An Aspidistra in Babylon
First published in 1960, this collection of four novellas continue Bates's sensitive, often witty, explorations of unhappy love.
The title story, 'An Aspidistra in Babylon', is a reminiscence of a girl's loss of innocence. Christine, who describes herself at eighteen as 'dull as one of the aspidistras that cluttered up ... our little boarding house' is seduced by the forty-year-old Captain Blaine, who charms her imagination with stories of a life on the Continent.
'A Month by the Lake' is a comedy of errors set in 1920s Lake Como revolving around two middle-aged vacationers unable to express their affection for each other. A film version starring James Fox, Vanessa Redgrave, and Uma Thurman was directed by John Irvin in 1995.
Also featured in this collection is 'A Prospect of Orchards', as narrated by a familiarly mild-mannered Bates character, concerning unfolding affections and blossoming relationships in this quirky tale of extra-marital intrigue. In contrast to this is the darker tone of 'The Grapes of Paradise', where the narrator relates the tale of a fellow traveller in Tahiti, laced with callousness, jealousy, and violence.
Included in this edition is bonus story 'The Duet', first published in 1935 and never before featured in any collection. It is the tale of a young choirmaster's son, eager for the autographs of two famous singers. Ignored throughout the day, he follows the players he now considers haughty to a private room where, though the keyhole, he spies an intimate and affectionate scene between them that changes his perceptions completely.
The Spectator calls Bates 'a supreme anecdotalist, endowed with vast self-confidence and the gift of imagery ten times the size of life.'