A Girl Governess; or, Ella Dalton’s Success (book #159)

10 January 2017

AE Ward, 1894.

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16-year-old Ella has been booked to sing, for pay, at a drawing room concert. She wants to do it in order to earn money for her ill sister’s treatment.

There’s a good bit about clothes, reminiscent of Polly and Fanny in An Old-Fashioned Girl:

perhaps I can borrow [a dress]; or if not, I must make my old white muslin do, though it has been washed so many times that it is getting rather thin in places. I can shorten the sleeves and put a bit of fresh lace into them, and you will see how nice it will look.

Fortunately a friend secretly gives / lends her “a beautiful new dress of white muslin, and the sweetest little cashmere mantle”. I like her brother’s phrase, “all that grand toggery”.

A mean girl, Carrie Mason, is not happy about Ella singing for money, and tries to interfere, but Ella is a success and earns two guineas. A chap in the audience then randomly (given her age and inexperience) employs her as governess to his grandchildren, spoilt Geoffry and “meek-spirited”, emotionally neglected Helen. Although at this point Ella is clearly a good girl, thoughtful and kind to her family, her mother thinks she is too self-confident about being a governess, but she, the mother, can’t do anything about this as she herself has not found God so can’t “bid [Ella] distrust herself and look to a higher strength than her own”. So on the one hand Ella’s prospects are looking good, but on the other hand she’s onviously going to be humbled before her relationship with God can be solved.

Fortunately, the rector tells her that she has to give herself to God, and she does so. Rather anti-climatic, but we’re only half-way through the book at this point, and Geoffry is still a right pain. One of the servants has been telling him he is the heir to the estate and shouldn’t have to obey anyone. Fortunately an orphan comes to live with one of the village families, and is a suitable charitable case on which Geoffers can learn unselfishness. Also Geoffry sprains his ancle and twists his back (which explains the scene on the cover) and has to stay in bed for weeks. He learns the value of his sister too. So all’s well with the world, including for Ella’s mother and ill sister, who move to a better house because of the kindness of her employer. The latter remains a bit of a randomer and cannot see that there has ever been anything wrong with Geoffry’s behaviour. All a bit by the numbers generally, I was disappointed that Carrie Mason didn’t reappear. One pleasing thing though – no love interest for Ella.

The book is nicely produced, with the standard random pictures at the start of chapters, as you can see from the first image here.

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Ella looks more than 16 in this picture:

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I think I have read AE Ward’s other book, Arthur’s Victory.

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The Scribbler: a Retrospective Literary Review

9 January 2017

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Recently came across this great quarterly magazine reviewing old books (specifically, “much loved and more obscure fiction for women and girls”). The Autumn 2016 issue has a long article on nurses in books, including a review of a Josephine Elder book by Rosemary Auchmuchty. There’s another lengthy article on women factory workers, including a review of Working for Victory (Kathleen Church-Bliss and Elsie Whiteman) about which I have long been meaning to write here. Another article on what women writers did in the First World War. A literary trail around Gatehouse (not just Five Red Herrings) and a terribly difficult Christmas quiz. I recommend subscribing.

And here is as good a place as any to put a link to a lovely short fanfic about Wimsey and Antonia Forest’s Marlow books: That Still Centre, by AJHall. If you are so inclined, there’s a rabbit hole to go down, including another with the Marlows at the Chalet School: The Marlows at St Mildred’s by mrsredboots. And the Marlows in lolcat: Patrick: I HATEZ SKOOL. I HATEZ VATICAN 2.

Furry Stomach

11 November 2016

Here is the office cat, or rather his stomach.

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The Young Clementina (book #158)

16 October 2016
Cover of Young Clementina

Cover of Young Clementina

Originally published as Divorced from Reality and revised and re-published, I think in 1966 – this edition is 1970. Cover does not reflect book particularly well.

