All I knew about this book when I started reading it was that it involved a collection of family papers, centered around a Regency gentleman. I have noticed that Margaret Kennedy often used fictional letters or other documents in her stories. In those I have read, they serve to contrast how something happens with how it is remembered later - and to show how it is frequently mis-remembered and misunderstood. The documents also show that even those close to an event don't always know the full story. This tension is at the heart of two of my favorites, The Wild Swan and A Long Time Ago. She must have enjoyed creating her fictional documents, her stories within stories.
In Troy Chimneys, we have the reminiscences of Miles Lufton, written while he is recovering from a hunting accident, in the country rectory where he grew up. A Prologue dated 1879 tell us
In letters and journals of the Regency occasional reference is made to a person called Pronto who is generally mentioned as a fellow guest in a country house.
Conscientious researchers have identified him with a certain Miles Lufton, M.P.; he sat for West Malling, a borough in the pocket of the Earl of Amersham, and he held an important post at the Exchequer during the years 1809-1817. He spoke frequently and well in the House, in support of Vansittart's financial policy. Nothing else is known of him save that he could sing...
In the 1879 framing story, Miles's manuscript has been sent to someone who is researching a friend of his, Lord Chalfont, the heir to the Earl of Amersham. There are letters back and forth with the researcher, which give some information not found in the manuscript. It is an interesting device, to be reading about people reading about the main character. It would put him at a distance, except that we have his own words in his reminiscences, which bring him to life. We learn about his early life, how he came to a career in politics, and how his "Pronto" persona developed. I didn't like Pronto much. He does everything with calculation and an eye to its effect. He is an apple-polisher and brown-noser par excellence. Miles doesn't really like him either, and in fact he almost seems to have developed a split personality. Pronto is in charge most of the time, while Miles watches (and disapproves). Only with his accident and long recovery does Miles emerge. In writing his memoirs, Miles seems to be struggling toward an integration of the Miles-side of himself and the Pronto-side. It is very interesting to watch, and I thought Margaret Kennedy handled that story really well.
But how she chose to end the story is another matter. It's well done, but it's just wrong. It's her story of course, and she was free to end it as she pleased, as she felt it should end. But it's still wrong. And I just need to accept that, and let it go. Or maybe try writing my own ending. Meanwhile, I'm off to read Mary Stewart, because I still need happy endings (a dolphin has just been rescued, and that dolphin better live happily ever after).