Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is one of those books that is a product of its time. Julia Strachey, the author, was of Virginia Woolf’s time — in fact, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding was published by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press. It is put forth today as a “forgotten twentieth-century novel” by the current publishers, and I think that’s a fair assessment. The book has a limited audience it speaks to, and others are not likely to pick it up. Despite that, I think that it is a good depiction of British women of a certain class and time and their relationships; it is thus worth reading if only for the insight it gives into the time period.
The book takes place in the home of Dolly Thatcham, a bride-to-be dressing for her wedding. The house is full, from the visiting relatives and guests to the servants, and her confused mother looks after it all. Dolly appears to not have anyone who truly understands her other than Joseph Patten, a former lover, who is unhappily in attendance for the wedding between his still-beloved Dolly and Owen Bigham. Joseph and Dolly play the game of keeping up appearances, and can even almost do it.
One delightful point of both realism and symbolism was when Dolly, drunk and uncoordinated, manages to spill ink on the front of her wedding dress. The only one there to help is Joseph, who does — he gets her a lace scarf to drape and pin over the stain. In it I find both the sign that Dolly’s marriage to Owen will never be a clean start, and also an omen of what is to come from Joseph after the wedding.
I suppose Cheerful Weather for the Wedding could be, and probably is, classified as domestic fiction — after all, the book takes place solely in one house over the events of a part of a day. In this way, it carries on in the tradition of Jane Austen, taking a careful look at the manners and mores of the time and skewering them. Unlike Austen, however, Strachey strives to move beyond the manners into a more realistic life depiction. While Austen would have striven for the characters to cover scandal and to provide for them a mostly happy ending, in this book no one ends up in an enviable position. In this way Strachey has both honored Austen in her genre choice, while also subverting its conventions and providing it with a more realistic feel.
Overall, I found the story to be a solid one, with some really interesting parts. It’s not my favorite genre, but it was an enjoyable read.