Agnes Romilly White

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1872-1945; author of Gape Row (1934), a novel of rural hardship in Ulster, treated with compassion and centring on the character of Mrs. Murphy and her daughter Mary, and dealing with McCreadys, Mahaffys and others; ends with the news from the front of the death of Michael, Mary’s beau, in the First World War.

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Works
Gape Row (Belfast: [Banbridge Chronicle Press] William Mullan & Son 1934; 1951), 296pp.; Do. [4th imp.] (London: Selwyn Blount Ltd. [1934]), 285pp. [ded. “To Lillie”], and Do. [rep. edn.] (Belfast: White Row 1988), 240pp.; Mrs. Murphy Buries the Hatchet [5th imp. (London: Selwyn & Blount 1936), 286pp., and Do. [rep. edn.] (Belfast: White Row Press 1989), [288]pp.

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Commentary
Selwyn Blount edition of Mrs. Murphy Buries the Hatchet (1936) contains end-pages “Autumn List 1934” with notices incl. one of the present book: ‘The lilt of the dialoge goes to one’s head like wine: the spell is laid upon one as soon as any character chose to open his mount. For my part, I adore Mrs Murphy mainly and all the while’ (Gerald Gould, Observer); ‘a book so fresh and unaffted that it almost seems to have grownrather than been written. Its story is that of the stout, adorable Mrs. Murphy ... spontaneous air of a charming book’ (Punch).

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Quotations
Mrs. Murphy Buries the Hatchet (1936): ‘At that moment Mrs. Murphy rolled out of a door further up the street, and continued to roll slowly towards her. In the distance she looked like a large, animated parcel which had been tied somewhat carelessly in the middle. The many bulges and excrescences of her person were more or less due to the number of garments she thought it her duty to wear at all seasons of the year, and when she had got herself firmly tied up at one point she was liable to burst out at another. She had a magnificent capacity for taking to herself any new disease she heard, or read, or dreamt of.’ (p.7.)

Mrs. Murphy Buries the Hatchet (1936) - further: ‘“Rest a wee while, now”, urged Ann. / “I will, dear, to please you. And then I’ll tell you what happened me long ago. Many a time I wonder how I come through it all.” / Ann looked straight before her, through the open door, into the bare little kitchen. A pint tin on the dresser caught the gleam of the fire-light. Her eyes were fixed on it. Her face was cold and set. / “There’s things you never forget”, murmured Jinanna, “You you never forget-no matter how long you live-no matter what happens I was nineteen-and, Jimmy Murdock, he was twenty-two, and we were walkin’. My father wanted me to marry a man of the name of McKinstrey, that lived at the foot of the hill. He had lashins and lavins of money, and his land marched ours, but sure he was an old man with a baird on him, and he scarred the heart out of me. I couldn’t have married him, not if I’d been hung for it! The worst of it was my father and Jimmy couldn’t agree. When he’d come in to see me, they’d have a crack together and they’d be sure to fall out. My father was set for aggravatin’ him, and he was red-headed, and aisy riz in the temper. They’d start, and argufy over a heifer, maybe, or a ploughin’-match, and Jimmy, the foolish boy, had a dread on him lettin’ the old father get the better of him. I couldn’t abear to hear them, and I used to slip out to the fort behind the house, and after a bit, he’d follow me, and he’d promise, and promise never to let another word cross his lips but what was agreeable. And neither he would, maybe, for a wee bit. It was spring then, and we had promised other to get married in harvest ” / She paused for a moment or two. Ann’s face grew more rigid, and she turned away her eyes from the shining tin on the dresser, as if its brightness hurt them. There was an old, faded picture hanging on the wall below [80] Jinanna’s bed. A golden-haired lady, in a white frilly Victorian dress, knelt beside a chair on which a pale little girl sat. The words below it were, “My darling is better”. Ann looked at it for a long time before she knew what it meant. She was dreading Jinanna’s next words. / Presently the weak little thread of a voice took up the story, and went on. “We were terrible busy that year, and I mind - och, oh ! - I mind the way I used to sit up sit night to sew at my wedding clothes. I had a quare lot of nice wee things gathered - I was always terrible fond of nice clothes. And one Sunday evenin’ I come in from the byre with two cans of sweet milk in my hands, and there was Jimmy and my father tearin’ away at each other in the kitchen like mad. My father was standin’ with his back to the dresser, and his face was like the livin’ coal. Before I knew what had happened he had ordered Jimmy out of the house, and told him never to come back, and he just turned in a rage and and went. I dropped the cans, and ran after him, but maybe he never heard me - sure maybe he thought I with my father. I went the length of the potato field, and watched him go down the road - he never looked back - he was that headstrong -and then I turned, and came home all my lone, and the heart that dead and heavy in me! Och annee, annee!”’ (pp.80-81.)

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