Sally on the Rocks by Winifred Boggs


Sally is a young woman who returns to the small village in England where she grew up when she finds herself “on the rocks.” The book was published in 1915; the war had put an end to her adventures in Paris. It was in response to a letter from a troublemaker in Little Crampton suggesting she could marry Mr. Bingley, the stodgy bank manager, that she returns to the home of her guardian, the kindly vicar. The unpleasant Miss Maggie, knowing that a widow with a young daughter aims to marry Mr. Bingley entices Sally home with the aim of making trouble for her own amusement.

To help us understand the context for the action, the 2021 edition of the book has a series of facts about the 1910s, a brief description of the author (a prolific writer whose work has sunk into oblivion), a Preface by a curator in the British Library, a Publisher’s Note, and at the end, an Afterward. All these were, in fact useful to fully understand and enjoy the book.

The facts about the decade when it appeared include the surprising facts that the average age for marriage at the time was 26 years for women and 28 for men.  We learn that 1915 had the highest number of marriages in England and Wales and that this record was beaten in 1919. At the time the book came out the army was entirely voluntary; it was not until 1916 that conscription began.

Something surprising in the book was the disturbing reference to the way Sally managed to have “flaming yellow” hair and dark eyes. She explains to her guardian, “I would not have used horrid bleaching stuffs or dyes; they never look natural; but when a friend at one of the hospitals told me that hair turned a lovely yellow under the X-rays, well, I was X-rayed.” I haven’t found any references online about using X-rays to change hair color, but women did use it to remove chin hair for about 50 years. In 1970 about one-third of radiation-induced cancers was caused by X-ray hair removal. Yikes.

Ultimately Sally must decide whether she prefers a life with money and ease with the thoroughly unpleasant Mr. Bingley or leave for Canada and a hard, isolated farm life with a man she has come to love and admire. Meanwhile Miss Maggie shows herself to be an impressive sleuth by turning up evidence of Sally’s “bad behavior” while she lived abroad that precludes life with Mr. Bingley. While I appreciated that the unfortunate choices available for women is deplored, Mr. Bingley is made out to be gratuitously unpleasant. I thoroughly enjoyed the humor in the book, but cringed at both Miss Maggie and Mr. Bingley.

The “Afterward” for this book was written by Simon Thomas who writes the blog Stuck in a Book and a thorough take on the book it is.

Winifred Boggs, Sally on the Rocks, British Library Publishing, 2021, 256 pages.

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