“The Slaves of Solitude” by Patrick Hamilton (1947) – 242 pages
It happens; it is not always just paranoia. Two or more people in a small group will gang up and work in league to defeat, humiliate, or embarrass someone else in the group. It’s human nature. Miss Enid Roach in “The Slaves of Solitude” has that mix of fierce independence, stubbornness, and painful sensitivity that incite two other residents of her boarding house to team up to oppose her.
The time is 1943, and we are in Thames Lockdon which is some miles from London. There has been a lull in the German bombing, and thousands of United States soldiers are there preparing for next year’s reclaiming of France. These United States soldiers are looked on as the saviors of England and are popular with the single women. Somehow even thirty-nine year-old Miss Roach gets involved with her American soldier, Lieutenant Pike, who takes her to a park bench along the river where they kiss. “On the whole she disliked this at first, but after a while she found that she disliked it a great deal less.” Miss Roach also befriends a woman from Germany, Vicki Kugelmann, who has been the victim of anti-German prejudice whom Miss Roach invites to stay in her boarding house. That is when the real trouble begins.
Up until the time Vicki Kugelmann moved into the boarding House, Miss Roach only had to contend with Mr. Thwaites who has hounded her for years. We all know a Mr. Thwaites, “a lifelong trampler through the emotions of others” who especially has it in for Miss Roach. Vicki Kugelmann, far from being Miss Roach’s defender, teams up with Mr. Thwaites. Vicki makes a play for Miss Roach’s American soldier, and she has this kittenish too familiar way of talking to Miss Roach. “You are not sporty. You must learn to be sporty, Miss Prude.” If this type of humiliating talk wasn’t enough, she also casually uses Miss Roach’s own comb which is the worst sin of all. Before long Miss Roach “knew she hated Vicki Kugelmann as she had never hated any woman in her life…Then it was that she knew that it was war to the death – malignant, venomous, abominable, incessant, irreversible.”
Patrick Hamilton has a way of making the stories in his novels come vividly alive. No wonder so many of his books and plays have been made into movies. The four main characters in “The Slaves of Solitude” – Mr. Thwaites, Lieutenant Pike, Vicki Kugelmann, and of course Miss Roach – are all memorable. Hamilton’s novels have the immediacy of plays, and it was as a playwright that Hamilton originally excelled. His first great play was “Angel Street” which was made into the movie “Gaslight”.
The entire novel “The Slaves of Solitude” is told through the eyes and mind of Miss Roach. This is the first Hamilton novel I’ve read where the main character is a woman, and he pulls it off very well. Miss Roach is a unique sympathetic character.
Sometimes when reading English novels, one tires of reading about Lords and Ladies, manors and fox hunts. Patrick Hamilton was one of those English novelists like Alan Sillitoe, Colin MacInnes and of course Charles Dickens who wrote about the people on the streets. Unfortunately Hamilton died at the relatively young age of 58 due to health problems related to alcoholism.