Daughters of Albion

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Julian Ramsay, a graduate of the University of Oxford, hoped to be a writer, but after publishing a single novel he has had to make his living as a radio actor, playing a character in a popular British Broadcasting Corporation serial. In this third novel in A. N. Wilson’s series dealing with a large group of characters (see Magill’s Literary Annual, 1990 and 1991, for reviews of the first two novels in the sequence, Incline Our Hearts and A Bottle in the Smoke), Julian continues to be interested in the Lampitts, an old established family with considerable power; he has been married to Anne, who is connected to the Lampitts, but the marriage is over. Julian’s uncle Roy, an Anglican priest who reared Julian after his parents were killed in an air raid, is obsessed with the Lampitts, and Roy’s special friend has been Sargent Lampitt, from whom he has been estranged for a number of years. Julian mocks his uncle’s obsession, but it has infected him as well.

Sargent, with the approval of Ernie Lampitt, tries to interest Julian in writing a book which will be a history of the Lampitt family but which will have as its principal aim the revising of popular opinion about James Petworth Lampitt, a member of an earlier generation whose life had been the subject of a scurrilously inaccurate book by Raphael Hunter, a longtime rival of Julian. Julian is reluctant to undertake the task but does agree to serve Sargent as a kind of part-time secretary.

Julian’s interest in the Lampitt family becomes connected to his fascination with Rice Robey (always referred to by his full name), a dominating man he meets at a luncheon given by Miles Darnley for people connected in some way with The Spark, a not very successful magazine that tries to serve too many interests. Rice Robey, it develops, is the source of the gossipy items appearing in The Spark that deal with the sex lives of the rich and famous; Daughters of Albion is set in the period when the Profumo scandal rocked the British establishment and led to the loss of an election by the Conservative Party, and such gossip was very popular. It also turns out that Rice Robey, under the name of Albion Pugh, wrote four novels during World War II which are generally forgotten but are the object of admiration by some of Julian’s friends.

Julian’s cousin, Felicity Ramsay, with whom Julian shares a house, works with Rice Robey in the Ministry of Works and brings him home with her frequently, making it inevitable that Julian will know the man and hear his proclamations. Rice Robey is an expert in ancient archaeological sites around Great Britain, and because of their religious significance he tries to prevent their destruction. Both Felicity and Miles Darnley are enthusiastic supporters of Rice Robey, regarding him as a kind of guru; Felicity is clearly in love with him, although he seems never to become involved in sexual relationships with her or with other young women who find him fascinating. Felicity’s admiration for Rice Robey is especially significant, since she was a brilliant don at Oxford, specializing in philosophy before taking a leave to become a civil servant. Julian, who has had little interest in sex since his divorce, suddenly finds that he is strongly attracted to Felicity, so that sexual jealousy enters into his feelings toward Rice Robey.

Julian regards Rice Robey’s habit of collecting and publishing scurrilous gossip as reprehensible, but he finds that what Rice Robey says about the subjects of his gossip generally is accurate. He also knows, however, that Rice Robey tells his admirers that the burden of his life and the reason for his failure to achieve great heights as a writer is his “Great Attachment” to Mrs. Paxton, the wife of his onetime employer with whom he eloped and with whom he has lived for many years. She is a dragon, according to Rice Robey, insanely jealous, terribly demanding, and unable to care for herself. When Julian accidentally meets her, delivering some books to Rice Robey’s home, he finds that the stories are nonsense; Mrs. Paxton knows all about and does not resent Rice Robey’s relationships with other women, she is entirely capable of caring for herself, and she seems to Julian to be anything but a dragon.

Two of Rice Robey’s actions become central in the novel. One is his project of writing a novel, in the vein of his earlier mystical...

(The entire section is 1816 words.)