Earlier this week I wrote a short summary of My Brother Michael and discussed some aspects of the novel in Mary Stewart and the dreadful driving of Miss Camilla Haven. Now I’d like to share some of the snippets to be found among Mary Stewart’s papers at the National Library of Scotland.
WARNING: it might be confusing to read this post before reading the book. Plus, spoilers.
Mary Stewart wrote the book in 1958, according to her draft manuscripts at the NLS. Earlier drafts, though largely similar to the published version of the novel, do contain some key differences, especially from pre-draft note to finished product. At one stage Camilla was named Clare; notes speculate whether Simon and Camilla could stumble upon the cave during a dawn walk; the man who gives Camilla the car key in a cafe on Omonia Square is victim of an attempted hit-and-run; there is an idea that perhaps the Apollo statue should be ‘only found in certain weather conditions’ such as a shower: ‘Some trick of water’; and at one point Mary Stewart envisaged her book ending like this:
Finale. Camilla can say (in Simon’s arms) ‘Nothing ever happens to me’. Simon takes hold of her. ‘No?’ said Simon. ‘Never?’
‘Well, hardly ever.’
Now, this does echo the beginning of the book but I’m glad she changed this ending. Interestingly, in draft form Camilla regrets/is enraged by the fact that ‘nothing happens to women‘ (cf the published opening line ‘Nothing ever happens to me‘), and this draft echoes lines in the published novel such as that ‘life never does seem to deliver itself into the hands of females, does it?’, ‘I was told this was a man’s country. It is’ and that, in Greece it was customary to think that ‘Every man belongs to a place, and I’m afraid that every woman belongs to a man’. I must explore this theme in a future post!
In her notes for Danielle, Mary Stewart instructs herself that Danielle’s character should be apparent ‘through talk and action, not via Camilla’s comments’ – in other words she took care that Camilla should not be seen as gossiping or bad-mouthing the young French woman. Another note suggests that Danielle ‘takes up with Angelos for the hell of it – the man she slept with before is now more interested in one of the boys that looks after the mule’. Oh. Also rather unexpected is this chilling note, worthy of Agatha Christie: ‘Can you live long enough after your neck is broken to speak?’
I was fascinated to read in manuscript form that Philip was originally Camilla’s older brother rather than fiancé. He fulfilled the same function in the book in that he was a larger-than-life and dominating character: since the death of their parents, brother and sister had done everything together but now he was married and Camilla/Clare felt rather cast adrift. Whether brother or fiancé, Philip had been most definitely in charge. Author notes have Camilla say ‘I don’t think I’m very good at this standing on one’s own feet business’ and describe her as ‘a vine born clinging’. This means that when she encounters Simon, it is natural to her that ‘she feels herself swept along by his stronger personality’. But ‘He [Simon] eventually sees this and allows her into danger’. Simon is not interested in eclipsing or dominating Camilla. Mary Stewart makes clear that Simon’s relationship with big brother Michael had been similar to Camilla’s with Philip: ‘Everywhere Mick went, he [Simon] went like a puppydog’ but ‘as Simon has become completely self-sufficient so can Camilla’. Perhaps the reason Philip morphed into Camilla’s fiancé was to make their relationship a more subtle mirror of Simon and Michael’s. The change to Philip as fiancé has the effect of making the novel a little more sophisticated – having our narrator be a woman who has broken a six-year engagement subverts a Gothic/romantic staple of the heroine being virginal and knowing little of men.
Oh, and I have to say how much I adore Mary Stewart’s description of Philip’s
antics in contrast to Simon’s self-assurance. Come on! Grand-seigneur gasconading! High fives to anyone who uses this as a book title or band/song name.
Leaving Philip behind (which, incidentally, is surely the beginning of Camilla’s route to maturity as she takes tentative steps towards independence and self-sufficiency), let us look at Camilla. During the course of the novel, and with Simon’s help, she is learning not to be emotionally dependent on anyone. As she becomes self-sufficient, counter-intuitively: ‘Here she can realise that “we” is the correct pronoun for life. We are none of us sufficient’ writes Mary Stewart, which recalls us to the use of Donne’s poem ‘No man is an island’ as mentioned in both my ‘dreadful driving’ post and My Brother Michael page. Stewart plots that the novel will show both Camilla and Simon grow up and come into their own. Then they can have ‘union’ where they do not have to rely on the other through weakness. So there is a character arc of emotional dependency to independence to equal partnership and also, as Mary Stewart puts it, ‘being part of the pattern’ of human connection and community.
