Well here I am again and thought I would have time to sit quietly and write a review or two. WHY do I think this I ask myself. I also wonder why I bring a book with me as well as they never get opened.
Writing this on my ipad which is not really conducive to fast typing. I have put keyboard for ipad on my Christmas list so fingers crossed. I did think I would wait for the sales and buy myself one but when I mentioned this in an Apple store I was told. Very loftily. That Apple "don't do sales". Exit humble and downtrodden customer.
So to flag up that I will return on Monday and, as the grandps are looking after children again, will probably take to my bed. Until I return to review The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg and Love Insurance by Earl Derr Biggers please note that these are two fun books that cheered up a grey rainy afternoon.
About five years ago I posted about the Little White Horse by Ellizabeth Goudge and I am revisiting my musings at the time, updating them and seeing if anything I said then has changed. Well, nothing has I am delighted to say. This is a book that I simply love and adore. I discovered this book languishing in the corner of an old bookcase in my school library. I must have been about fourteen and it was a pretty crappy library as I never saw any new books added in my time there. I think about that place now with nostalgia and a touch of regret as I am pretty sure there were some treasures there that I did not appreciate at the time.
Anyway, it was a cold day and I was never one for joining in games of netball etc at lunchtime, would much rather be indoors reading (so nothing has changed) and I remember looking through the bookcases, finding this book and started to read and that was that. I just fell in love with it on the spot and took it home with me that evening and read it right through, to the detriment of my homework I might add. Here is the opening of the first chapter:
"The carriage gave another lurch and Maria Merryweather, Miss Heliotrope, and Wiggins once more fell into each other's arms, sighed, gasped, righted themselves and fixed their attention upon those objects which were for each of them, at this trying moment, the source of courage and strength. Maria gazed at her boots. Miss Heliotrope restored her spectacles to their proper position, picked up the worn brown volume of French essays from the floor popped a peppermint into her mouth and peered once more in the dim light at the wiggly black print on the yellowed page. Wiggins meanwhile pursued with his tongue the taste of the long since digested dinner that still lingered among his whiskers"
Who can resist such wonderful characters and names? Maria Merryweather, Miss Heliotrope and Wiggins the dog. Magical and wonderful. Maria is an orphan and on her way to live with her cousin Benjamin Merryweather of Moonacre Manor in the West Country. The actual location is left very vague which is as it should be to preserve the feeling of fairydom. After a long tiring journey they near the Manor and as they are driving through the park, Maria sees in the wood a shining bright white horse which vanishes very quickly so that at first she thinks she has imagined it. Though we do not know this at this stage, the sighting of the Little White Horse, in reality a unicorn, is a sign that Maria has an important task to carry out at Moonacre Manor.
This story has the most delightfully named character throughout: as well as the aforementioned, we have Loveday Minette, Old Parson, Monsieur Cocq Noir, Marmaduke Scarlet, Robin and then the animals: Wrolf, very much as Aslan type figure, Serena the Hare and Zachariah the cat. All of these animals take a full part in the unfolding of the story.
Maria is the catalyst to put right a wrong and to bring to an end the darkness that has affected this lovely valley. Monsieur Cocq Nor and his men, all dressed in black, who steal the sheep and harass the villagers, have domain over the beach and the shore so that the Silverydew villagers cannot catch fresh fish and the children have never see the sea. After many adventures Maria and Robin, a boy who used to come and play with her when she lived in London, but who was dismissed by Miss Heliotrope as an imaginary playmate, band together with the animals to give restitution to the Black Men and bring peace to the valley.
