About the Book
The first biography of the bestselling author and journalist Marguerite Jervis
Daughter of an officer of the Indian Medical Corps, Marguerite
Florence Laura Jarvis (1886 – 1964) was born in Burma and
became one of the most successful novelists of her time.
During the course of her 60-year career, Marguerite published over
150 books, with 11 novels adapted for film, including The Pleasure
Garden (1925), the directorial debut of Alfred Hitchcock. In her
heyday she sold hundreds of thousands of novels, but is now
largely forgotten; under numerous pseudonyms she wrote for
newspapers, women’s magazines and the silent movie screen; she
married one of Wales most controversial literary figures, Caradoc
Evans. She also trained as an actress and was a theatrical
impresario. Known variously as Mrs Caradoc Evans, Oliver
Sandys, Countess Barcynska and many other pseudonyms, who
was she really?
Liz Jones has dug deep beneath the tale told in Marguerite Jervis’s own
somewhat romanticised memoir to reveal what made this driven and
determined woman. And what turned her from a spoilt child of the English
middle classes to a workaholic who could turn her hand to any literary
endeavour and who became a runaway popular success during the most
turbulent years of the 20th century.
A Virtuoso Storyteller
Women’s popular fiction existed in its own world far beyond the literary canon, in the tradition of those storytellers who want to entertain us. (Carmen Callil, Subversive Sybils)
The chorus line. A dizzying whirl of blonde, bobbed, stocking-legged dancers rush onstage. The camera pans along the faces of the men in the front row. A toothless man leers, another mops the sweat off his forehead, one leans forward to inspect the ‘goods’ onstage, while another points his opera glass to get a close-up of the girls’ legs.
This is the opening scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden, his silent adaptation of the bestselling novel by Oliver Sandys, the pen name of Marguerite Jervis. Part torrid melodrama, part comedy romance, The Pleasure Garden is set in the shady backstage world of a London chorus line. Both novel and film centre on two young female dancers and the near-starvation wages that push them into the beds of those ‘antiques, prowlers, gilded youths and men of the world who are out for a good time and nothing else’.2 Filmed in 1926 when Marguerite’s career was at its height, The Pleasure Garden captured the essence of her storytelling on celluloid. Its themes of murder, voyeurism, violence against women (all of which would become familiar Hitchcock tropes), its seedy London variety theatre setting and its touch of Burmese exoticism, 3 are all sprung from Marguerite’s pen.
Marguerite was writing about a world she knew well. Once an aspiring actress who couldn’t find work on the ‘respectable’ stage, she followed that well-trodden route of struggling young actresses onto the chorus line. Her experience was to spark a string of chorus girl novels: The Honey-Pot, The Ginger Jar, Vista, The Dancer, The Pleasure Garden and others. Beyond the cheerful boy-meets-girl plot that the genre required, they revealed the darker side of a chorus girl’s life: the squalor, poverty, drug abuse and sexual exploitation. In recent years, this once-forgotten film has been reassessed and its significance as the debut of that great auteur, Alfred Hitchcock, recognised.4 Yet at the time of its release, the film’s big draw was not Hitchcock, but the novel’s bestselling author. Along with its charismatic American star, Virginia Valli, the name ‘Oliver Sandys’ was emblazoned in eye-catching capitals on cinema billboards across Britain.
This lively and compelling biography… lays bare the tragedy of a woman whose
prodigious output and determination to live life to the full camouflaged repeated
exploitation by the men in her life. Angela V. John, biographer and historian