There is so much more I could write on all of this! Moving on, here is the rest of the news in brief:
- Mary Stewart notes that the place-name Delphi means hollow mountain. I have seen it translated as hollow or womb. Have you considered how often caves and, ahem, Hollow Hills, appear in her novels (and novella)?
- My Brother Michael was the first of a new 3 book contract deal with Hodder & Stoughton. This deal included an advance of £250.
- Publication was delayed by a six week printing strike (see History of the GMPU here)
- The book was serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
- Included in the papers in the National Library is a sketch by Mary Stewart of a man with “archaic smile“, as featured on the face of Angelos.
I will stop here today but I feel there is so much more to write on My Brother Michael! Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments.
I find this so fascinating- the choices the writer made as she wrote the book and the changes she made.
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Hi Cryssa, I’m glad you find it fascinating too, I love how Mary Stewart has left a treasure trail showing at least part of the evolution of her books.
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Looks like you really did your homework on Mary Stewart, fascinating to read! thank you!!! Her writing is incomparable : )
Thanks for the kind comment, Theresa, I have really spent (too) many hours over the years looking for info on Mary Stewart books! I agree, her writing is amazing. For me, she is a joy to read and re-read.
Hi Allison, this is fascinating. I have lots of thoughts, so will try and comment on the points in the order raised and hope I don’t miss anything!
That original ending is presumably a nod to HMS Pinafore and perhaps she decided, probably wisely, that it was too flippant. Also, Simon would be effectively implying that for Camilla, being swept off her feet by a man qualifies as the ‘something exciting’ happening to her she was looking for, which would be quite crass and patronising of him and he isn’t supposed to be like that.
On it being a man’s world – the same point is of course made in The Moon-Spinners (I think it’s that and not This Rough Magic) and the heroine says ‘it’s all right, I don’t resent it’, which has always annoyed me. I actually think Camilla’s original point, that ‘nothing ever happens to women’ is a more subtle and interesting one, but I can see that it wasn’t so easy to resolve it through Camilla’s own personal journey, so I can grudgingly understand why she switched it.
I can absolutely see Philip as Camilla’s brother, but I also think the conveniently absent romantic forerunner was a bit of a habit for MS, because you have the same in Madam Will You Talk and Rose Cottage – in both these cases not only conveniently deceased but independently wealthy, allowing the widowed heroine to give up teaching and enjoy a life of ease and exciting adventure.
Another point about the Greek setting(s). I have been reading about the Greek resistance in World War 2 lately and particularly about the guerrilla warfare in Crete, as experienced by Patrick Leigh Fermor. I was surprised to discover in reading his collected letters that he was a big fan of Mary Stewart – I had wondered if he would find her appropriation of his beloved Greece for adventure settings a bit frivolous, but apparently not. Also, he describes being unable to identify the quotation used at the beginning and end of The Ivy Tree and in the end, despairing of finding the answer, writing to Mary herself. She wrote back with the answer.
Re Danielle, her character is very unusual for MS, I think. Her sexiness, bad behaviour and eventual murder are all more explicit and unpleasant than anything else in any of the books.
A final point about the journeys of Simon and Camilla – is his really from emotional dependency to independence, as hers is? I think of his more as the classic action thriller driver (usually for male protagonists) of revenge, where the final learning point is usually to let whatever it was go. MS heroines never seem actuated by revenge, not even in The Ivy Tree or in Touch Not The Cat.
On caves, I can think of important ones in Wildfire At Midnight, This Rough Magic and Wind Off The Small Isles. There’s also one in The Moon-Spinners. Have I missed any?
