EPS Review #31 - The Ginger Griffin

I was browsing the website of Jessica Amanda Salmonson, fantasy writer and bookseller, and came across a title that interested me:

Bridge, Ann. THE GINGER GRIFFIN. Boston: Little Brown, 1934. 1st; lighty soiled cloth. Cursed object. Witty tale of Brits & Chinese for which Bridge provides the amusing prefatory disclaimer, "Of the characters in this book, the Bong alone is drawn from life," the bong being in the form of a yellow griffin that brings either luck or misfortune. $20.00

Well, since one member of my household is named Ginger (a cat) and another Griffin (a bestiary boy), and since the book is set in Peking, I figured I had to have it, but not for $20 -- I got it for £6 from an Irish bookseller. The ginger griffin in the book turns out to be a horse -- there is a lot of horse riding in the book, which is really a sensitive love story where the heroine finally hooks up with the boring but devoted guy after two slightly broken hearts. It is only partly redeemed by the setting, at least I could feel "I've been there" when they ride around the Temple of Heaven. It is not really a fantasy story at all -- I suspect Jessica of having skimmed just a few pages. Still, there are points where the writing amuses:

"Do you ride at all, Miss Harrison?"
"Yes, I do," said Amber.
"Capital -- that's really excellent. I hope you'll let me mount you sometimes, till your uncle comes back. It would give me the greatest pleasure..."

There's a whole lot of French, too. I think Gilbert and Sullivan would have classed her as a "lady novelist". But I read it through.

I found a short bio of Ann Bridge on the web:

In 1932, the entire English-speaking world was talking about Ann Bridge, author of the publishing sensation of the year, who had sprung out of nowhere, scooped up a prize of $10,000 with her first novel, and won golden opinions from critics worldwide. Peking Picnic is a sophisticated, compassionate and humane exploration of the unhappy predicament of a married woman, set against the powerfully-realised landscape of North China. In The Ginger Griffin (1934) and Illyrian Spring (1935), Bridge explored further aspects of the aching heart: the choices that face a very young woman who must choose between love and happiness, and the love of a middle-aged married woman for a very much younger man. With Enchanter's Nightshade (1937) and Four-Part Setting (1939) she consolidated her reputation as an outstanding novelist, and a writer who spoke for the women of the 1930s. For the rest of her life she continued to publish prolifically, keeping her loyal readership in new novels until 1973.

Ann Bridge was a household name, but it was a pseudonym, and her real identity as the wife of a diplomat was a closely-guarded secret. Her biography has never been written.

The sensitivity and wisdom in Bridge's writing contrasted painfully with her destructive impact in actual relationships. She was "stormy, troubled, and troublesome". Her marriage lasted sixty searingly unhappy years, and her richly textured story has many strands besides her contribution to literature. It throws a sideways light, through her husband's stormy career, on the troubled world between the First and Second World Wars. It is the last chapter in the saga of an ancient Irish dynasty. It is a study of the effects of child abuse, and how this can trickle over a family and warp it for generations to come. It is a study of cruelty and endurance, of folie de grandeur, of public success and private failure. It is the story of a strong woman who shouldered impossible burdens, of an unloved wife who made herself "one of the best-loved of all women novelists" in the twentieth century.

The biography of Ann Bridge (1889-1974) is being written by Benita Stoney, who has been involved in biographical research for a number of books, including Victoria and Albert: Life at Osborne House. She is co-author of Travels with Queen Victoria, and the editor of My Mistress the Queen: The letters of Frieda Arnold, dresser to Queen Victoria 1854-9 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994). Benita Stoney pursues a parallel career as a painter and lives in Co Mayo, Ireland.