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The Constant Nymph

By: Margaret Kennedy
Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki,Gabrielle de Cuir
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Summary

“[The Constant Nymph is] one of the best novels old or new, that had ever absorbed a reader’s attention during the still hours.” (Augustine Birrell, the New Statesman, December 6, 1924)

Lewis Dodd, a young, troubled composer, arrives at “Sanger’s Circus”, a wild gathering consisting of precocious children, a slovenly mistress, and an assortment of hangers-on in the Austrian Alps overseen by the eccentric Albert Sanger, a brilliant, if unappreciated, composer himself. Tessa, Sanger’s lively 14-year-old daughter, falls in love with their handsome visitor.

After Albert’s death leaves Tessa and her siblings penniless, they must implore extended family members for assistance. Florence, Tessa’s 28-year-old cousin, graciously steps in to help and she falls in love with Lewis...and he reciprocates. Florence and Lewis marry, much to Tessa’s dismay, and the Sanger children are shipped off to boarding school. But Lewis, while loyal to his bride, nonetheless finds himself drawn to Tessa more and more. Even marriage cannot completely sever the bond between Lewis and his constant nymph.

An immediate best seller whose fans included fellow authors Thomas Hardy, J. M. Barrie, A. E. Housman, and John Galsworthy, The Constant Nymph was adapted both on stage and on screen in the decades after its release. Ostensibly a tale of female rivalry, Margaret Kennedy’s classic deftly explores the tension between creative genius and the stifling constraints of polite society in early 20th century England.

©1924 Margaret Kennedy (P)2020 Blackstone Publishing

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Gripping

What a story - despite the family at the heart of the story being incomprehensible, the children being irritating and the adults all perverse, the story is so enticing. The narrator manages a wide range of tones to convey different personalities and in particular a kind of weary light tone, an attractive voice. The 'Nymph' in the story is aged 14 and is an uneducated rather wild creature, so, with a little of Lolita about her, and lots of innocence. The idea that people can just love one another is of course a reflection of reality. The book is full of selfish men and strange motivations and allusive conversations - very subtle and fascinating. The setting in the Tyrol then London then ultimately, Belgium, is painted well and used to give real context and weight to what happens. Music is at the heart of this book and the author describes music and musicians with great insight. I listened to the ending at 2 am ( insomnia!) and was left in a dream of another world, of lost futures and hard choices, of experiences that would change everything. I highly recommend this book if you want a romantic, effective story, without violence, explicit sex or anything dark, but that offers a wholly-imagined world in which you can supply those things from your own imagination. Brilliant stuff.

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