Lalage's Lovers
by George A. Birmingham
(James Owen Hannay)

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Methuen: London, 1911
305 pages

George H. Doran: New York, 1911
276 pages

November 2013


In George A. Birmingham's entertaining novel Lalage's Lovers, the young heroine's name Lalage is derived from the Greek, pronounced lal'-a-ghee (or variants, depending on your source), and signifying one who prattles or babbles: talkative. And that Lalage certainly is, but talkative to a point: from her girlhood she is an advocate, agitator, passionate verbal crusader.

I also should say at once that the title's second term, lovers, is only a tease, because Lalage's energetic advocacies create annoyance, or an appalled fascination, as readily as appreciation. As for actual lovers, don't hold your breath, because this is an old-fashioned pleasant romance of a girl growing to maturity, and not at all titillating.

Lalage is a very modern young woman, full of her own opinions and increasingly confident about how to make them reverberate in the world. We meet Lalage at fourteen, single-handedly composing a single-copy newsletter, The Anti-Cat, with multiple departments all critical of her governess. Skipping ahead to her college years, with more organization and maturity her next publishing endeavor gleefully criticizes the senior clergy of Ireland, of all persuasions. George A. Birmingham was a Church of Ireland clergyman himself, so we may presume some insider knowledge here. And soon thereafter, she involves herself in a Parliamentary campaign in which the narrator of the novel is a candidate. Mistaken at first for a Suffragette, the breadth of her activities is woefully underestimated.

The major weakness of the novel is in fact the narrator, who is hardly a match for Lalage's wit and energy. But he makes a good foil, and in a novelistic sense a good complement to her, although rather too passive to generate overmuch reader interest on his own account.

Aside from watching Lalage's delightful tilts at deserving windmills of the establishment, I feel a strong personal resonance with her forays into small-press publishing, as well as with her interest in political reform. (I've never had a personal connection, or even a theoretical one, with a governess or an Archdeacon.)

Be that as it may, Lalage's Lovers is a tale of a delightful young lady and verbal firebrand — and how her two disparate aspects evolve together is Lalage's story.


© 2013 Robert Wilfred Franson

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