A PASSION IN THE BLOOD by Arabella Seymour


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It's off to the races--the horse races of mid-19th-century England--in Seymour's first novel, which churns out the story of Anna Brodie, a young woman dead set on breeding horses and crashing through the sex barrier at the exclusive Jockey Club by entering her top nags in the great races of the day: the King's Cup, Queen Charlotte Stakes, etc., and ultimately the jewel in the equestrian crown, the Derby. Anna's an unkempt waif when we meet her, searching for work at a Suffolk stable, wowing the owner with her way with horseflesh, grumbling about her titled father who abandoned her mother (his mistress), her sister Clara and herself to the meanest of circumstances. When he takes sick, he calls for his illegitimate daughters and promptly dies on seeing them, but not before Anna arranges to have his will forged, stiffing the rightful heirs and giving herself the stake for a country house and string of horses. Against everyone's advice, she enters one in a race before the Jockey Club has a chance to rule on the notion of women on the turf, thus making enemies of all the horsey set, except her neighbor and fellow breeder Ralph Russell, the spunky jockey Arthur Chifney, and honest solicitor Frederick Nubbles; even sister Clara comes to resent Anna for thwarting Clara's romance with pretty-boy James Tollemach (who, only Anna knows, is--woe of woes--homosexual). All sorts of high jinks occur as a cast of slimy villains, most of them seeming to have slipped out of the folios of The Threepenny Opera and to have taken a wrong turn into this novel, attempt to stop Anna. When the Jockey Club finally bars her from the courses, she marries Lionel Tollemache and runs her horses in his name. But it's only at the end of this murky and tortuous tale, after a syphilitic Lionel shoots himself and Anna wins the Derby, that she realizes she's loved Ralph Russell all along, allowing him in the novel's last, ironically symbolic line, to lift her, smilingly, ""down from the saddle."" What it all adds up to is an artless cross between Jane Eyre and My Friend Flicka sporting an unlikable and unbelievable harridan of a heroine across endlessly repetitive pages. Time passes in this novel in a haphazard way, significant action rests on the sheerest bit of contrivance, and ultimately the horses come off more authentically than the people. Not a novel to bet on, at any stakes.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1985
Publisher: Putnam