‘Mr Salteena was an elderly man of 42 and was fond of asking peaple to stay with him.’ Surely this is one of the more famous first lines in literature, even if it is not quite as well known as Jane Austen’s quip about matrimony and L P Hartley’s line about the past being a foreign country. Daisy Ashford’s The Young Visiters was first published (with the title spelling corrected) a hundred years ago this year. She was born in 1881 and was only nine when she wrote her extraordinarily accomplished tale of ordinary people managing to gain a toehold in what she conceived of as ‘high society’. In spite of her remarkable grasp of certain social preoccupations of the time, she did not actually have a clue as to the deeper physical and emotional drives underlying her characters’ optimistic behaviour. Nor had she grasped the essential elements of what was then considered socially acceptable conduct.
Thus we first meet Ethel Monticue, a young lady of seventeen much given to ‘ruge’ (rouge) and rather deflating remarks, while she is staying unaccompanied in the house of Mr Salteena. By and by, both are invited to stay with another character, Bernard Clark, in a country house