It is Elizabeth Goudge's descriptive powers that I found so beguiling and delightful, particularly when it comes to food. Just listen to this:
"There is enough. There is sufficient plum cake, saffron cake, cherry cake, iced fairy cakes, eclairs, gingerbread, meringues, syllabub, almond fingers, rock cakes, chocolate cakes, parkin, cream horns,Devonshire splits, Cornish pasty, jam sandwiches, lemon curd sandwiches, lettuce sandwiches, cinnamon toast and honey toast to feed twenty or more. Have no fear young Mistress; when Marmaduke Scarlet is cook there is always enough"
"The table was covered with a checked red and white tablecloth that matched the counterpane, and upon it was set a blue dish full of apples, a yellow jug of milk, a purple plate upon which were piled buttered scones, two green plates and two mugs to match"
Several years ago when I read The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third Harry Potter book, I came across a passage in which JK Rolwing describes the contents of Honeydukes sweet shop:
""There were shelves of the most succulent looking sweets imaginable. Creamy chunks of nougat, shimmering pink squares of coconut ice; fat honey coloured toffees; hundred of different kinds of chocolates in neat rows; there was a large barrel of Every Flavour Beans;.....Droobles Best Blowing Gum;splintery Toothflossing Stringmints, tiny black Pepper Imps, peppermint creams shaped like toads, fragile sugar spun quills and exploding bonbons"
As I read this, I was forcibly reminded of the passage I have quoted from the Little White Horse, and the thought crossed my mind that JK Rowling may have read this story herself many years ago. I dismissed this as fanciful and that I was being perhaps just a touch too clever, so you can imagine my stunned amazement when a year or so later JKR in an interview with Jeremy Paxman, said that the Little White Horse was one of her favourite books as child. I felt inordinately pleased with myself.
The Little White Horse is about good v evil which, essentially, is the theme of the Harry Potter stories. A determined child, with his friends and an unshaken resolve, prevails and restores happiness and a new order. So it is here in the village of Silverydew and Moonacre Manor. It is an ageless theme and one which never grows stale.
I am delighted to see that some of Elizabeth Goudge's titles are being reissued and rediscovered. Capuchin Press republished Green Dolphin Country a few years ago and Hesperus have just reprinted The Runaways (first published under the title Linnets and Valerians - not sure why it has been changed) and I am hoping there are more in the pipeline.
I have an edition of The Little White Horse with illustrations by C Walter Hodges, one of my favourite children's illustrators and I will never part with it, but the reason I am writing about this title again is that Folio have published a new one with new illustratins and, as with all Folio books, it is a delight to hold with glorious paper and binding and a feeling of luxury. It is easier to buy Folio products now, you do not have to join and sign up as before and can buy individual titles so there is no excuse for not purchasing this marvellous book. I am saving this up for my grandchildren when they are older and am hoping they will love it as much as I do.
Mark you, I have an entire shelf of books I am keeping for both Florence and Beatrice so let us hope they turn out to love reading.
Glad I did not have Paul Hollywood looking at my baking last night. I had put my Christmas cake in the oven, sat down and started to do other things and totally forgot about it. Shriek shriek. Got it out and clear to me that that Ole Blue eyes would take one look and say 'overbaked' and it was. So left it overnight to cool and took a look at it this morning. Decided to slice top off which I did and got rid of the over cooked bit and the rest is rather delish as I tasted a sliver. So am making another one for family but keeping this one in my cake tin. It is not being chucked out as it is packed with glace fruits, a la Delia's light Christmas cake and those are expensive to buy.
So have just spent half an hour chopping up more crystallised ginger, oranges, lemons, cherries, angelica, pineapple and apricots and sloshed another glass of brandy over it. Will bake tonight and this time will make sure I keep an eye on it. Mem: must get kitchen timer.....
A quiet week otherwise and restful after looking after grandchildren last week but have to say that I have come back feeling pretty energised and not tired at all. I think I must be getting used to it all and my body is adjusting. Thank heavens for that say I but still glad to have a few days to myself to catch up on correspondence, having a sort out etc and just chilling and catching up on TV I recorded while away. I have discovered that if I have forgotten to set anything up I can do it remotely through Sky on my ipad. The wonders of science.
Nothing planned for today save to take my friend Rosemary for a hospital appointment. Then a cuppa in Waitrose while she does a bit of shopping and then home and sit down for Strictly which is now at an interesting stage. Judy Murray should really go tonight but she has proved to be so popular that she is garnering loads of votes each week. She has a terrific sense of humour and takes all the flack the judges throw at her with good nature and a laugh. I shall be surprised if she gets through tonight though. This is the annual Strictly trek to Blackpool and I have to say the ballroom there is simply sumptuous and huge and seems to bring out the best in all the dancers. The fact that we have to put up with donkey, ice cream and fish and chip jokes is just about bearable but they do it every year and it does get wearing.
Zoe Ball is still filling in for Claudia whose daughter is in hospital having been quite badly burned on Halloween. We all hope her daughter continues to get better and she will be back soon. Zoe does a great job and, as with Claudia, eclipses Tess with her naturalness and wit both of which Tess lacks alarmingly. The combo of Zoe and Claudia would be brilliant.
