Two delightful and very Bennettian short stories, each of which is best read in one go. Goodness knows what non-Brits make of them!
They are not very smutty and not very plausible, but they are great fun. As with many of his works, a combination of repressed feelings (not all of them sexual) and respectability hide thoughts, feelings and actions that may seem out of character, but are actually fundamental to who the person is. And yet the characters do not, initially at least, realise what they hide, "The closest she got to pretence was politeness."
The first story concerns a widow. With typical ironic understatement, Bennett compares a colleague's excitement over a camcorder, with her husband, who "had been prey to similar passing technological fancies which were equally jealously guarded... all of which his death had liberated for her promiscuous deployment, being that she no longer had to play the little woman." Ouch! Promiscuous deployment of a lawnmower seems somehow smuttier than any of the sex.
Anyway, the widow discovers a prurient side to herself, and that changes her. "Seldom having had much of a secret before... Mrs Donaldson was surprised at how strong the impulse was to share it, or at least to share the secret that she had one to share." There is always a current of pain and regret in Bennett.
The second story concerns different double-life scenarios. Mentions of a mobile phone and the internet make it firmly modern(ish), but everything else (including a 20-something called Betty) put it at least 30 years earlier.
Still, with lines like these, it really doesn't matter:
"His wife was often taken for a widow. She had so much the air of a woman who was coping magnificently, that a husband still extant took people by surprise."
The old, train-loving vicar's version of the facts of life "relied heavily on the piston, the furnace and the eccentric rod, helpful did one want to travel from London to Darlington but no preparation for the rigours of modern marriage".