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by John Coates
Persephone book no:

98 99 100

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155899

Persephone Book No. 99 is Patience (1953) by John Coates. It is a great discovery, being funny (it is oddly difficult to find good funny novels), touching and risqué. ‘The story of a Proper Girl Improperly in Love’ (as it was subtitled when it came out in America, the year after it was published in England), Patience is about the eponymous heroine, 28 year-old Patience Gathorne-Galley who has three small daughters and is, she thinks, newly pregnant. In the first chapter her brother, a devout Catholic (whereas Patience is a rather unthinking Catholic, nevertheless she undeniably is one) comes to tea to tell her that her husband Edward is being unfaithful. Patience, who is perfectly happy with her husband, her children and her St John’s Wood life, is not too upset, in fact she is more curious than anything else because a) her husband had never seemed inattentive, on the contrary and b) she is mystified at the thought of another woman going to bed with Edward out of choice.

Fortuitously (for this is a caper, a farce, a satire, something unreal – which is why coincidence is allowable) Patience soon makes the acquaintance of a friend of her brother-in-law's named Philip and upon going back with him to his room in Regent’s Park ‘realises that through seven years of marriage she has never understood the meaning of married love, has never had a moment of sexual pleasure, has been cheated by her husband of true happiness.’ This is what Tribune magazine told its readers, assuring them that there was ‘no melodrama – or pornography here. Patience is a truly delightful, idyllic story of a simple soul’s discovery of the beauties of sexual love and her attempts to reconcile it with her mild Catholicism and her ardent maternal love.’  

Yet there is a serious side to Patience, which is that along the way it is a gentle and subtle exploration of what it means to have a religious (Catholic) belief in the sanctity of marriage. Since Patience never wavers in her faith, how is she going to disentangle herself from her husband? Maureen Lipman in her preface to our edition describes Patience as 'delicious', and we certainly agree. 


'Leaves', a 1953 design by Wendy Bray.

Picture Caption

Cover for the 1953 edition of Patience.

Read What Readers Say

Random Jottings (blogger)

‘Patience' is sheer delight from start to finish, witty, amusing, touching and sad, I read it straight through in one sitting. I pay this book the compliment of saying that I was very sad when I had finished it: and that feeling of discovering something wonderful and new was gone and left me feeling a bit lost. However, I am pretty certain I will read it again and again as its subtle style of writing and humour will benefit from another look. Absolutely staggering that this book is written by a man, so spot on is he on feminine thought processes and attitudes. Maureen Lipman calls this book “delicious” and tells us to “savour it” and I did – every single word of it.

The Guardian

John Coates created a nimble satire, blowing on the dying embers of Victorian double standards before the permissive society took over.

MB, London, SE22

‘Patience’ is one of the few books I have ever re-read and I intend to do so again. There are probably many subtle layers to ‘Patience’ that I have missed - comments on religion of course, the role of women in society and family life, how siblings treat each other and so on. What I especially love about the book is how everything is written with humour and some irony, as the narrative rips along at breakneck speed…. Not to mention how truly romantic the book is as well - in fact, that is what I love about it most. At its heart is the premise that a saintly, unhappily married but dutiful woman can be loved so immediately and so immensely by a man who is not the father of her three tiny children!

Categories: Adultery Family Humour London Love Story Men (books by) Sex Social Comedy Woman and Home

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