MARAH by Jean Merrill


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A happy-hearted, frisky, podgily sentimental romantic adventure set in the sulphurous East London slums circa 1900. Dewy waif Marah, slavey to the formidable Miss Slaughter (Temperance-preaching director of the East London Mission), first sees languid Lord Malgrave while she's dragging a harmonium through fog and mud on one of Miss Slaughter's anti-tavern assaults. But Miss Slaughter explains that Lord Malgrave is a ""Fornicator. Lecher. Dissolute rapscallion. Landlord of the whole district, etc., etc."" Furthermore: ""His father murdered his mother."" So Marah, product of a Foundling Asylum, tries to resist the ubiquitous Malgrave's attentions: he dines her in his fine home, buys her new clothes, takes her to a sinister socialist meeting. (After all, the meeting notice appeared in the Mission paper--for which Marah herself composes such high-minded tales as ""Drowned Through Their Own Fault"" and ""Ruined by Rank."") But Marah prefers nice printer Mr. Cawthorne, who's researching the mystery of Marah's birth and the ring--bearing something akin to a Malgrave coat-of-arms!--found on her baby person. Meanwhile, Malgrave is sleuthing the socialists (who look forward to the Royal Family cleaning sewers and stringing up such as Malgrave). And Marah snoops too, when a Mission disciple is framed for burglary and when a local courtesan dies bizarrely: in disguise, she visits Mr. Cawthorne's awful mother; there are free-for-alls in the Mission and on the street, with avuncular interventions by Malgrave (whose Tory heart is pure taffy); Marah is hurled from a window by the villain; her parentage-secret is aired; and all hands are paired off nicely. . . with Miss Slaughter regally crocked. Upbeat juvenilia, but--like old Disney movies--it moves briskly and offers innocent merriment.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's