How deceptively wicked is Anne Parrish's poison pen portraiture. Here again she builds up a character, Clara LeStrange, so that the reader chafes helplessly as Clara builds her shelter of pretenses, creates for herself an aura of charm, and defeats all comers. She sees herself always as cherished, protected, beloved, admired -- and when confronted with realities, she escapes into her vision of herself, whatever the cost in neglect of household, family, responsibilities. The popular belle of the 19th century, Clara is endlessly in competition,- with her contemporaries whose beaux she took from under their noses, with her daughters who rebelled too late, even with her granddaughter. Her whole life was a tragic demonstration of the ""tinkling brass and sounding cymbals"" of those who ""have not love"" in their hearts. This character- surely not an appealing one- is made subtly fascinating against a meticulously artful portrait of a period- from mid century on to World War II -- a way of life and thought, a rural aristocracy that is no more.