A Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917

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9780060786205: A Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917

Rosemary Fell was born into privilege. She has wealth, well–connected friends, and a handsome fiance, Philip Alsop. Finally she has everything she wants.

It is then, in a moment of beneficence, that Rosemary invites Eleanor Smith, a penniless young woman she sees under a streetlamp in the rain, into her home for a cup of tea. While there, Rosemary sees Eleanor exchange an unmistakable look with Philip, and she sends Eleanor on her way. But she cannot undo this chance encounter, and it leads to a tempestuous and all–consuming love triangle –– until the tides of war throw all their lives off balance.

Inspired by a classic Katherine Mansfield short story, A Cup of Tea engages with its vivid –– and often amusing –– cast of characters, wonderful period detail, brilliant evocation of the uncertain days of World War I, and delightfully spare and picturesque sense of story.

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Review:

A Cup of Tea adds a touch of class--and a love triangle--to the classic theme of parallel lives and their accidental crossing. New York City, in the uncertain days of World War I, is home to Rosemary Fells, who is the sort of woman with the time to strike stunning poses and rearrange her curls; Eleanor Smith, whom Rosemary finds under a street lamp, miserable and shivering, is certainly not. Miss Fells indulges a whim of beneficence, whisking "the creature" home to share warmth, tea, and a change of clothing. Once clean and dry--fortified with sandwiches and brandy--young Eleanor and Rosemary's fiancé meet in the hallway and exchange a look, the kind of look that will forever change the course of their lives.

A Cup of Tea is a well-crafted, terse novel that reads like a good short story. It's a refreshing step back to yesterday, a time when the fates picnicked on the glass slopes of privilege.

From the Publisher:

A Conversation with Amy Ephron

Q: Your story is an elaboration of a Katherine Mansfield short story of the same title. What drew you to the Mansfield story to begin with?

A: The notion that one could take a destitute person in off the street and actually make a difference in their life. I decided to take the Mansfield idea one step further and turn that event into one of those moments in life where things take a dramatic turn and there's no turning back.

Q: Mansfields's original short story was set in turn-of-the century Europe. Your novel is set in New York in 1917. Why did you change the time frame?

A: One of the reasons I set this story at the outset of World War I is that it was just at that moment that class differences between women began to really break down and all sorts of things became possible for women. Women like Rosemary, who had been raised in a certain world, suddenly found that that world no longer existed. They had been trained for a life whose bubble was about to burst in a big way. I wanted the love story in A Cup of Tea to mirror the tragedy of World War I.

Q: How would you describe the major themes of this book?

A: One of the things that interested me about this story -- which is set in the past -- was it's contemporary resonance. There are complicated issues here involving honor, duty, loyalty, and affairs of the heart. Another theme involves the wildly romantic notion of picking up a girl in the dust and bringing her home for tea and having that act unleash a torrent of events. And finally, there's the theme involving women and their loyalties to each other. Keep in mind, World War I was a time in which all the men went off to fight and you were left with this society of women. We don't pay too much attention to that war anymore, but the death toll was extraordinary and these women were left to deal with the tragedy that ensued.

Q: As a screenwriter, do you write your novels with a film framework in mind?

A: Yes and no. For me, the best books are the ones in which you can lose yourself. In order for this to happen, you have to be able to visualize the world you're trying to get lost in. That's where the tool of screenwriting -- writing for a very visual medium -- comes into play.

Q: Do you find writing easy of difficult? How would you describe your own writing process?

A: I actually like to write. Do I always find it easy? No. It depends on what I'm working on. Some things are a true pleasure to write. But every once in a while you hit something that is particularly difficult or less interesting.

Q: Have you ever experienced writer's block? What do you do about it when it comes?

A: I don't think I've ever had a true writer's block. There are periods of time where something--life--gets in the way of my writing. When that happens, I feel very dissatisfied and unhappy. In fact, I'm not truly happy unless I'm working. It's not something that's ever easy for me to give up, and I tend to throw a fit if I haven't worked in two or three days.

Q: You've been quoted as saying that this book, in some ways, is "a grown-up version" of A Little Princess, the classic children's tale by Frances Hodgsen Burnett which you adapted on film in 1995. What do you mean by that?

A: A Little Princess if really about the difference between privilege and poverty and how, at the end of the day, what matter is inner worth. A Cup of Tea, with a love triangle that includes one woman of privilege, one of poverty, and a man who has experienced both worlds, explores similar issues, with a particular focus on what it means to be privileged, and the entitlement that privileged people feel.

Q: You've said, "one of the things I love about these characters is that they cross over to contemporary time in a way." How do they cross over?

A: Human emotions don't change with the passage of time, and this story is all about human emotions. Today, we still have hopelessly romantic and spiritual notions about life and love that don't always have much to do with reality. Somehow, in our minds, we get trapped in some sort of romantic novel when it comes to affairs of the heart. There are still many of us who believe that if you truly love someone, love will win out. But true love doesn't always win out. That will never change no matter how many years go by. You have to also remember that 1917 was a time when the world stood at the brink of the modern machine age.A Cup of Tea's characters existed in a world that was every bit as modern for them as our world is for us. That's why I consider them to be modern, contemporary characters.

Q: Why have you left so much of Eleanor's background to the reader's imagination?

A: I see Eleanor as someone who has invented herself from what she has observed, seen, and read. She draws on those observations, along with what she's picked up from books and magazines, but at the same time, she's someone who feels it appropriate to hid her past. When she truly falls in love with Philip, she's no longer an invented creature. She is pregnant and in love with someone who may not return from war. She has to grow up and turn into who she really is. She makes the decision to be responsible for her child and the child's emotional and physical well-being in a way that her parents never were responsible for her.

Q: What do you want readers to get out of this book?

A: The thing you hope for the most is that the characters come to life and exist in some way for readers. That's the fantasy-that you've created something that truly exists, a world, a society , an instance, a story. I want readers to get a couple of good hours out of this story and something they remember.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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