On the reading front I have been wallowing in crime, as per, and am working my way through Peter Lovesey at the moment. I will soon have read all the Diamond books and will then start on the others and there are plenty to keep me going. I am also trolling through my reads of this year and choosing my books of 2014. I note the number I have read this year is down by about fifty on 2013, this coincides with extra time with grandchildren I think! I always take a book with me to London and I always return with it unopened and unread as reading time is not usually available when Florence and Beatrice are around.
That is it for now, will write more soon and will highlight some books I have received and will be reading over the next few weeks. I hope.
The first thing I have to make clear is that the title The Bloomsbury Cookbook is a misnomer. It is NOT your normal cookbook with lists of recipes and ingredients. As its subtitle says 'Recipes for Life, Love and Art' and, to me, is more of a social history than anything else.
I also have to make clear that my knowledge of the Bloomsbury Group is limited. I lived in Bloomsbury for years as a child and then ignorant teenager and knew little of the collective authors gathered under this title. Since then of course I have learned much more about them and while writing this am drinking coffee out of my Room of One's Own mug. This does not make me a knowledgeable or erudite Bloomsbury reviewer but this particular book is so glorious and I love it so much I am going to do my very best to do it justice.
So many books have been written about the Bloomsbury Group that you would have thought there was nothing new to say about any of them, but it seems not. The author has written about them in their homes, at the table where they talked and talked and disagreed and argued while dining.
I have to say that I warmed towards Strachey when I learned that his favourite dish was rice pudding. One of my childhood favourites as well but it seems he ate it every day....
A couple of delights I spotted this morning in my perusal. There are many more which are simply divine and I have had difficulty in choosing which quotes to use but these are two of my favourites:
In 1928 Virginia and Vita Sackville-West went to Burgundy where they ate the 'vastest most delicious meal I have ever eaten'. It started with pate of duck and ended with 'pears ad lib' and there follows the recipe which features pears, burgundy, orange juice and cinnamon and cloves which makes my mouth water just reading it.
In 1932 Vanessa Bell and Virginia attended a reception in St James where 'young men in white jackets served blue and green cocktails with what looked like gold leaf floating on the surface'. Try it yourself with the recipes that follow Green Dragon and Blue Devil Cocktail.
I could go on and on quoting and illustrating from this fascinating book but instead I will urge you to purchase one for yourself so that you can see why I love it so much. The somewhat elevated figures of the Bloomsbury set are brought to life and the recipes can be used today with no difficulty at all. Please note this is not a book to be read at a sitting, it should be dipped in and savoured. I have spent a happy hour ot two this morning doing just that and will continue to do so. More importantly, it has made me feel I want to explore and read more about this disparate collection of minds and personalities. I certainly will find no lack of books on the subject of that I am sure.
And, finally, who would not want a cook like this:
"Annie the cook has taken a turn for the good, and now makes us delicious bread, suet pudding and other inventions. Morally, she has taken a turn for the bad; lies and loafs about with young boys. But I've decided now to interest myself in her morals no more, only her cooking" Dora Carrington.
PS -I am currently compiling my books of 2014 and this is going on it right now.
Well I am back, in one piece, tired but happy. Five days, 24/7 is the longest I have spent at one stretch with Florence and Beatrice and though it was exhausting, I loved it and feel the bond between us is now sealed and that both girls trust and love me completely. Felicity and Hugh, the paternal grandparents, are marvellous and Felicity and I have a great friendship which we are both so grateful for as it makes life easier and more fun. We both seem to have exactly the same views on bringing up children so there are no difficulties whatsoever.
The children bounced back and forwards to nursery, school, home and other grandPs house with aplomb and it was all great fun but oh my goodness me, shatteringly tiring. There is a reason why older people should not have children, I mean those who decided to have them in the fifties and sixties, it is purely a physical matter. Children wear you out and you need the energy you have when you are young to look after them.
One example, I was walking the two girls round the corner to the Other Grandparents and suddenly Beatrice, who has a will of iron and a determination to do what she wants come hell or high water, suddenly took off and ran out into the middle of the road. My bellow of STOP not only brought her to a grinding halt, but half the windows in the road opened, and a bloke who was doing some painting up a ladder nearly fell off. I am surprised I did not shatter glass. I really told Beatrice off and she stood and howled and all was mayhem. Luckily the road had no traffic at that time but if there had been one car coming she would not have stood a chance. I tucked her, still howling, under my arm and arrived breathless at my destination. Florence had already run on ahead and reported Beatrice's transgression, looking very smug I might add....
