Archive for April, 2009

The Serendipity Shop (book #62)

29 April 2009

Dorita Fairlie Bruce, 1947. Illus by Margaret Horder.

Girls Gone By Publishers has just reprinted this, but I found an original copy.

As usual (I think Rosemary Auchmuchty mentions this), Bruce gives her heroines unusual occupations. Merran is a jewellery designer and maker, polishing and setting semi-precious stones. There is a working-class man who seems to do some of the rougher work, but Bruce is clear that Merran could do it all herself.

The plot meanders a bit. Some things that one thinks are going to be significant, such as the toys Merran’s sister and her friend sell in the shop (proceeds to “the Cripples’ Home [which] will put it all on a proper footing”) don’t go anywhere, and the dénouement is oddly rushed and muffled, happening by letter with no commentary afterwards. The gallows-mound is underplayed.

They have eggs for breakfast “as a treat … From now on it must be porridge or puffed wheat”.

Bruce has a middle-class girl use the Scottishism “kenspeckle” (conspicuous) without glossing it.

Like Elsie J Oxenham (in Margery Meets the Roses, for instance) Bruce makes much of a cat:

William of Orange; never a man’s cat at any time, he had lately developed an active dislike to his own sex … “He can’t help it, poor darling! It’s nerves … He has never been the same cat since his long journey up from London; but we hope, with sea-air and good strengthening food, to overcome it in time. Meanwhile, he prefers to sit in my bedroom if there’s a man about downstairs … “

There is a mention of “accredited cows” which supply the schools. I’m not sure if this would have been TB-free cows as suggested in this American local paper of 1934 (PDF). They reminded me of Michael Innes’s “special cows for invalids” in Hare Sitting Up (PDF extract).

Merran states Bruce’s philosophy: “I happen to believe in something higher than luck – something far better, that doesn’t get lost or broken”. This made me think, never a wise move. I don’t believe in luck either but I suppose I believe each of us holds the roots of her own destruction, the laziness or selfishness or muddled thinking that will be with us on our deathbeds. Or the good qualities of course, but they are rare. That’s why I find seeing the M or the H depressing – their characters already show what their lives will be like and what their failures and disappointments will be.

The illustrator is Margaret Horder. I can’t scan the images tonight but will do so tomorrow. I don’t care for them myself, but am prepared to be put right. Horder was evidently well-known and respected. In the same year that this book was published two Abbey books were also published with her illustrations, and she illustrated ten books by Oxenham altogether (see this page). Looks like Horder stopped illustrating Oxenham, and presumably other British writers, when she returned to Australia in 1950. I think she’s probably the Margaret Horder mentioned on the New South Wales women’s honour roll, 2006, for establishing a children’s centre. She also seems to have written to Lydia Lopokova in 1933. And this link suggests she may have been a printmaker. A comment on this blog entry attributes the bookplate in the blogger’s copy of a Warwick Deeping novel to Horder – that seems a stretch to me, but I haven’t seen that much of Horder’s work, and the date’s right.

The pictures:



cat - William of Orange


<interior of shop


Solicitor Sandy as an angel:

Sandy as an angel

Bartle looking out of the window at the gallows-mound:

Bartle at window

Julia at Bartle’s meeting:

last scene

There are several more at chapter ends. There are things I do like about them – the detail, mostly. The shadows of the ‘planes (remembering that this is set in the war) in the picture of the interior of the shop are a clever detail, and not something in the text as far as I remember. Just the people are so soft focus.

Cherry Ames, Visiting Nurse (book #61)

21 April 2009

Helen Wells, 1947 (this edition 1957, UK).



The Wikipedia article describes this series as mysteries, but it looks as if this is not the case with this and the earlier books – this is 8 of 27. The list in this book is incomplete, listing books 1, 2, 5, 9, 4, 17, 8 and 7 by Helen Wells and then 12, 13, 10 and 11 by Julie Tatham.

It’s interesting to compare the book with Sue Barton, Visiting Nurse (1938). Like Sue Barton, Cherry Ames is told that when she visits families she should ask them to put newspaper on the table, and then put her bag on that, to avoid contamination. The service Cherry works in is fictional whilst Sue’s is Henry Street.

Cherry doesn’t have Sue’s relative complexity and self-doubt.

I like Evelyn Stanley, the social worker: “a pleasant young woman in a gay, red sports dress”. Some sports dresses: 1940s McCall pattern, 1940s Habitmaker picture, discussion of the shortwaist dress / sports dress from the 1920s to 1940s. Evelyn says she “wakes up at night sometimes, wondering who’s all alone, only a few blocks away”. She also describes herself as a “dangerous ideas woman”. Later she identifies a “romance” between two of her clients. Helen Wells was herself a social worker before she started writing.

