The Dancing Years

Written by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Review by Ann Lyon

Writers of huge family sagas seldom stint on their research. Now on its 33rd fat volume, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ Morland Dynasty series is bigger than most, and the fruits of the research show. The Dancing Years begins in 1919. We are in territory familiar from family stories for those of us of a certain age – my maternal grandparents married in August 1919, my grandfather, a 1914 volunteer, began civilian life as a dog biscuit salesman. Its pages detail arrangements for the Victory Parade and the burial of the Unknown Warrior. Characters give other characters little lectures on birth control, the problems of ex-servicemen and the need for council houses. The extended Morland family has been thinned out by the war – three are dead, one missing in Russia. But the survivors are fully involved in events. Jack goes into civil aviation, but recession means he has to find work as a motor mechanic; Emma launches herself on the London social scene. Polly takes up fashion design. Violet becomes an intimate of the Prince of Wales. In America, Cousin Lennie sets up in business making wireless sets. There is a rush of marriages and a mini baby boom. Meanwhile, the problems of returning ex-servicemen lead to tragedy.

After 33 volumes, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles has refined her technique to a nicety, and her readers know they can expect the prose version of Downton Abbey; something to curl up with on a wet Sunday evening. However, some usages grate. Outside the Morland family, no man seems to have a Christian name – surely Emma would think of her late fiancé as John, not Fenniman? And I doubt whether the person selling her a flat near Hyde Park would enthuse over its ‘ample closets.’