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Annabel, I am loving your comments. Gilbert & Sullivan I know nothing about at all so I am intrigued by your first point: I will have to investigate HMS Pinafore. I agree with your next remarks but I feel it might be more than convenience re the absent romantic forerunner: is it not noteworthy that in Mary Stewart’s first and final novels her central character is not only a widow but one whose late husband was an airman who died during the war, and in both novels his name was Johnny? It does rather cause me to speculate about Mary Stewart’s own life – and to wonder about the significance of some of her poems such as ‘War Grave’.
What you write about Patrick Leigh Fermor is fascinating too, I’d heard of him only vaguely and I am pleased to hear of correspondence between him and Mary Stewart – can I ask, how did you discover this?
Danielle is unusual in Mary Stewart’s writing, although a foil is not an uncommon trope in Gothic fiction, and I’d agree that My Brother Michael is MS’s most violent book. Btw, I debated whether Suzy in early versions of Nine Coaches Waiting might have been a model for Danielle, in my October post Whatever Happened to Suzy.
I think perhaps Simon’s journey had moved on from emotional dependency following the death of his brother. Mary Stewart’s focus is on her female characters but I think there is a suggestion for both Camilla and Simon that the events of the book cause them to ‘grow’, their reactions to events increase their knowledge of themselves and one another, so that there is no illusion/artifice in their mature partnership of equals. And Mary Stewart shows that their reaction to the threat of Angelos is the same – he is killed not for revenge but out of necessity, so as not to be killed; and Camilla would have killed him if Simon had not. MS wrote: ‘There comes a time when ferocity has to be met with ferocity, violence with violence. The bitter end of liberal logic is that if Athens remains true to herself, she falls to the barbarians of Sparta… Michael’s brother, in my book, resorts to violence and by it wins a respite for the good; he also learns another simple, age-old and cruel fact of life – that we are all members one of another, we are born involved, locked in the great chain of being’.
As for caves, we have also of course The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills. In my recent Mary on Monday post, I noted how even a garage in Madam, Will You Talk? is described as a black cave. MS’s translation of Delphi as hollow mountain got me thinking, when I saw that it can also be translated as ‘hollow or womb’. I don’t want to go all tabloid journalist/pop-psychologist here, but I do wonder whether there is some sort of link between MS’s inability to have children and all the caves she wrote about. Incidentally, the house in Argyllshire that she and her husband bought (in, I think, the early 1980s) is very near to Ben Cruachan ‘the hollow mountain’.
I had not read Mary Stewart for years and it’s been fascinating to go back and read her Greek novels after completing ‘Natural Born Heroes’ by Christopher McDougall, a non-fiction account of, among other things, the kidnapping of a German general during World War II and the fierce resistance movement that arose in Crete. Recommended reading for anyone interested in the history of that period. I can see why Patrick Leigh Fermor loved her books (he plays a prominent and fascinating role in Natural Born Heroes that seems straight out of a novel – or a movie). Thanks for the background!
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Hello, and belated thanks for your comment! Natural Born Heroes sounds like a really interesting read, thanks for the tip, I shall look out for it.
I haven’t read this book for years nd I will try to find a copy, but perhaps you can answer a question for me: Is this the book in which a dolphin appears – either rescuing someone or being towed off a beach? I ask because I have a letter, written to my great-aunt by Mary Stewart, thanking her for sending a newspaper clipping about such an event. Apparently MS had been questioned about the accuracy, or possibility, of its happening, and the clipping my great-aunt sent her backed up her version. The event isn’t specified, nor is the title mentioned, but I treasure the letter nonetheless.
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How lovely to have such a letter! The book you are thinking of, where a dolphin is towed back into water and later rescues someone, is This Rough Magic, and it is definitely worth reading!
After posting this, I came across the soft-cover This Rough Magic my great-aunt passed on to me, so the letter is now tucked inside. I’m 80 years old, and none of my family members are interested in this genre of books, or in the author; I have been wondering what to do with it. Would you be interested in having it? I’d like to thin k of its being appreciated as it should be!
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Oh, would I ever! I would certainly treasure it. Please let me know if you do decide to part with it!
Oh, I’m happy to send it to you now, if you’ll cover the cost of a padded envelope and postage. I’m in Canada – where are you?