Cover for the 1953 edition of Patience.
PREFACE BY MAUREEN LIPMAN
Persephone Book No. 99 is Patience (1953) by John Coates. It is a great discovery, being funny (it is in fact oddly difficult to find good funny novels), touching and risqué. ‘The story of a Proper Girl Improperly in Love’ (as it was subtitled when it came out in America, the year after it was published in England), Patience is about the eponymous heroine, 28 year-old Patience Gathorne-Galley who has three small daughters and is, she thinks, newly pregnant. In the first chapter her brother, a devout Catholic (whereas Patience is a rather unthinking Catholic, nevertheless she undeniably is one) comes to tea to tell her that her husband Edward is being unfaithful. Patience, who is perfectly happy with her husband, her children and her St John’s Wood life, is not too upset, in fact she is more curious than anything else because a) her husband had never seemed inattentive, on the contrary, b) she is mystified at the thought of another woman going to bed with Edward out of choice.
Fortuitously (for this is a caper, a farce, a satire, something unreal – which is why coincidence is allowable) Patience meets Philip and upon going back with him to his room in Regent’s Park ‘realises that through seven years of marriage she has never understood the meaning of married love, has never had a moment of sexual pleasure, has been cheated by her husband of true happiness.’ This is what Tribunemagazine told its readers, assuring them that there was ‘no melodrama – or pornography here. Patience is a truly delightful, idyllic story of a simple soul’s discovery of the beauties of sexual love and her attempts to reconcile it with her mild Catholicism and her ardent maternal love.’ Yet there is a serious side to Patience, which is that along the way it is a gentle and subtle exploration of what it means to have a religious (Catholic) belief in the sanctity of marriage. Since Patience never wavers in her faith, how is she going to disentangle herself from her husband? We are confident that none of the Catholics among our readers will be offended by this book – Persephone readers are too sensible for that – but we can imagine a few groans, of recognition and of touché.
'Leaves', a 1953 design by Wendy Bray.