The English Tutor by Sara Seale

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The English Tutor is an interesting example of a “vintage” student-teacher romance. Irish tearaway Clancy is seventeen and her English (nationality) tutor, Mark Cromwell, is thirty-seven.

Though “romance” is perhaps stretching it because – given the era and the imprint – there’s minimal romantic tension and zero sexual tension. In many ways it’s much more of a Coming of Age story. The relationship progresses very slowly, and doesn’t move across the Romance Line until near the very end.

And while the age gap might shock contemporary readers, back in that era it wasn’t hugely remarkable. People in that day had different values: it’s mentioned many times that “Irish girls marry young” (and many young women in the 1950s married soon after they turned sixteen/marriageable age). Mark never lays an inappropriate finger on her, it’s all very chaste. He’s also never described in particularly sexy terms, but he looked handsome enough on the cover so that was enough for me. He also seems about a decade younger in terms of his own relationship experience: but bear in mind that the war took away the best part of a decade for people of that time.

The plot is basically that a tutor is hired from England to teach a rebellious Irish girl and her younger brother, and she eventually grows up and the two of them fall in love (after about a year), by which time she’s eighteen. There’s a bit of a subplot with her cousin and a childhood friend, and her relationship with her father.

I bought the beautiful 1948 hardback edition, which was worth it for the artwork on the dust jacket alone.

The story is an enjoyable one, but there really is no sexual frisson or tension whatsoever. In fact even for a book of its day, it’s on the more chaste side. But vintage fans, and also perhaps fans of Irish stories, will find much to enjoy.

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