Is it only me who regrets not being able to find D. K. Broster’s wonderful Jacobite Trilogy on Kindle? That and her Almond, Wild Almond are such fun and memorable reads. Broster had a very private, but interesting life according to this excellent article, and I confess to be puzzled as to why she has fallen into relative obscurity. The Flight of the Heron, The Gleam in the North and The Dark Mile are all historical tales of daring do and excellent, vivid characters, especially the Scottish Ewen and the English Keith Windham. Almond, Wild Almond is a lighter Romance, but set in the same period and with walk on parts by characters from the Jacobite books. Here the heroine, Bride Stewart, has an important and spirited role to play. The history was very carefully researched by Broster and apparently, on her death in 1950, the public was amazed she was neither male nor Scottish so convincing is the tale she wove.
I have just returned from a lovely two-days-and-a-night break with Miranda and Rachel seeing Lewes, Charleston and Rodmell for the first time. East Sussex is a place I’d long wanted to visit, but had some how never got there. I didn’t have time to research much before we left having just suffered the loss of my much loved Uncle who passed away peacefully the weekend before Easter, but it didn’t matter, we had no real agenda other than to enjoy ourselves and see Charleston and Rodmell. Indeed, sad and careworn as I was feeling, Miranda’s empathy (she adored her Great-Uncle), the good cheerful company of two oldfashionedgirls and the bracing (it was freezing!) and restorative East Sussex air was the best medicine. I did, however, remember how to find Furlongs, Peggy Angus‘ home and inspiration for so much beautiful art by Christopher Brown, Edwin Smith and Eric Ravilious. We only saw the outside of course, but it still looked exactly “right” as if it had stepped out of the paintings and photos we have of it from the last century and materialized gracefully but solidly in this. You could appreciate how beautiful the house and setting were in every season, but the greys, browns and muted greens of such a cold Spring seemed particularly appropriate. I wonder if that beautiful wallpaper is still there?
Some wonderful YA fiction is new to mine. In my day, we might have been short of books on vampires, but everything I know about History I gleaned from Young Adult Historical Romances, and it is amazing how much these stories by Gladys Malvern have stuck with me.
Gladys Malvern is perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but I rate her very highly indeed. The huge advantage with Kindle is you can try out the first chapter or so for free too, so do give her a try. Her romances are well-researched and cover periods of American History I certainly didn’t study at school. They also fall into the “lovely reads” category. I’m hoping her ballet stories and more of the historicals will appear if these prove popular. And of course there’s her biblical retellings too.
Then I also spotted Hilda Lewis‘ children’s historical The Gentle Falcon. I must have been about nine years old when I first read this one from the library and am very happy now to be able to read it again.
Spring with An English Poet – 1938 by Mollie Panter-Downes
from The New Yorker – April 30th, 1938
(inspired to share by StuckinaBook’s blog on London War Notes 1939-1945)
Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the elm-tree bole is blocked from view
By a notice telling him what to do
When vapours steal through the primrose wood
And the gas-proof room turns out no good,
While the chaffinch chokes on the orchard bough
In England – now!
The Chaffinch from A Second Book of British Birds (1954) by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald and illustrated by Allen W Seaby. Poster available to purchase here
Many a long, long year ago,
Nantucket skippers had a plan
Of finding out, though “lying low,”
How near New York their schooners ran.
They greased the lead before it fell,
And then, by sounding through the night,
Knowing the soil that stuck, so well,
They always guessed their reckoning right.
A skipper gray, whose eyes were dim,
Could tell, by tasting, just the spot,
And so below he’d “dowse the glim”–
After, of course, his “something hot.”
Snug in his berth, at eight o’clock,
This ancient skipper might be found;
No matter how his craft would rock,
He slept–for skippers’ naps are sound!
The watch on deck would now and then
Run down and wake him, with the lead;
He’d up, and taste, and tell the men
How many miles they went ahead.
One night, ’twas Jonathan Marden’s watch,
A curious wag–the peddler’s son–
And so he mused (the wanton wretch),
“To-night I’ll have a grain of fun.
“We’re all a set of stupid fools
To think the skipper knows by tasting
What ground he’s on–Nantucket schools
Don’t teach such stuff, with all their basting!”
And so he took the well-greased lead
And rubbed it o’er a box of earth
That stood on deck–a parsnip-bed–
And then he sought the skipper’s berth.
“Where are we now, sir? Please to taste.”
The skipper yawned, put out his tongue,
Then ope’d his eyes in wondrous haste,
And then upon the floor he sprung!
The skipper stormed and tore his hair,
Thrust on his boots, and roared to Marden,
“Nantucket’s sunk, and here we are
Right over old Marm Hackett’s garden!”
