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Lettice Delmer

by Susan Miles
Persephone book no:

35 36 37

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155219

Susan Miles's real name was Ursula Roberts, she was married to the Rector of St George's, Bloomsbury and was a published novelist and poet; in 1920 Harold Monro singled her out in Contemporary Poets as one of the fifty most important poets then writing.

Lettice Delmer, her only novel in verse, first published in 1958, is about the tragic drama of Lettice's short life from, roughly, 1912 when she is 18 to the late 1920s. It starts when she is the pampered daughter of the house living in Highgate; at the end, after many harrowing vicissitudes, Lettice finds spiritual redemption.

This is an unforgettable book which manages, in the tradition of other verse novels such as Eugene Onegin, Aurora Leigh or Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate, to be grippingly readable. We cannot recommend it highly enough and believe it will be admired and enjoyed by people who would never normally dream of reading a novel in verse. 

Picture Caption

Prato Cathedral, 15th century fresco


The fabric is 'Plantation', a 1958 design by Lucienne Day. It is modernist, yet the squares of umber and grey have a timeless quality and are in keeping with the novel's 1920s setting. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/ Design © Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation

Read What Readers Say

The Times

Written by a vicar’s wife with a passion for radical politics who is a fascinating observer of the period… combining social realism with elements more common to a Victorian morality tale, this is far from being a straightforward improving story: Susan Miles was writing at a time when the Victorian age was still intimately bound up with her own; she makes it clear that Lettice’s difficulties are partly the result of her mother’s efforts to keep her mind “fresh and pure”.

Home & Family

A novel in verse – but don’t let that put you off. You’ll be so gripped after the first few pages that you won’t even notice, and later you’ll recall how clever and poetic it is. It won’t be easy to forget the tragic heroine, just as it’s difficult to forget Hardy’s Tess.

The Tablet

An extraordinary novel… I was hooked as soon as I began reading it. Susan Miles writes with such intensity that her protagonist’s unlikely pilgrimage from pampered under-occupied daughter of the upper middle class to humble, discerning attendant in a ladies’ lavatory is absorbing and entirely believable throughout… The terrible hospital for venereal diseases where Mrs Delmer pays brave, bright little visits is brilliantly described. So are the doomed but heartfelt attempts of Lettice and her mother to heal the lives of unfortunates they have rescued… a remarkable discovery.

Categories: London Poetry Sex Single Women

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