Anne Redmon (Nightingale) John Spurling - Essay

John Spurling

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Many first novels are laced with literature and for most it is a fatal ingredient, but Emily Stone has such a strong and original flavour that one begins to look for comparisons only after finishing it.

It is a measure of the craft—in both senses of the word—with which Anne Redmon's first novel is written that its heroine is nowhere described as behaving like Heathcliff. Yet there are distinct similarities in the disastrous effect Heathcliff and Emily have on other characters' lives as well as in the peculiarly inhuman and at the same time vulnerable, temperament which causes both to feel contempt for and to act malevolently towards 'ordinary' human beings. Emily Stone's chief victim is a shallow but warm-hearted girl who befriends her at school, where she has hitherto been an outcast and introduces her into her home; the parallel with Heathcliff's philanthropic introduction into Wuthering Heights seems deliberate.

Much of the book's success derives, I suspect, from its villain being its narrator and from the fact that this character's villainy precisely consists in her stony intelligence….

The setting however is not at all like Wuthering Heights. The action takes place in three London households, each representing a particular and unerringly observed segment of the upper middle class: academic left-wing Puritan in Fulham, raffish semiartistic non-political in Sloane Square, and rich right-wing army in Belgravia. These social contrasts are explored with as much originality as the contrasts of character, and contribute an element of almost Anthony Powellian comedy to many fine scenes. The writing sometimes suffers from a certain stiffness, but the only second-hand thoughts are those deliberately given to certain characters and signalled as such. Emily Stone is a novel to remember.

John Spurling, "Precious Stone," in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 87, No. 2252, May 17, 1974, p. 703.∗