But a lot of fun was had, particularly at bath time when I ended up wetter than them and had to chase them round the bedroom to get them into their pjs. This morning Florence was curled up next to me, Beatrice came in like an Exocet at 6am and got into bed with me as well and they both cuddled down and Bea gave me lots of little kisses all over my face and snuggled up. I tell you I lay there and thought Elaine you are one lucky woman.
Kathryn home in a month and all together for Christmas. It doesn't get any better.
So today, easy drive home, cup of tea, soak in bath, doze on sofa, and that is is for the day. Tomorrow I start trying to get on with some of the books awaiting my attention. I did take a book or two with me thinking I would have time to read.
I am in London for a few days so posts will be absent until I get back. My clever Helen is giving a paper at a conference for Historians in Minneapolis and is in the air on the way there as I write. She has promised faithfully to text me as soon as she lands as I shall worry.
She will not be back until Monday and James has work in Chambers so the grandparents are swinging into action to look after Florence and Beatrice. We have a timetable that is quite daunting but Grandpa Hugh has checked that the wine cellar (AKA corner of the kitchen) is well stocked and Grandma Felicity has assured me that there is a goodly stock of gin and vodka......
So the next few days will be exhausting but it will be wonderful also to spend time with the family. I shall return next week and will take a look at the pile of books awaiting my attention. I even take a book or two with me when I go to London but I never have time to look at them. When I do I usually keel over but I can never risk not having a book to hand.
Thank goodness I feel better now. Else I would probably end up on a stretcher....
As I have already mentioned I have been feeling a tad under the weather the last week (today is the first day I can say I have woken up feeling back to normal, well as near normal as I ever get) and spent a great deal of my time lounging around and reading my way through a bagful of Mills & Boon. I have written about them before but decided I would revisit my earlier posts, update and add.
Oh how I love them. The joy of these books is their inevitability. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, misunderstanding occurs, boy and girl separate, misunderstanding cleared up after period of heartbreak and all ends happily. The story is timeless, think Jane Eyre, think Pride and Prejudice, surely THE original Mills & Boon with its alpha male hero and feisty heroine.
Now you must remember when reading these that you never trust a man with red hair. Now I don't mean 'burnished red hair tipped with bronze' but plain old red hair. He is usually deceitful. Fair haired men who are charming but with a weak chin also should be avoided. If his hair is 'burnished (yes that word again) gold' then you are OK but fair. No.
Names are important. Keith, Kevin, Derek are usually signs that this is not the hero. His name is usually Jed, Adam, Dan or similar. Short and to the point.
The hero is always tall and dark. Perhaps not conventionally handsome, but fascinating and sexy with a hawk like nose and high cheekbones. He is slim hipped and wears his clothes with a rangy grace and is particularly attractive in chinos and a linen jacket. He is successful in what he does, be it something in the City or a property developer but he always has a soft side and nurses his girlfriend when she is sick.
Modern heroines in M&B are much feistier than they use to be and more successful. No more little women who abandon their careers in serving in a shop or typing at home to melt into the alpha male's arms at the end. But thought the type has changed the end is never in doubt
Nowadays, sex plays a very graphic part in the novels, some of which could quite easily win the Bad Sex Award every year for some of the more lurid purple passages. When I first started reading these in my teens, Women’s Lib was still in its early stages and women knew their place and were virgins until they married. If there was any sex at all, it was hinted at and the old fashioned row of *********** was employed at the end of a paragraph so you were left to guess at what was going on. Now nothing is barred and out of the bag of books I read last week found one, author shall be nameless, that was nothing more than soft port and VERY badly written. I know from author friends that M&B publishers are tough masters and lay down certain criteria for submitting a book to them, but bad writing seems to slip by quite easily.
This is not to denigrate their authors, some of whom write well and are good. People scoff yet how many writers could produce a book every few months regular as clockwork? Most published authors will publish a book a year so imagine the pressure to produce four a year? One of their writers, Betty Neels, was producing a book every two months up to her death a few years years ago at the age of 90+! Formulaic they most definitely are, but there are some pretty good writers lurking in there who will probably never be taken seriously and remain categorised as Writers of Romance for the rest of their days.