There were two phrases I was surprised to see so early. Firstly, “a mysterious shut-in,” meaning a recluse. The Online Etymology Dictionary dates the first recorded use to 1904, however. Secondly, the sentence with which Cherry ends the book: “Now my work here is done”. This must be a quotation or near-quotation from something (the Bible?).

Need to scan images.

One Night of Scandal and The Rake’s Mistress (books #59 and #60)

20 April 2009

Nicola Cornick, 2004, two books in one.

Lost some of my notes on these (bother Twitter), but from what I have left … Cornick’s romances are fairly well-done if you like that sort of thing. They passed the time a bit when I found them in a youth hostel, up in the night coughing.

In One Night of Scandal, Lord Richard Kestrel offers to show Deborah his collection of naval memorabilia. She declines: “I suspect that that is an invitation on a par with inspecting your art collection – or your set of etchings!” I’m not sure the etchings trope existed by then (Regency period), though there’s an earlier reference to prints in a similar context.

I got a bit over-excited about the occupation of the heroine in The Rake’s Mistress:

Rebecca “made her living as an engraver and as such she had an eye for a striking image. Lucas Kestrel had a face an engraver could lose herself in, all hard lines and angles”. When Lord Lucas won’t get out of her carriage she finds “the cold, reassuring shape of her engraving scribe. She whipped it out and levelled it at him … ‘Allow me to encourage your departure, my lord'”. Lord Lucas “recognises that she was living within her work at the moment; that it was the thing she used to blot out her grief”. It turns out, however, that she’s an engraver on glass, not a wood engraver. Boring.

Sue Barton: Neighbourhood Nurse (book #58)

11 April 2009

Helen Dore Boylston, 1949.

Oddly, in the picture on the front Sue doesn’t have her trademark red hair.

Sue Barton: Neighbourhood Nurse - front cover

Sue Barton: Neighbourhood Nurse - back cover

As in “Sue Barton: Visiting Nurse,” this book is mainly about Sue’s uncertainty about whether she has done the right thing in giving up her career. “It was absurd to think of herself as wasted!” she thinks near the start of the book, and at the end she says she has been “‘wondering if I were wasting myself … all that wonderful training – all those years of study – it seemed to me that I was just throwing them away for my own personal happiness'”. She realises, however, that, as her husband tells her, “‘There are a lot of happy people in this house because you’re the kind of person you are, and lead exactly the life you do. … You’ve cured Cal of a serious neurosis into the bargain, and prevented an internationally famous artist from becoming a bewildered and embitted old woman'”. Unvisited tombs …

There’s also some discussion of motherhood. Apparently, “‘a man isn’t equipped by nature to spend all his energies out-thinking children twenty-four hours a day,'” Sue tells a local worthy, who, after seeing Sue’s children at their worst, agrees “‘you were correct. They need someone to out-think them. I have known many brilliant men – leaders in their field – but I cannot think of one who would be equal to a task of that proportion. A mother is necessary'”. Though preferably, it seems, a mother who is a “trained nurse” – “‘An intelligent, skilled nurse has a great deal to give motherhood'”.

I like the description of a woman who “was in no way intellectual, her education had been average and didn’t seem to have ‘taken'”, although she has common sense, “warmth, kindness, and a down-to-earth wisdom which Sue found very refreshing”. “The conversation, Sue reflected as they talked, was unquestionably of the type which is lampooned in novels and jeered at by the unthinking, yet it dealt with matters which had been fundamental and highly important since the beginning of time. Without children, Sue and Leila Murray would have had nothing in common. As it was, they shared a rich world of experiences, interests and hopes.”

Less plot-driven than the other books. Very desultory – very little really happens. The “real crisis” mentioned in the blurb is underwhelming – I’m not even sure which of two incidents involving Sue’s children it is.

Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick (book #57)

7 April 2009

Jenny Uglow, 2006.

As thoughtful, dense and reaching out as Uglow usually is.

Uglow quotes Bewick in his memoirs on how the artist ought to live:

Ought if possible to have his dwelling in the country where he could follow his business undisturbed, surrounded by pleasing rural scenery & the fresh air and as ‘all work & no play, makes Jack a dull Boy,’ he ought not to sit at it, too long at a time, but to unbend his mind with some variety of employment – for which purpose, it is desireable [sic], that Artists, with their little Cots, should also each have a Garden attached in which they might find both exercise & amusement – and only occasionally visit the City or the smokey Town & that chiefly for the purpose of meetings with their Brother Artists.

Here are two of the many prints with which the book is sprinkled.



The latter is copperplate by Bewick’s son Robert, c 1812, from Bewick’s drawing. Uglow doesn’t say, but I think this must have been an invitation card or ball-card – Bewick’s workshop did a great deal of commercial work of this kind. I like the chap on the right with his leg poised in air.