Somewhat embarrassed to find that “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall (Hammond, 1928-1956) had been brought home from the library (it was dismissed as “very boring” but when first published it was regarded as distinctly unsavoury— thus do times change), I chanced to glance through it and discovered that here was yet another contribution to “the motor car in fiction”—incidentally, when I referred to Francis Fytton’s masterful article on the subject recently, it should have been attributed to London Magazine, not London Life as published. Incidentally, he falls into the common error of mistakenly thinking that Molly Randolph’s first car in “The Lightning Conductor,” was a 3½-h.p. Benz.
To return to Radclyffe Hall’s harmless study of lesbianism, quote: “….Sir Philip bought himself a motor-car. The motor was a Panhard, and it caused much excitement in the neighbourhood of Upton-on-Severn. Conservative, suspicious of all innovations, people had abstained from motors in the Midlands, and, incredible as it now seems to look back upon, Sir Philip was regarded as a kind of pioneer. The Panhard was a high-shouldered, snub-nosed abortion with a loud, vulgar voice and an uncertain temper. It suffered from frequent fits of dyspepsia, brought about by an unhealthy spark-plug. Its seats were the very acme of discomfort, its primitive gears unhandy and noisy, but nevertheless it could manage to attain a speed of about 15 m.p.h.—given always that, by God’s good grace and the chauffeur’s, it was not in the throes of indigestion.”
Although fiction, this rings true, so probably someone in the author’s family had just such an early Panhard-Levassor. Then follows a description of the old groom’s disgust at the arrival of this newcomer, which necessitated the dogcart being expelled from the coach-house, to stand chock-a-block with the phaeton.
Later, the subject of the story orders “a rakish real car; a longbodied, 60 h.p. Metallurgique. It was one of the fastest cars of its year, and it certainly cost her a great deal of money,” to offset the heartbreak of losing her girl-lover. And, in Paris, she buys “a touring Renault and a smart little landaulette for Mary.” But the make of ambulance his heroine drove in France during the war isn’t named—perhaps the author wasn’t so acquainted with the Forces and the vehicles they used.
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Vintage postbag, September 1993
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