I mentioned the latest trend in having Billionaire of Tycoon or Millionaire in most of the titles we see now. I find these very off putting but apparently they sell in droves and are hugely popular so what do I know? They have also jumped onto the Twilight bandwagon and now have Vampire romances as well, to sit alongside their Medical section (handsome doctors marry pretty nurses), their Regency romances and many other genres that they now produce.
Because of this trend for Billionaires and Millionaires and Legendary Greeks and Italian Counts I tend to search out the earlier vintage M&Bs. These are almost required reading if you want to see how attitudes towards women have changed.
Not Wanted on Voyage by Kay Thorpe is a prime example of the kind of writing which was published by this company back in the 1970s.
We start off with a young woman doctor who has left her last job (she has fallen in love with a married man and is fleeing temptation) and takes the post of a ship's doctor on board a cruise ship. Please bear in mind that this doctor has presumably studied in medicine for several years, is not a teenager and one assumes is intelligent. So what does she do? She turns up late at night to take up her post, it is dark and foggy when she arrives at the docks and can only catch a glimpse of part of the name of the ship and on board she goes. It appears a doctor is expected but the crew are surprised to see a woman as the captain is a woman hater. Ok I can see you sniggering already and saying I know what is going to happen and you would be right. BUT there is a twist. No surprise to find out next morning that she has boarded the wrong ship and this is not discovered until she is out at sea. And here is the twist - she is not aboard a cruise ship, she is on board a WHALING ship. Yep that's right - a whaling ship. OK, now you would have thought when boarding such a vessel that the lack of amenities, the lack of lights, bars, dancing and merriment, let alone sailors in uniform would have made her stop and think. I don't suppose a whaling ship has much in the way of ship board entertainment and, last but not least, surely the SMELL would have given it away?
This book is quite quite wonderful but also so politically incorrect is is hard to believe. We are given a pretty detailed account of actually catching a whale which I cannot imagine would pass muster in 2014 and everyone, including our heroine, seem to light up a fag at the drop of a, well, match. In the end of course she is clasped to the captain's manly chest after she has demonstrated how wonderful and courageous she is by being swung across to another ship to aid an injured member of the crew and all the time a storm is raging and the seas are churning away beneath her.
The whole thing is simply GLORIOUS and I have to thank a fellow M&B lover for making sure that this wonderful book came my way. She knew I would love it and I did. If you are reading this you know who you are!
I would like to emphasise once again that I am not making mock of the genre (how can I when I love it so much), or having a crack at the authors who write for Mills & Boon. How they manage to continue writing and producing a novel every few months is amazing and I know how hard they all work. I just wish that the really bad writers, ok only my opinion I know, were teased out and the good writers, of which there were many, were left to shine on their own.
Christmas coming up now so I shall be on the look out for their Christmas Specials always set in a lovely cottage somewhere in the country, snow falling, all harmony within, log fires, warmth, happiness and all right with the world.
When most of us are trying to cook the festive dinner or have forgotten to take the turkey out the freezer and are trying to feed the masses, this kind of reading is sheer delight and provides us with a vision of what we would love to aspire to if we could manage it. We all know it is fantasy and we are not going to be transported off to an Italian/Greek island by a leonine/ruggedly handsome bilionaire/millionaire but oh wouldn't it be lovely if we were.....
Not a good week really. I drove back from London on Thursday morning after saying goodbye to kinder and by the time I left the North Circular and reached the Redbridge Roundabout, I was feeling slightly peculiar, shivery and cold. Decided to put my foot down and get home as quickly as possible as I had the feeling that if I stopped I might not get going again. Made it and went straight to bed and spent the next 24 hours with a rocketing temperature which then plunged so I was cold, felt hungry but if I ate anything felt sick, and generally all was yuk.
Emerged feeling shaky and wiped out and still feel that way now it is Sunday but the sore throat seems to be receding and the temperature has gone so whatever it was I hope that is the back of it. I have, therefore, spent the last five days reading my way through a bagful of old Mills & Boon that I got hold of some time ago and have been saving up for such a purpose. All I could cope with. I read one after the other and they all ran into one and they are all back in the bag and will be off to the charity shop some time next week.
Saturday night found me sitting in the armchair with woolly sox on, blanket round my knees, hot water bottle, hot drink and the remote to watch Strictly as per. Hopping mad that last week we lost Thom. OK he did not exactly strike me as Einstein and his personality was not sparkling but to go out when a sleb whose highlight of this series is his routine dressed as a lobster and who was voted through was a bit much to take.
