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This review is taken from PN Review 58, Volume 14 Number 2, November - December 1987.

PLUS çA CHANGE Emma Tennant, The Adventures of Robina, By Herself (Faber) £2.95 pb.

This little Volume, being the Tale of an Innocent brought in the late 1950s to the Court of Queen Elizabeth, is to be much Commended for its Power to Entertain. Its Moral, however, will hardly occasion Surprise, the Adventures consisting chiefly of Narrow Escapes by our Well-Born but Humbly-Reared Heroine from numerous Wicked, Lewd and Impecunious High-Born Men, who by the use of various Baits, such as Food and Stylish Dresses and Offers of Marriage, inveigle her into Compromising Situations, until finally she is Almost Undone.

Emma Tennant's point, that 'the ways and manners of a certain section of the society in which we live are virtually unchanged since the early eighteenth century', is something of a truism. Yet, paradoxically, her device of telling the tale in the style of Defoe's Roxana does not for me entirely succeed in proving that point: so faithfully (and wittily) has she replicated the early-eighteenth-century form and flavour, that any sense of a post-war twentieth-century world is almost entirely lacking in the book. With so little evidence then of the modern world to which, according to Tennant's implication, the British aristocracy is impervious, or oblivious, or which, in the traditional manner, it is using for its own ends (it is consequently hard to know precisely what she is implying), the reader is required to extrapolate. In this way, and seeming in her 'Editor's Note' to make no distinction between the aristocracy of the 1950s and that of the present day, Tennant ...


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