A novel about a jilted man who runs away to the Canadian wilderness, and the woman who accidentally disturbs his solitude. 1931.
A Lady Quite Lost was a recent random find in our local university library. Lacking even a Goodreads listing for guidance (how’s that for a measure of “forgotten”!), I am pretty sure I was first drawn to this book because of the title. The interwar period is also a favorite of mine for fiction.
What hooked me, though, was the action right at the novel’s opening: It begins with our male lead, Darrow, waiting at the altar for a bride who, it turns out, has decided not to come. As both Darrow and the would-have-been bride come from families of old wealth and social position, all eyes are on the jilted groom. Darrow can’t stand the humiliation or their inevitable pity, so he makes an impulsive decision to escape from it all. On a recent adventure, Darrow discovered the total isolation of the Far North (think: Canadian Article Circle). Darrow now decides to leave for his old hunting camp–this very minute, with no intention of ever coming back.
The story then cuts to Claire Newcomb, an heiress of industry, who’s tagged along on her father’s business trip in the Far North. Claire has a similarly impulsive and adventurous spirit. To combat a sudden sensation of smothering boredom, Claire sneaks into a nearby seaplane and goes for a jaunt. (She’s an amateur pilot.) At first the flight is liberating and breathtaking, opening up a huge expanse of woods, lakes, and muskegs (swamps).
She had heard a great deal of talk, she remembered, about a shrinking world and easily spanned continents. But there was something wrong about such talk. For the earth was not small, after all. It was an immense place, apparently, stretching away on every side of her as far as vision could pierce. The mere thought of its immensity, of a sudden, sobered her excited mind, brought a wave of depression following her wave of exaltation.
By now Claire has flown quite a distance, and on top of that has lost her landmarks. The plane suddenly has some mechanical difficulty, and with her amateur skills the best solution Claire can manage is a crash landing in a lake. Claire survives, and begins a lonely wander through the wilderness, in search of help from another far-flung human.
You’ve probably guessed that she’s going to somehow meet up with Darrow. It’s not a fluffy little love story, though; it’s an adventure shared by two people who are both a bit disenchanted with civilization. The real suspense, to me, is whether these two can really survive in such a remote and unforgiving environment.
A Lady Quite Lost is admittedly very rare to find in print, and doesn’t appear to be digitized as an ebook. (But maybe your library has an old copy, like mine did!) In case you can’t get ahold of this book, I’d recommend checking out another of Stringer’s novels; his writing style is engaging and oftentimes moving. The Prairie Wife and The Mud Lark are both on my “to read” list.