Frankau, Pamela

views updated


Born 1908, London, England; died 9 June 1967, London, England

Also wrote under: Eliot Naylor

Daughter of Gilbert and Dorothea Black Frankau; married Marshall Dill, Jr., 1945 (divorced)

Pamela Frankau and her older sister were raised by their mother, who was separated from their novelist father. At eighteen, Frankau took a job as copywriter with a London publisher. She published her first novel at nineteen. During the war she served in the army, entered the Catholic church in 1942, and moved to the U.S. in 1945 with her husband, from whom she was divorced in 1961.

Frankau's fiction divides into two distinct groups, separated by the war and her conversion to Catholicism. In her literary autobiography, Pen to Paper (1962), she ruthlessly assesses the earlier works, describing the style as a "carefully erected screen of words," where "descriptions became longer and fancier." Her extremely popular first novel, Marriage of Harlequin (1927), portrays a young girl trapped in role-playing relationships in the amoral atmosphere of London in the 1920s. Subsequent novels often concentrate on love affairs, with flirtatious and witty dialogue, never frank sexuality. In She and I (1930) and Born at Sea (1932), Frankau attempts psychological complexity (split personality, neuroticism) without notable success, and in The Devil We Know (1939) her main character is a young Jewish writer struggling with feelings of inferiority and persecution. Most of these novels have negligible plots. The best gently satirize the superficiality and hypocrisy of British high society, but when the satire fails we are left with the superficiality alone. Frankau, aware of the shortcomings in her writings of this period, explains the ease and enjoyment with which she wrote, and the attraction of money, encouraged her to publish prolifically.

The books written after the war and Frankau's conversion are stylistically and thematically different. Written in what Frankau calls "straight English," they often have an overt religious message, frequently portraying the emptiness of life without religious faith. Several of these novels use clumsy religious symbolism. The Offshore Light (1952) contrasts consecutive chapters of third-person realism with first-person symbolism presented as the notebooks of a divorced and dying statesman. His notebooks represent the religious viewpoint as an "island," of which he is "The Guardian," with his close friend "Peter."

Wreath for the Enemy (1954) is the story of a young girl's confused search for values in the social sophistication of the Riviera. The three parts of the book are each told by a separate narrator attempting to interpret the same events, but these separate viewpoints are never successfully resolved. The search for spiritual values is also the subject of The Bridge (1957), but again the viewpoint, in which the main character reviews his life from an otherworldly perspective, is unconvincing.

Road Through the Woods (1961) is more successful. It introduces a young amnesiac who, looking exactly like his father, arrives in the Irish town where his father grew up, causing varied responses from the parish priest, the woman his father jilted, and an old man searching for a mysterious manuscript. Through mystical remembrances of events that occurred before his birth, the boy acquires a sense of Catholic heritage and decides to stay on in the town, even after his nihilistic father comes to bring him home. He rights the older generation's wrongs, choosing the church and a girl from the parish.

Frankau's most ambitious effort, a trilogy called Clothes of a King's Son (1964, 1965, 1967), has a similar young man as hero, distracted by worldliness but retaining a mysterious clairvoyance and the power to heal. The three volumes trace his history from boyhood to his miraculous return home after he has been assumed dead during the war. Frankau's last novel, published posthumously, is her best. Colonel Blessington (1969) is a quickly paced suspense mystery, almost Shakespearean with its riddles, disguises, twins seemingly separated, a close father-daughter relationship, and even a death by water. Here Frankau's attraction to the occult is incorporated into a genre that uses psychological enigmas to their best literary effect. Her work has been admired for its wit and stylistic charm by many critics, including Noel Coward and Orville Prescott.

Other Works:

Three (1929). Letters from a Modern Daughter to Her Mother (1931). I Was the Man (1932). Women Are So Serious (1932). Foolish Apprentices (American title: Walk Into My Parlour, 1933). Tassell-Gentle (American title: Fly Now Falcon, 1934). I Find Four People (1935). Fifty-Fifty, and Other Stories (1936). Jezebel (1937). A Democrat Dies (American title: Appointment with Death, 1940). Shaken in the Wind (1948). The Willow Cabin (1949). To the Moment of Triumph (1953). Ask Me No More (1958).


Reference works:

Catholic Authors (1952). TCA, TCAS.

Other references:

NY (29 Nov. 1958, 25 Feb. 1967). NYT (24 March 1957, 9 June 1967). NYTBR (22 Jan. 1961, 18 Feb. 1962, 26 Feb. 1967, 15 June 1969). SR (1 Jan. 1966). Time (29 Dec. 1958).