Happy Valleys

Dan Jacobson

  • White Mischief by James Fox
    Cape, 293 pp, £8.95, November 1982, ISBN 0 224 01731 4
  • Earth to Earth by John Cornwell
    Allen Lane, 174 pp, £7.95, October 1982, ISBN 0 7139 1045 3

The story goes something like this. A ruthless aristocratic seducer of other people’s wives begins an affair with the bride (of a couple of months’ standing) of an acquaintance. The husband, who is 18 years older than the seducer, and no less than thirty years older than his wife, is alternately furious and complaisant, morose and ‘understanding’, vengeful and jocular. Everybody drinks a great deal, and everybody exchanges confidences, or what pass for confidences. A series of taunting, anonymous letters is delivered to the husband. He tells his servants and the police that a housebreaker has stolen a couple of revolvers from him. A few days later he agrees to let his wife go: indeed, at a last dinner together with her and her lover, he raises a formal toast to them and wishes them every happiness and the birth of an heir. In the early hours of the next morning, two miles from the marital home, the lover is found dead in his car. He has been shot through the ear at close range. Later that day the husband lights a bonfire near the house: in this bonfire he tries to burn, among other things, a pair of gym shoes and a blood-stained golf-stocking. He is arrested, charged with murder, and stands trial for his life. An inept prosecution and a brilliant defence result in his being acquitted. Eighteen months after the acquittal, having in the meantime been systematically ostracised by most of those who had previously been his friends, he commits suicide.

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