The Literary Horizon: Lady into Fox, His Monkey Wife

When I select books from my reading list to be featured on The Literary Horizon, I usually try to find books that are at least semi-related, perhaps by topic or, at the very least, genre. But scanning over my reading list last night, I discovered two books seemingly destined to be read in context of each other–published within eight years of each other in the 1920s and 1930s and both on the subject of female animals attempting to fit into human society. In one, a wife’s sudden transformation into an animal is merely the beginning of her increasing distance from her husband; in the other, an erudite chimpanzee takes it upon herself to save her beloved owner from his fiancée–whether he wishes it or not. As you can imagine, I was quite pleased with this coincidence.

Lady into Fox by David Garrett

The Tebricks, a charming and upstanding young couple, have moved to Oxfordshire to begin their married life, happily unaware of the future awaiting them. When Sylvia turns suddenly into a fox their fortunes are changed forever, despite all of her strenuous attempts to adhere to the proprieties of her upbringing and resist the feral instincts of her current form. Increasingly isolated in their home, Richard does all he can to protect his wife from the dangers inherent in the outside world, but these dangers soon prove impossible to fight and inevitably break down the boundaries between the newlyweds and what lies beyond the garden walls. 

via Amazon

Both Lady into Fox and His Monkey Wife came to me by way of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust, and, so, I have taken them mostly sight unseen. The absurdity of a fox attempting to remain human giving away to the horror of Sylvia’s humanity giving way to her foxiness sounds interesting, and it’s quite short. Indeed, while researching this post (we really need standardized book cover images, people), I discovered that Lady into Fox is available on Project Gutenberg, so that’s a bonus.

Fleur over at Fleur Fisher in her world enjoyed it, particularly because there’s real emotion to these characters, making an absurd situation believable. Simon at stuck in a book thought much the same of it, finding it “gentle”. And the fabulous book foxes over at Vulpes Libris will be reviewing this on Friday, if you need a third opinion. Now that I actually have a digital copy, I’ll give this a shot sometime soon.

Lady into Fox was published in 1922.

His Monkey Wife by John Collier

Emily, a chimp, is the only attentive student in Mr. Fatigay’s class in the heart of South Africa. Her desire to learn, gather information, and better herself through knowledge touches the heart of her teacher, and gives Amy Flint-his alluringly hateful fiance-a competitor in the race for the schoolteacher’s hand in marriage. This classic work of biting satire and radiant prose playfully uses this strange courtship to illuminate two abiding kinds of souls, the faithful and the unfaithful, and shows how man’s soul deepens in the presence of love.

via Amazon

I very distinctly remember Nancy Pearl’s praise for His Monkey Wife; particularly, she mentioned that it was good down to the last sentence, which just sounds wonderful enough that I’ll give anything a shot, although you don’t have to twist my arm to make me read a book that gives a chimpanzee her own agency. Unfortunately, His Monkey Wife is not out of copyright in the United States, but, luckily, the state of Georgia has at least one copy floating in its public library system. (I love our library system.)

Due to His Monkey Wife‘s age, book blogger reviews are difficult to find. It’s received five stars on Amazon (as averaged from four five-star reviews and one four-star review), and Josh at World’s Strongest Librarian finds it hilarious and heartily recommends it. I think it’ll be an interesting book to contrast against Lady into Fox‘s quieter, darker nature–once I get my hands on that copy.

His Monkey Wife was published in 1930.

9 thoughts on “The Literary Horizon: Lady into Fox, His Monkey Wife

  1. Wow, what a pair! I’ve not heard of either of these. They both sound incredibly interesting, and I eagerly await your reviews. I just read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis for the first time, after many years of thinking, “Why would I want to read a story about a guy who turns into a bug?” I rather enjoyed it. I think I would enjoy these even more!

  2. Have you read any of the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde? One of the characters is married to a gorilla, Melanie, who loves children and babysits for the heroine in times of need…

    Both those sound really interesting, so I look forward to seeing what you think of them.

  3. As you saw, I love Lady Into Fox – and right now I’m reading His Monkey Wife! It’s really quite well written, and there are lots of lovely literary allusions.

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