Dorothy Peabody, a middle-aged spinster in London, has sent a fan letter to Diana Hopewell, an Australian romance writer, who has responded with a copious, if irregular, stream of letters. The correspondence breathes life into Miss Peabody, whose job is tawdry, and whose personal life is smothered by a bedridden, bossy mother. The letters contain the draft and working notes of a novel in progress. It looks at first glance like a tale of an outwardly very proper trio of spinsters. The writer’s predilection, however, is clearly for simmering sensuality. Miss Peabody’s fan letter unwittingly reveals as much. Referring to Miss Hopewell’s earlier Angels on Horseback, she has written: “The beautiful young schoolgirls and their strange and wild riding lessons brought something exciting into my life.” In reading the novelist’s color-coded and flamboyantly scripted draft, Miss Peabody fails to recognize, but is engaged by, the writer’s sensuality.
In the new work, the spinster trio is headed by Arabella Thorne, the headmistress of the Pine Heights girls’ boarding school. She travels to Europe with her longtime assistant Miss Edgely, her old friend Miss Snowdon, and a young pupil named Gwendaline Manners. The spinsters are on one level stock types, intent upon manners and refinement, although Miss Edgely also resembles another stock-character type, the honest, uneducated, and rather mopey factotum. The three women also resemble mischievous...
(The entire section is 593 words.)