Claudia absent last night so Zoe Ball took over. Reason given was that one of Claudia's children was ill. A friend of mine commented that would a male presenter have gone home and given up his slot to somebody else? Pretty sure the answer to that would be no but I am prepared to be shot down for thinking this. Zoe did really well and, as with Claudia, showed up just how wooden, banal and awful is Our Tess.
OK here are my thoughts:
Judy and Anton - dire dire dire. Judy was meant to be Cruella da Vil and Anton made his entrance with two dalmatians who took one look at the dance floor and decided this was not for them. Sensible pair.
Scott and Joanne - he was Fenster from the Adams Family and the role suited him beautifully as all he did was lurch around the floor with his arms hanging. He is worse than dire.
Sunetra and Brendon - weird jive involving a lot of furniture moving and not a great deal of content. It was OK.
Alison and Aliajz were apparently doing a Wuthering Heights theme dance. Cannot recall Cathy arriving on the Yorkshire moors flying in but there you go. Great fun and lots of wafting. Big woman big personality and she is great but her dancing not so much. Another week or so before she goes I think.
Ola and Steve - incredibly difficult lifts which worried him so much he forgot to dance.
Pixie and Trent. Simply cannot take to this pair. They both look so pleased with their blonde selves all the time and look like escapees from the Village of the Damned. Trent also looks like he should be piloting a spaceship in Thunderbirds are go.
Frankie and Kevin - great pairing and he is popular with the audience and his lovely personality is endearing which always helps who his partner happens to be. This year Frankie is proving to be a great dancer and they got a 10 last night for their tango.
Mark and Karen - simply cannot take to this woman but he is a sweetie. Permanent grin on his face, having 'the best time of my life' and turning into a great dancer. His jive was brill.
Simon and Kristine. She is a great dancer and I am beginning to feel sorry for her as she has been cast as the Strictly Femme Fatale and the breaker up of marriages, relationships etc. If a male dancer was doing this nothing would be said but as she is a woman and a blonde the tabloids really go to town on her. And do not tell me this sort of thing does not happen in 2014 because it does. Remember Ulrika Johnsson - the weather girl who is well known for having four children by four differet men? boy was she given the treatment and she did make the point that nobody was having a go at the likes of Rod Stewart or Mick Jagger for having multiple children by different partners.
Anyway she and Simon have a good partnership and are dancing well together. He is coming along nicely.
Scott and partner (forgotten her name) - paso and not bad but because he is so good more is expected of him and he was not that impressive tonight.
Caroline and Pasha continue to improve. I like this pairing very much.
As it was Halloween we had the usual dressing up and white faces and black teeth and ghouls rampant and it all gets tedious. It is the same every year when SCD goes for a theme week.
Tess continues to call everyone luv and my darling and I would clock her if she did that to me. She is so patronising as well though this, of course, may be just her natural manner. She just tries too hard and fails every single time. I still blench when I look back to the BBC's coverage of the Jubilee on the river in 2012 and Tess prancing about in the park in a fake coronation.......
Zoe repeated a joke she gave on ITT introducing her pet Crow called Russell. Russell Crowe - geddit? Well it made me laugh.
Not saying any more as I know who goes out tonight and the so called results show can now be taken or left by moi. I just watch as the names are called as I love seeing the various reactions and though Len's Lens is cringemaking they do pick up some funny things that pass us all by. They usually have a half dead singer on well past their best or a new singer/group who will never have a best as they are uniformly awful so I mute it when they are 'singing' and make a cup of tea.
the VTs remain utterley utterley cringemakingly awful as ever.
Persephone Books has recently reissued The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher in their classics format and I am delighted as this gives me an excuse to write about it again. It is my favourite title from this wonderful publisher and I have read it at least once a year ever since I first aquired it.
Its author, Dorothy Canfield Fisher was an educational reformer and was responsible for introducing the Montessori Method of child rearing to the United States. As well as adult books she also wrote for children, one of the most well know being Understood Betsy portraying a school run on Montessori lines. This method is based on the observing of young children, learning about their characteristics and needs, and emphasising the uniqueness of each child while recognising that children are different from adults in the way they develop and feel.
