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Review: Introduction to Sally

Book: Introduction to Sally

Author: Elizabeth von Arnim

First published: 1926

Current publisher: British Library Women Writers

Format: Paperback

Page count: 249

The physicals: The paper smells lush! The French flaps are lovely, and the cover design very pretty. The font size is on the small side, so I could only comfortably read this one in daylight, even with my reading glasses.

Procurement: I was kindly sent a copy by the publisher.

I saw a tweet about this book asking for readers/reviewers, so I replied and I was sent a copy. I've read The Enchanted April by the same author, and have another of hers on my TBR pile: Elizabeth and her German Garden. So I was really keen to read this one too.

It's funny, and surprisingly modern for a book first published in 1926. There is a fairy tale quality to the story: extreme, arresting beauty is personified in the eponymous Sally (her actual name is Salvatia). Men can't cope when they encounter this amazingly beautiful woman. She seems to almost cast a spell over them. So she is like the princesses, or should-be-princesses, we are used to from many a fairy tale. Sally does not have the "good" breeding to go with her looks, and that's what the novel is about, really. Class, feminism, and misogyny, are all explored. Sally is objectified by the men around her, and is a threat to the women. Plus ça change!

The novel is rather disturbing in places, for instance when Sally endures an almost incestuous encounter with one of the many men who are smitten by her looks. I found this to be uncomfortable reading. But I think that was the intention... and while the novel is quite modern, it is also quite old-fashioned, and there is a publisher's note at the front of the book to remind, or warn, readers that some of the attitudes on display are definitely not of the 21st century. Of course, sexism and misogyny are still rife, and it's actually rather depressing to be reminded of how little has truly changed for women in the last 100 years.

I wasn't entirely convinced by Sally as a character. We don't truly get to know her at all. But then I don't think the story is meant to be realist and it's important to remember this while reading. It's a fairy tale for adults, rather strange, and original. I've never read anything quite like it. Elizabeth von Arnim was a fabulous writer, and I'm looking forward to exploring more of her books. I'm also planning to read more in the British Library Women Writers series.

Shelf: My classic women writers shelf.

Would recommend to: Readers who enjoy early 20th century fiction with, for the time, quite risque themes.

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