“Oh, but this is terrible—”
Laura Pavely did not raise her voice, but there was trembling pain, as well as an almost incredulous surprise, in the way she uttered the five words which may mean so much—or so little.
The man whose sudden, bare avowal of love had drawn from her that low, protesting cry, was standing just within the door of the little summer-house, and he was looking away from her, straight over the beautiful autumnal view of wood and water spread out before him.
He was telling himself that five minutes ago—nay, was it as long as five minutes?—they had been so happy! And yet, stop—he had not been happy. Even so he cursed himself for having shattered the fragile, to him the already long perished, fabric, of what she no doubt called their “friendship.”
Thus begins a tale of unrequited love, jealousy, and murder. The book is Love and Hatred, written by Mrs. Belloc Lowndes and published in 1917. The setting is the English countryside.
It is not a fun read (since the characters are basically good people in a bad situation with bad consequences), but it is a fascinating read. What makes it fascinating is the full characterization of the people described.
The recipient of the undesired avowal of love is Laura Pavely, who first appears to be merely a cold woman placed upon a pedestal by admirers, but first impressions are often wrong. It is not that she is incapable of love, she loves her daughter deeply.
The maker of the avowal of love is Oliver Tropenell, a neighbor and family friend. He befriends Laura’s husband to please Laura, but hates the inability of her husband to make her happy and thinks she deserves someone better (i.e., himself).
The third party of this triangle is the husband, Godfrey Pavely, who also places Laura on a pedestal, but has a jealous mistress (the banking profession). He is better at banking than he is at satisfying the unstated needs of his wife, and his customers hold him in high esteem.
The fourth party of this triangle is Godfrey’s good friend (and past lover), Katty Winslow:
It is a great mistake to think that coldness and calculation always go together. Katty Winslow was calculating, but she was not cold. For once she had been quite honest when writing that odd little postscript to her letter of thanks for Godfrey Pavely’s wedding present. Godfrey had, in very truth, been her first love, and she had suffered acutely in her heart, as well as in her pride, when he had run away. Even now, she felt as if there were a strong, secret, passionate link between them, and there was no day when she did not tell herself that she would have made the banker a perfect, and yes—a very happy wife.
Life would have been so much simpler if Godfrey had married Katty, instead of Laura. Godfrey could communicate with Katty in a way that he couldn’t communicate with his wife, and Laura could communicate with Oliver in a way that she couldn’t communicate with her husband. But then, we don’t always make the right decisions, and these are responsible people who honor their commitments, even when the commitments were unwisely made.
Viewing all this is Oliver’s mother, whose joy is “to fall in with even the least reasonable of her son’s wishes.” And yet, she feels a vague, exasperating sense of restlessness and unease about what she sees. It is as if she is the only one seeing that two approaching trains are on the same track.
Train wrecks can be morbidly interesting, and emotional train wrecks can be fascinating when caused by tragic flaws in characters we care about. Love and Hatred presents such an emotional train wreck.