooted in character is also a staple. In other words, the world I discovered in the books of Elizabeth Cadell has much in common with the worlds I find today in books by writers such as Debbie Macomber and Nancy Atherton. These are the books I reach for when I have those long-faced days when I am prone to quote Wordsworth (“The world is too much with us.”) and heave deep sighs.
Unlike others of my mother’s favorite authors, whose books were set only in England (Stevenson) or the United States (Baldwin, Hill, and Loring), Cadell quite often set her books wholly or partially in other places: Spain (Around the Rugged Rock, 1954), France (I Love a Lass, 1956—also published as Bridal Array, 1959), the Canary Islands (Canary Yellow, 1965), India (A Lion in the Way, 1982), and most frequently, Portugal, where Cadell moved in 1960 (Come Be My Guest, 1964; The Fox from His Lair, 1965; The Golden Collar, 1969, among others). But whatever the setting, her characters were always interesting, likeable, and individualistic.
Her heroines are usually intelligent, practical, and independent. Lucille Abbey, heroine of The Corner Shop (1966), is typical:
“She was aware that she was slim, blonde, and beautiful-but her looks, though they might be alluring, were also misleading and raised hopes which she was constantly constrained to crush. She had a clear brain, sound common sense and a capacity for hard work; why these sober attributes had been encased in so fancy a package she had never been able to understand; she knew only that she looked far warmer than she felt.”
Her heroes may be businessmen, naval officers, or realtors, but they are unprepared for love’s leveling blow. Henry Downing, descendant of the village founders in Any Two Can Play (1981), can serve as a representative of a group that would be labeled beta heroes by today’s readers:
“Silence fell--easy and companionable. He watched the soft light on her face, the gleam of her hair. Shadows enclosed them. . . . With feelings that were a mixture of surprise, apprehension, and exaltation, he acknowledged to himself that he was in love. Seated beside her in the glow of the candles, he ceased to question or resist. He loved her—deeply.”
Cadell also filled her books with old ladies and children. The old ladies, often aunts of the protagonists, may be fierce or retiring, and they are often eccentric. The children may be spoiled and obnoxious or mature and endearing. But regardless of disposition, they have a genuineness that renders them eminently believable. As Susan Branch noted in Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers Cadell’s treatment of the old and the young was “sympathetic but not sentimental."
My favorite Cadell books are those in the Waynes of Wound Mount trilogy: The Lark Shall Sing (1955), The Blue Sky of Spring (1956), and Six Impossible Things (1961). The six orphaned Wayne siblings are introduced in the first book. Lucille, the oldest, thinks that her younger brothers and sisters are suitably settled, and since she is about to be married to a man who offers her security if little excitement, she makes the decision that the family home should be sold. The Waynes’ inheritance does not include the funds to maintain their old home, and Lucille, a sensible, take-charge sort, feels selling is their only option. Her siblings do not agree.
The romance plot which has Lucille rejecting her stodgy suitor for one who increases her heart and respiration rates takes a back seat to the efforts of the younger siblings to preserve their home. Nicholas, newly returned to civilian life, buys a motorcycle to get him home, Roselle leaves her London job, Dominic and Simon run away from the aunt who has been caring for them, and Julia goes AWOL from her boarding school. Each one has his/her personal reasons for fighting to preserve their home, and with the help of a few fortuitous additions to their group, they are able to do so. The other books continue the adventures of the Waynes and other members of the Greenhurst community. I particularly love Six Impossible Things in which Julia grows up and gets her HEA.
Cadell’s popularity in England and the United States continued for decades. Mass market paperbacks were available, and libraries offered most of her titles. In the 21st century, her popularity has declined. Her books are out of print, and copies of hard-to-find titles are selling for more than $400, although bargains can be found. I added half a dozen titles to my keeper shelves recently when my local library placed them among the discards they sell for $1.00. Sadly, their placement there suggests that they were not being borrowed often.
I think someone is missing a great opportunity to market Cadell’s books as ebooks. Although she is not an inspirational writer, I think her books would have strong appeal for many of the romance readers who keep Inspys selling in substantial numbers and for other romance readers who prefer their romances kisses only. As for me, I will continue to find solace in the books of Elizabeth Cadell when I need to retreat to a kinder, gentler world where humor is barbless and romance is gentle.
Ebooks are making it possible for readers to find many titles that were hard to find and often quite expensive if one didn’t spend hours haunting used bookstores. What out of print books would you like to see digitalized?
Look for Part 4 in My Mother’s Books series on March 9. The subject will be Grace Livingston Hill.