The Dark Tide was published in 1923 and was Vera Brittain’s first novel. It caused quite a stir when it was released as it caricatured several Oxford dons and nearly insulted her good friend Winifred Holtby, whom the main character is modeled after. However, Holtby took it “with good humor”. I think I would have been insulted if I were Holtby after reading the first 1/3 of the novel as she makes the protagonist, Daphne Lethbridge, seem like a horrid, ignorant, mean girl. But Brittain does redeem her character in the end.
As the novel opens, Daphne has returned to Oxford after serving as a driver during the War. She’s looking forward to continuing her studies in International Relations, but things go south when she begins coaching with a fellow student, Virginia Dennison. Virginia is simply brilliant. She’s also attractive and dresses beautifully. Daphne can’t control her jealousy and develops a dislike of Virginia that borders on hatred. For Virginia, the feeling is mutual. She thinks Daphne is idiotic, clumsy and ridiculous. Daphne tries so hard to eclipse Virginia’s work, but Virginia’s natural abilities far outshine her own. This antagonism and competition inadvertently leads to Daphne agreeing to marry their coach, a man named Raymond Sylvester, who had really wanted to marry Virginia. The tragedy that erupts from this marriage results in Daphne and Virginia forming an unlikely alliance.
I very much liked The Dark Tide and Vera Brittain’s clear writing style. This is the type of novel that you can get lost in at the end of a long day. It has a tinge of melodrama, not too much, just the right amount to make it addicting. Daphne and Virginia are both engaging characters and the transformations realized in their personalities by the end of the novel are admirable. There is definitely a “feel good” ending to the book that was a tad surprising – I did not predict the ending at all. More than anything, this is hugely enjoyable and completely absorbing – time well spent.
For anyone wondering about my storytime experience – it went fairly well, but I don’t feel great about it. I had about 35 people and it was chaotic, but I did learn more about pacing and story length. I know that as I do more of them, I’ll learn more and be able to refine and improve the experience for both me and the babies. The babies were the best part – one little boy named Jack let me hold him and his grandparents told me that he never lets anyone outside of the family hold him – that made me feel great!