Paperback:

Published: Abandoned Bookshop (November 2020)

ISBN: 9781785632181

Appius and Virginia

G.E. Trevelyan

£15

A rediscovered work by one of the most exciting novelists of the 1930s

Virginia Hutton embarks upon an experiment. She will take an ape and raise it as a human child.

She purchases an infant orangutan and names him Appius. She clothes him, feeds him, and puts him to bed in a cot every night. As Appius grows older, she teaches him to dress himself, to speak, to read, to stand and walk up straight, to eat his meals at the dining table with a knife and fork. She teaches him how to be human.

The young orangutan is not always a willing student. His relationship with Virginia becomes fraught and flits between that of mother and child, teacher and student, scientist and experiment. But as Appius gains knowledge he moves ever closer to the one discovery Virginia does not want him to make: that of his true origins.

Appius and Virginia explores the ongoing conflict between nature and nurture. It is also a chilling and unforgettable portrait of loneliness.

G.E. Trevelyan wrote eight groundbreaking novels between 1932 and 1941 but her writing career was tragically cut short when her flat was hit by a German bomb during the Blitz. She died shortly afterwards and her books have subsequently been largely forgotten. This publication, the first reissue of any of her books since her death, seeks to restore the author to her rightful place in British literature.

OUT NOVEMBER 2020. AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW

Extracts

Virginia Hutton was standing, framed in the white dimity curtains of the nursery window, tapping the floor with one foot. Her lips were set in a thin line.

She was thinking. Thought had drawn two parallel grooves between her light eyes. The grooves met and partly erased those fainter, habitual creases which ran horizontally beneath the nondescript hair drooped limply on her temples.

She stood for some time looking out over the November garden, high walled, where indefinite drops of moisture were dripping dismally from bare lilac bushes and a sycamore on to sodden flower-beds. A file of late yellow daisies was staggering along by the wall: an uneven line of heads bobbing at the end of indistinguishable stems with here and there one bending sickly towards the mud.

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Extracts

Virginia Hutton was standing, framed in the white dimity curtains of the nursery window, tapping the floor with one foot. Her lips were set in a thin line.

She was thinking. Thought had drawn two parallel grooves between her light eyes. The grooves met and partly erased those fainter, habitual creases which ran horizontally beneath the nondescript hair drooped limply on her temples.

She stood for some time looking out over the November garden, high walled, where indefinite drops of moisture were dripping dismally from bare lilac bushes and a sycamore on to sodden flower-beds. A file of late yellow daisies was staggering along by the wall: an uneven line of heads bobbing at the end of indistinguishable stems with here and there one bending sickly towards the mud.

Virginia turned from the window and poked the fire. Then, leaning against the high fender, she examined the room critically.

‘Well arranged,’ she thought, surveying the miniature white-enamelled furniture: low table occupying the centre of the room, chair with safety-strap standing beside it, cupboard near the door, with easily reached shelves to teach habits of tidiness, and railed playing-pen in the far corner.

With the exception of her own writing-table fitted into the corner between the fireplace and the window at which she had been standing, all the furniture was white; so much more suitable she thought, for a nursery. It was a pity there was no room in the cottage for her table to stand elsewhere, but perhaps it was as well it should be here. She would be obliged to keep an eye on him all the time for the first few years. Of course, the furniture would have to be changed as he grew, she reflected, but it was better to have a real nursery atmosphere to begin with.

Here was plenty to stimulate the budding imagination. The white screen was brightly painted with fairy-tale scenes; nursery rhymes formed the subject of the deep frieze binding the white walls. Some low book-shelves between the door and fireplace, where they caught the light from the windows, were stocked with gaily backed picture books and annuals.

‘No toys,’ she mused. ‘But that will come later.’

Otherwise nothing could be better, from the blue-ribboned baby basket beside the cot to the carpet of a deeper blue, thick and soft for little knees in their first tumbles. The cot stood under the window farther from the fire, for Virginia was hygienically minded. She danced across now at the blue-ribboned coverlet and frilly white pillow. The clothes were very slightly mounded and the top of a tiny dark head just showed above the edge of the sheet. There was no movement or sound.

Sitting balanced on the high fender, her fingers tapping its brass edge, Virginia frowned a little anxiously.

‘It should do,’ she said half aloud. ‘If he doesn’t turn out well, at least it won’t be the fault of early environment.’

She sat silent for a time, contemplating the tiny dark splash in the whiteness of the cot. Then she started and looked at her watch.

‘Time for his bottle.’

She hurried out of the room.

quotes

‘Miss Trevelyan’s scope of human experience makes her one of the most important novelists of our day’

Times Literary Supplement (1938)

‘Bold, brilliant and still utterly shocking’

Nikki Marmery

‘An intense modern fairy tale which reminds me at times of both Muriel Spark and Angela Carter. When Trevelyan is on form she’s amazing’

Miranda Emmerson

‘This story of the longing for love, acceptance and purpose seems especially vital at a time when our misuse and misunderstanding of the natural world has brought us to our current climate crisis. Thank goodness for the Abandoned Bookshop, without whom this incredible book might have been lost for good’

Bernadette Russell

reviews

‘A work by a new author which is exciting both in promise and achievement. Miss Trevelyan has made a brilliant debut’

The Spectator

‘One lays down the book grieving oddly over this half-man and feeling that in some sense he is symbolic of human destinies’

New Statesman

‘So original is it, indeed, that I have scruples about writing the word “novel” at all. One must feel grateful to anybody with a sufficiently strong mind to break such new ground’

Gerald Gould

‘Carries one along for sheer fascination’

Fortnightly Review

‘A prescient account of the perils inherent in playing with the boundaries between humans and the animal world’

Brad Bigelow

extras

ABOUT

G.E. Trevelyan

Gertrude Eileen Trevelyan was born in Bath in 1903 to an affluent family descended from Somerset gentry. She went to school in West London and then to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where in 1927 she made headlines throughout the English-speaking world as the first-ever female winner of the Newdigate Prize for poetry.

With the help of a private family income, she moved to a flat in Kensington where she proceeded to write eight published novels in nine years. The first, Appius and Virginia (1932), was hailed by The Spectator as a ‘brilliant debut’. Much of her work was experimental in form, most notably Theme With Variations, which meant that conservative critical reaction was not always favourable. Nevertheless, in 1938 the Times Literary Supplement hailed her as ‘one of the most important novelists of our day’.

Her career was cut short when her flat was damaged during the Blitz in October 1940. Badly injured, she died four months later at a care home in Bath. She was 37.

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