As the change in title might suggest, the book is not really about Clementina (who is a child). The (literal) divorce is treated in some detail, with a transcript of some of the evidence given – strikingly realistic for 1935 I thought. I can only recall brief mentions of divorce in other novels of the time (eg in Busman’s Honeymoon).

The comments in this review suggest that the revised version of the book has some significant differences from the earlier one.

Stevenson is good on tiredness, I think, rather like Goudge.

I liked the brief descriptions of the private geographical library Charlotte works in, though am worried it’s not financially viable.

I’d have liked things to be slightly harder for Charlotte than they are. She talks about being incompetent with the servants and how difficult things were with Clementina (who is 12 at the time Charlotte becomes her temporary guardian), but you don’t really see that. Even her imaginary friend turns out to be real.

Some DES fans seem to think this is one of her best, but it was a bit slight and without enough detail for me.

“Every woman tells a story … “

21 August 2016

Deeply in to old newspapers from 1920s, and enjoyed “All need regular meals, less worry and more sympathy”:

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(North Devon Journal, 15/04/1920)

Artists and illustrators around the New Forest and Solent (book #157)

20 August 2016

Robert Coles, 1999.

Impressively illustrated book about New Forest and Solent artists since the 17th century.

I liked this illustration by Heywood Sumner of his excavations in the New Forest (from Excavations in New Forest Pottery Sites, 1927). You can see the archaeologist / artist himself, musing or drawing.

Heywood Sumner - Excavations in New Forest Pottery Sites (1927)

Poem – Douglas Dunn – Tay Bridge

19 August 2016

(I know the Tay and its bridge well.)

A sky that tastes of rain that’s still to fall
And then of rain that falls and tastes of sky…
The colour of the country’s moist and subtle
In dusk’s expected rumour. Amplify
All you can see this evening and the broad
Water enlarges, Dundee slips by an age
Into its land before the lights come on.
Pale, mystic lamps lean on the river-road
Bleaching the city’s lunar after-image,
And there’s the moon, and there’s the setting sun.

The rail bridge melts in a dramatic haze.
Slow visibility – a long train floats
Through a stopped shower’s narrow waterways
Above rose-coloured river, dappled motes
In the eye and the narrow piers half-real
Until a cloud somewhere far in the west
Mixes its inks and draws iron and stone
In epic outlines, black and literal.
Now it is simple, weathered, plain, immodest
In waterlight and late hill-hidden sun.

High water adds freshwater-filtered salt
To the aquatic mirrors, a thin spice
That sharpens light on Middle Bank, a lilt
In the reflected moon’s analysis.
Mud’s sieved and rained from pewter into gold
Conjectural infinity’s outdone
By engineering, light and hydrous fact,
A waterfront that rises fold by fold
Into the stars beyond the last of stone,
A city’s elements, local, exact.

– Douglas Dunn

Poem – Douglas Dunn – Modern Love

18 August 2016

(As ever, I cannot resist a poem with a cat.)

It is summer, and we are in a house
That is not ours, sitting at a table
Enjoying minutes of a rented silence,
The upstairs people gone. The pigeons lull
To sleep the under-tens and invalids,
The tree shakes out its shadows to the grass,
The roses rove through the wilds of my neglect.
Our lives flap, and we have no hope of better
Happiness than this, not much to show for love
But how we are, and how this evening is,
Unpeopled, silent, and where we are alive
In a domestic love, seemingly alone,
All other lives worn down to trees and sunlight,
Looking forward to a visit from the cat.

– Douglas Dunn

Green Money (book #156)

17 August 2016

D E Stevenson, 1939.

