Real-life mystery writer Josephine Tey’s eighth encounter with fictional crime toggles back and forth between her brush with murder during her early years as a teacher and the time a generation later when the chickens come home to roost.
Hearing about the 1938 London production of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour floods Josephine, whose play The Laughing Woman is premiering at Cambridge’s Arts Theater, with traumatic memories of the summer of 1915, when rumors about the affair between Georgina Hartford-Wroe and Harriet Barker, partners in the horticultural school Moira House, came to a head with the death of Dorothy Norwood, who, like Hellman’s schoolgirl Mary Tilford, had lodged scandalous accusations against George and Harry. Although the coroner’s court delivered a verdict of death by misadventure, the damage was done: The neighbors’ suspicion and hatred of the couple, fanned by the assumption that Dorothy was murdered, flared out against George and Harry, forcing them to close the school overnight and sending them into exile. In 1938, Daily Mirror reporter Faith Hope, who as Charity Lomax was attending Moira House when the scandal erupted, seeks to resurrect it, linking it to Hellman’s well-known play. When she descends on Josephine, the author and playwright has the best reason in the world to bridle, for on the very day Dorothy Norwood died, she consummated her love with fellow teacher Jeanette Sellwood, a secret Charity already seems to know even though Josephine (Sorry for the Dead, 2019, etc.) has never shared it even with her current lover, screenwriter Marta Fox, who helped Alfred Hitchcock bring Tey’s 1936 novel, A Shilling for Candles, to the screen as Young and Innocent. When will the scandal of Moira House finally be laid to rest?
Achingly perceptive about forbidden relationships and the unreasoning hatred they can provoke, then as now.