The Alarmed Skipper by James Thomas Fields
Little Women, Good Wives, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Little Men, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom are all huge favourites of mine, along with pretty nearly every other book Louisa May Alcott wrote for girls. I read Little Women and sequels first at about eight years old and then at least once a year every year thereafter and am still not sure what the appeal is exactly – certainly the large family of girls, the troublesome boys, their tribulations and efforts to be good, their love affairs (count me as a fan of Fritz, I was never in love with Laurie) and the struggles with making their way independently in the larger world. Of Alcott’s heroines, I have always loved Polly, Rose, Meg and Beth the best (in that order as well) – not I know the most popular of choices, but I did so want To Be Good and could emphathise all too well with Meg’s domestic struggles (that jam that wouldn’t set!), and they’re still my favourites even though I recognise now that Jo, Laurie and Amy were perhaps really where the author’s interests fell. I also love the fervently held Christian beliefs and the really good cry Alcott nearly always gives us – it isn’t that I’m a bible thumping evangelist, but these books make me want to try to be a kinder, nicer person. Hmmm I’d better keep reading as have a very long way to go to Beth-like saintliness!
Let’s see – looking for a good cry? Don’t forget L M Montgomery – Rainbow Valley gets me going. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single one of her books that doesn’t bring a tear to my eye. But, there’s nothing as harrowing (and satisfying for my money) as The Proper Place by O Douglas. Douglas’ stories are mainly set between the two wars and have wonderful characters and settings (skim through any tiresome Scottish dialect – understanding every word isn’t necessary, and you soon get in the swing of it), and Penny Plain, Priorsford and The Proper Place should come with several daintily embroidered hankies attached.
Then there’s one of my favourite English Victorian novels written for young women, The Daisy Chain by Charlotte Yonge. Or, there’s the Australian Victorian classic, Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. I have known people so upset by the death in this book they couldn’t finish it. Not me. Mind you, be warned: I remember telling poor Miranda at about 4 years old how much she’d love the film of Ring of Bright Water (I’d completely forgotten just how traumatic that story is, and I had a lot of comforting to do after we’d sat down to watch it, not helped by the fact that I suddenly remembered it was based on a true story though of course I kept mum about that bit at least) – not sure if she’s quite forgiven me Even To This Day – so better add not to read if you’re especially likely to confuse fiction with fact (all the nicest people do it to some degree) or are in an especially fragile state.
On a jollier note, do you love the domestic aspects of Alcott? Then girls’ stories with plenty of keeping house, recovering invalids, making gifts on a shoestring and jam-making details are for you. Plus we’re bosom buddies! This is a category I’m something of a enthusiast about (so much nicer to be reading about successful home cleaning/renovation and housekeeping all accomplished with nothing more than a few pennies and plenty of elbow grease than actually attempting to do them oneself!) Start with Katharine at Feather Ghyll by Anne Bradley and Sally’s Family and The Girls of Friars Rise by Gwendoline Courtney if you haven’t read them already. I have The Sugar and Spice Girls by Mollie Chappell waiting for me at Miranda’s and apparently it’s very much of the same ilk so should be just my cup of tea.
Image and great reviews of other Mollie Chappell books (and books generally) from here
Finally for a very light-hearted American time travel return to Little Women don’t miss The Time Garden by Edward Eager. It’s funny and engaging and really very clever indeed! Also a book that never fails to make me smile and hence the perfect antidote to any of the too sad ones mentioned earlier.
Image from here
I recommended this light-hearted Romance by the author of Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, also set in Scotland, to Rachel yesterday – though my copy is in storage I remember how much I enjoyed it and loved the dustwrapper. In fact, I’ve been picking up any super cheap copies of the the Hungarian born, American illustrator Paul Galdone’s folktales whenever I see them in charity shops for the last few months. His versions are always sunny and witty, but are definitely in the “classic” tradition, and I’m hoping they’ll be useful for Miranda starting out teaching and building her own “primary library.” There are a few adult books that he has illustrated that I treasure as well. Not so easy to find reasonably priced attractive copies now I’m afraid, but well worth the search if you can find them on a charity shop shelf. Here’s a brief biography:
Paul Galdone was born circa 1907 in Budapest, Austria- Hungary and immigrated to the United States in 1921. Galdone studied art at the Art Student’s League and New York School for Industrial Design. He served in World War II in the U.S. Army, Engineers. The author and illustrator of children’s books also was employed as a bus boy, electrician’s helper, and fur dryer, in addition to four years in the art department at Doubleday (NY). His work was awarded runner up for the Caldecott Medal ( Eve Titus, Anatole, 1957 and Anatole and the Cat, 1958) and selection by the American Library Association for notable books ( The Little Red Hen, Winter Danger, and Flaming Arrows). He died of a heart attack on 7 November 1986, in Nyack, NY.