This is a lighter Stevenson (despite the first of my quotes below), bordering on farce at times. There are reviews at Leaves and Pages and Worthwhile Books which give a flavour of it. A couple of passages I liked:

When George had gone the house felt strangely empty and strangely silent. Cathy finished her flowers and bestowed the bowls of roses in their usual places about the house; and all at once, as she placed the big brown pottery bowl on the hall table and stood back to admire the effect, the futility of the thing swept over her. “What is the good?” she demanded of herself. “What is the point of wasting all that time doing flowers? How often have I filled these same silly bowls with flowers – spring flowers, summer flowers, or great shaggy-headed chrysanthemums – and how often shall I go on dong it? Does anyone ever notice them? Would anyone care if I stopped doing it? Would father or mother or Peter or anyone look round and say, ‘Hallo, no flowers!'”
She stood quite still, looking at her handiwork, and it seemed to her that life went on and on and nothing ever happened, and the thought depressed her beyond measure. She seemed to see, in the cycle of the flowers, the cycle of the years of her life – daffodils, sweet peas, roses, delphiniums, chrysanthemums, and beech leaves – and then daffodils again – hundreds of bowls of flowers representing hundred of hours’ work – and all quite useless. Cathy had never felt before that her life was useless and static, but now she could not dismiss the idea. Her reason told her that she was a useful member of society, for her family depended on her in all sorts of ways, and she gave each member of it something that he or she would have missed had it been withdrawn; but, in spite of this, her life seemed suddenly flat and stale and empty – and, worst of all, uneventful.
If Cathy could have stood apart and looked at her life from a distance, or stood still, poised between the past and the future, she would have been able to see that her life was not uneventful, and that it was certainly not static. Nobody’s life is static. … for, if nothing else is happening to them, there is change taking place in their own souls.
Cathy was unused to self-analysis. She was too busy thinking of other people to bother much about herself, so her sudden mood of self-pity took her by surprise, and after a few moments she gave herself a slittle shake and lifted her chin . . . . After all, I’m me, thought Cathy, and that’s always something. Nobody has ever been me before.

Mr Ferrier and Paddy are walking on the Roman Road and he is telling her about the Romans:

“So far from their homes!” said Paddy sadly.
Mr. Ferrier took the point. (He had often found that Paddy’s remarks, even when they seemed irrelevant, were not really irrelevant at all, but usually following a definite train of thought missing out several stations on the way.) “It is curious to think that the Romans, here in Britain, were farther from their homes than is possible in modern times,” he said thoughtfully. “I have not studied the matter seriously, but I believe it may be taken as a fact. There is no place in the world to-day so far from another place in time as the distance from here to Rome in 55 B.C. … ” [I’m not sure this is correct.]

George is trying to redirect Elma’s focus on him:

“Look here,” said George, “I’ll give you a book to read – a modern book that will teach you about the modern world. It’s no good filling your mind up with Sir Walter Scott and – and all that. Things are different now. You’ve got to live in To-day, so you had better learn about it.”
“Yes,” said Elma meekly.
George looked at his shelves and selected a couple of “Peter Wimsey” books. They were his own favourites and, as far as he could remember, they contained nothing which could bring a blush to the cheek of the most innocent maiden on earth. “You take these,” he said. “They’re all about a fellow called Peter Wimsey. You read them carefully and you’ll see what’s what. He’s a modern sort of chap, you know – not like Pendennis.”
“I like Pendennis,” Elma declared. “I think you resemble Pendennis. I thought so from the very – ”
“Oh, no, I don’t. And I don’t resemble Peter Wimsey, either,” said George.

(Later on, someone avoids a party by shutting himself in a room and reading Gaudy Night.)

The Lake District Murder (book #155)

16 August 2016

John Bude, 1935 (British Library reprint, 2014).

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I was a bit disappointed by this as found it rather dull. I did like the way the detective doesn’t detect all the time: “On Sunday Meredith took a well-earned rest and spent a lazy day before a roaring fire with the newspapers and the wireless”. Also we are twice told about his “customary high tea”. I also liked the reference to zips, which makes it clear that they are a novelty:

” … Do you know what it is?”
Mrs. Arkwright shook her head …
“It’s a “zip” fastener,” said Meredith. “Ever seen one before?”
“‘How silly of me! Of course I have, now I come to think of it. Mrs. Grath next door but one has got a hand-bag that opens with one of them things. … “