Category Archives: Sherriff R C

The Fortnight in September: R.C. Sherriff (1931)

R.C. Sherriff’s The Fortnight in September lingered for too long on my TBR list, and now there’s a rerelease of this gentle, classic tale. This wonderful story follows the annual two-week holiday of the Stevens family: 20-year-old Mary, 17-year-old Dick,10-year-old Ernie and their parents. Mr and Mrs Stevens took their honeymoon in Bognor Regis 20 years earlier, and they return here every year for their annual holiday. They even stay at the same guesthouse, Seaview. The first few chapters set the stage for the night before the holiday–it’s a prequel of sorts. It’s packed full of planning rituals which are repeated, faithfully, every year. Mr. Stevens is a creature of habit. Everything must be ‘just so,’ and perhaps this explains why the holiday destination never varies.

They had often talked of a change–of Brighton, Bexhill–even Lowestoft–but Bognor always won in the end.

It’s Mary’s job to deliver the canary to neighbour, Mrs Haykin. It’s a dreaded task as poor Mrs Haykin, who has no social life, is pathetically eager to take care of the canary as:

the Stevenses holiday had become Mrs. Haykin’s holiday: she lived every moment of it from her little house in Corunna Road. Soon she would watch them pass on their way to the station. She would not settle to her morning’s work until she had seen their train go by and satisfied herself that they had had ample time to catch it. She always hoped one of them might wave from the window.

Over the course of twenty years, Seaview hasn’t changed–except that it’s steadily become shabbier.

The Stevenses had not definitely noticed anything amiss in Seaview in the years that followed. Mrs Huggett remained as flustered, as tremblingly anxious to please as ever. Molly seemed on the go all day–and yet—-there was just something different: some little thing each year. few years back the bath plug had broken from its chain: it had never been recaptured, and lay each year in freedom at the bottom of the bath. Year by year the sheets grew more cottony and frail: and Mr Stevens, happenings one night to have a sharp toenail, slit his top sheet down the centre, and enlarged it accidentally with his foot each night as he got into bed.

Not a great deal happens in this tale. We see the Stevens family as a unit with Mr Stevens organizing and marshalling the family like troops. Yet we also see them as individuals; Mary meets a young man and senses that this is the last holiday she will spend with her family. Dick, who started work a year before, is “terribly unhappy,” and is withdrawn. Away from the daily grind, the holiday appears to restore his spirits. There’s the sense that in spite of ritual and annual return trips, that life is changing for this family. There’s a sort of beauty in routine–as if our lives will stretch out to infinity. Published in 1931, there are big changes ahead. The world of Seaview, Dulwich and the life of the Stevenses will change forever.

Review copy

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