Martha, Eric and George by Margery Sharp

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Loudly!


And now I’ve got that off my chest I must say something else before I get to this book.

Martha, Eric and George is the third book in a trilogy. To talk about it and to do what little I can to promote both book and author I shall have to talk about the two books that came before, and the nature of the story is such that to make sense of this third books there will inevitably be spoilers for books one and two.

So if you don’t want to know, please look away now.

Martha, our heroine, made her first appearance in The Eye of Love. She was a young orphan taken in by her spinster aunt Dolores. The main story belonged to Dolores, but Martha played an important role as her artistic talent was spotted and her inclination to plough her own course became clear.

This is the one Margery Sharp in print, and for that I must thank the Virago Press. And I must also ask them to reissue the two sequels. It is unlikely that anyone else will while you have the first book in print, and those sequels are not just wonderful, they also match the ideals that you stand for beautifully.

Martha took centre stage in Martha in Paris. I missed Dolores, but it was lovely to get to know her niece better. A true individual. She is bright, she loves her home comforts, but she has little time for social conventions. It isn’t that she’s a rebel, it’s that she follows her instincts, focused only on what is important to her. Her art and those home comforts. That might not make Martha sound appealing, but believe me she is. She is honest and she is in most definitely a woman taking charge of her own destiny. And how can you not cheer that?!

Martha’s sponsor, the man who spotted and took in upon himself to nurture her talent, sent her to art school in Paris. There she fell into a comfortable arrangement with Eric, an English bank clerk. He had a girlfriend to present to his mother and she had a few important home comforts not provided by her French landlady. Eventually Martha and Eric fell into bed, and Martha fell pregnant. Martha, of course, did not take any of the expected routes for a young woman in that position. She had the baby in secret, deposited it with the concierge of Eric’s apartment block – Eric did tell Martha that he would shoulder her burdens for her –  and returned to England and her art. Startling, but completely in character, and, strangely, it felt completely right. Book two ended right there.

You see now why I said there would be spoilers? But there had to be for me to be able to talk about the next book and make any kind of sense!

And so, at last, to Martha, Eric and George. It picks up where Martha in Paris stopped. Eric arrives home for lunch and is presented with a baby by the concierge. It’s a quite wonderful scene. Eric is stunned, but his mother’s shock quickly turns to joy. She has a grandchild to spoil and show off, with none of the inconveniences of a daughter-in law!  Her reaction is unexpected and quite delightful.

Meanwhile, back in England, Martha is achieving success as an artist. Everyone is happy. Well everyone except Eric. The presence of baby George stall his career, and what on earth does he tell his very proper new girlfriend Edith?

When George is ten years old Martha comes back to Paris for an exhibition. And of course she bumps into Eric. He thinks that things will be put right now, but of course Martha thinks otherwise. And they have some wonderful dialogues, with Martha’s very different perspective completely flooring Eric.

But, of course, they aren’t the only interested parties. Eric’s mother has her say. And so, most unexpectedly, does Edith. Most importantly there’s George, who shows himself to be a young man just like his mother. That’s a wonderful revelation, and the relationship that develops between mother and son is fabulous. Has Martha finally met her match?!

How will it all end. It didn’t seem possible that there would be an ending that was perfectly in keeping with this tale, but there was. It was unexpected but absolutely right. In one sense it was an ending, but in more ways it was just a departure. I shall miss Martha terribly now that I know there will not be another chance to drop into her life. But I am so glad that I did get to spend time with her.

Her story is strangely charming. And strangely charming is something that Margery Sharp does particularly well. This book, and indeed the whole of Martha’s story, is populated with wonderful human characters, who maybe didn’t behave and talk quite how I might have expected, and yet what they did and what they said was exactly right. I couldn’t help warming to them, understanding them, those ordinary, but somehow very special people.

The storytelling is traditional, with much warmth and wit, but there is much that is modern in this book. The outlooks and positive, proactive approaches of the women in particular. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely there. Wrapped up in a wonderfully readable and highly entertaining story.

And so I’m going to say it again:


15 responses

  1. Hehe… you made me chuckle when I saw your ‘shouting’ at the top and bottom of your post 🙂 Great review (I had to look away so as not to spoil the plot) and I already have these on my list so should get cracking soon.
    Why don’t you contact Capuchin Classics and Bloomsbury Group about this? They have asked for suggestions for future books. Perhaps try Virago and Persephone as well?

    • I am emailing as well as shouting but I waited until I finished this book so I could talk about the trilogy. Virago first, as they still have The Eye of Love in print and depending on what I hear back I may try elsewhere. And I’ve mentioned Margery Sharp in general to Bloomsbury, so keep your finers crossed!

    • I’m hopin to find out from Virago Staci. It might be that they don’t have the rights or it may be that the first book wasn’t a big enough hit – diminishing returns with series.

  2. Had never heard of these books but they sound very enjoyable! Will definitely be searching through library stacks and used bookstores to see if I can find copies. Love your description of how Eric’s mother reacts to the baby – my mother would love to have that happen to her as she’s already filled with granny lust but not so ready to welcome sons or daughters in law into the family!

    • They do indeed. margery Sharp would fit nicely into a lot of lists, so hopefully it won’t be too long until we see some more of her works back in print.

    • When I read The Eye of Love I did think it was more Persephone than Virago, but now my feelings have chaned. Martha is definitely a Virago heroine! But many of Margery Sharp’s books would sit beautifully in Persephone’s list. Maybe one day…

  3. I read one Margery Sharp in 2001 or 2002 – The Foolish Gentlewoman – and have accrued several more, but somehow not read any of the others yet… I definitely will soon, after this enthusiasm! I don’t have any of this trilogy, but I do have a few to choose from.

    • The 2nd & 3rd Martha books do seem to be more difficult to find than most of her others. I had to go looking, whereas half a dozen others on my shelves I stumbled across.

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