Johnny and Jane Potter, being twins, went through Oxford together. Johnny came up from Rugby and Jane from Roedean. Johnny was at Balliol and Jane at Somerville. Both, having ambitions for literary careers, took the Honours School of English Language and Literature. They were ordinary enough young people; clever without being brilliant, nice-looking without being handsome, active without being athletic, keen without being earnest, popular without being leaders, open-handed without being generous, as revolutionary, as selfish, and as intellectually snobbish as was proper to their years, and inclined to be jealous one of the other, but linked together by common tastes and by a deep and bitter distaste for their father’s newspapers, which were many, and for their mother’s novels, which were more. These were, indeed, not fit for perusal at Somerville and Balliol. The danger had been that Somerville and Balliol, till they knew you well, should not know you knew it.
In their first year, the mother of Johnny and Jane (’Leila Yorke,’ with ‘Mrs. Potter’ in brackets after it), had, after spending Eights Week at Oxford, announced her intention of writing an Oxford novel. Oh God, Jane had cried within herself, not that; anything but that; and firmly she and Johnny had told her mother that already there were Keddy, and Sinister Street, and The Pearl, and The Girls of St. Ursula’s (by Annie S. Swan: ’After the races were over, the girls sculled their college barge briskly down the river,’), and that, in short, the thing had been done for good and all, and that was that.
Mrs. Potter still thought she would like to write an Oxford novel. Because, after all, though there might be many already, none of them were quite like the one she would write. She had tea with Jane in the Somerville garden on Sunday, and though Jane did not ask any of her friends to meet her (for they might have got put in) she saw them all about, and thought what a nice novel they would make. Jane knew she was thinking this, and said, ‘They’re very commonplace people,’ in a discouraging tone. ‘Some of them,’ Jane added, deserting her own snobbishness, which was intellectual, for her mother’s, which was social, ‘are also common.’
‘There must be very many,’ said Mrs. Potter, looking through her lorgnette at the garden of girls, ‘who are neither.’
‘Fewer,’ said Jane, stubbornly, ’than you would think. Most people are one or the other, I find. Many are both.’
‘Try not to be cynical, my pet,’ said Leila Yorke, who was never this.
That was in June, 1912. In June, 1914, Jane and Johnny went down.