At the beginning of the story we meet Eva, the Homemaker, caught in a never ending cycle of housework, cooking and cleaning. She is quick witted, fiercely intelligent and creative, depressed and bored and totally unable to bring about any change in her circumstances. Her husband, Lester, also suffers, being deeply unhappy in his work, hating the world of commerce in which he is involved, and dreaming of writing poetry. Quiet and gentle he is the antithesis of the fiery Eva. On first reading one wonders just how two such disparate personalities ever married. They have three children who suffer in their own way from the tensions in the marriage: Stephen, the youngest, throwing tantrums and in a state of permanent warfare with his parents, Henry with a weak stomach and Helen, nervous and lacking in self confidence. Neither Lester nor Eva has any time to devote to their children and to view them as anything other than a worry and a burden.
Two square pegs in a round hole.
Lester loses his job and in a vain attempt to kill himself suffers a crippling accident and is reduced to leading an invalid life in the home. As he gets better and finds himself in the position of homemaker he realises 'he had never watched his children grow before'. After being at home for some time alone with his youngest child, Stephen, he realises that something is deeply troubling him. When he finally confides in his father Lester discovers that Stephen is terrified that his mother is going to take his beloved teddy away and wash it: ‘Don’t let him be washed father. Don’t let him! He raised his streaming eyes agonizingly towards his father, his whole face quivering’.
Lester is horrified to find himself in a position of total power over another human being, one who had no appeal against any decision he might make. No matter how many times I read this book, I find this episode incredibly moving especially when Lester realises 'what a fathomless blackness of uncertaintyy' his son must have felt. With the encouraging presence of their father the children's strained nerves slowly relax and their characters expand and blossom and Lester begins to know his children and to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses, traits which need to be curbed, talents encouraged.
And what of Eva? At the start of the book we found her almost at screaming pitch and on the verge of a breakdown. While Lester is at home, all unknowingly becoming a Montessori father, she is out in the world making her own voyage of self discovery. A saleswoman in the department store which Lester so loathed, she is a woman transformed, busy and vital, has found her niche and is full of energy and vigour. Once Eva has found the opportunity of fulfilling her potential her problems, both physical and mental disappear. Like Lester, she has found her correct place in the scheme of things.
And then it appears that Lester may get well and immediately he and Eva are thrown into the most dreadful mental turmoil. Both of them know if they go back to the way they were before it will kill them "She couldn't! She stood stock still in her prison cell and wrung her hands in revolt. She simply could not. After having known something else, she could not go back to the narrow, sordid round of struggle with intolerable ever renewed drudgery..."
"Could he do any better than before his miserable, poorly done detested work? Could he hate it any less? No he would hate it more ........it kept him from his real work, work that meant the salvation of his children....it wasn't that Eva had not tried her best. She nearly killed herself trying. But she had been like a gifted mathematician set to paint a picture"
I know others who have read The Homemaker are critical of the ending, saying it is far fetched and unworkable and they are probably right. It needs a certain suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, but I think this outcome, whether you like it or not, emphasises the roles that men and women had to play in a small American town at this time. There was no possibility of Lester staying at home with the children once he regained his health, he would be despised and mocked by his colleagues and neighbours and Eva could not stay at work as she would be seen as abandoning her children. The role reversal was only possible when circumstances made it acceptable.
I was glad to have an excuse to read this book again, not that I really needed one, I do pick this title up on a regular basis, and each time I read it, I find more and more in it to admire. First time round, it can seem a cosy read and so it is. Second time, you begin to see there is more there - perhaps it is a feminist novel? Third time and then more and more, one begins to see the layers unpeeling, the understanding of the psychological pressures on Lester and Eva with the resultant physical manifestations in themselves and their children, their illnesses and nervous strain. The most joyous part of this book for me, is the unfolding of Stephen's character, how his tense unhappiness gradually melts away under the influence of his father's love and kindness:
"Stephen's eyes overflowed.... but he was not crying, he knew that. It hurt to cry and this did not hurt, it helped. The water ran quietly out of his eyes and poured down his cheeks. It was though something that had ached inside him so long that he had almost forgotten about it were melting and running away. He could feel it hurting less and less as the tears fell on his hands. It was as though he was being emptied of that ache.....and now norhing hurt Stephen at all, there was no ache anywhere.....he felt so different, so light! so washed! so clear"
I have been attending the book sale in support of the NSPCC for the last twenty five years and it was quite a shock when I realised this morning that I was rummaging boxes of books for my grandchildren. When I first went I had Kathryn and Helen with me and here I am looking for good stuff for my daughter's children. I rather like it.
On entering the hall the trick is to do the first sweep, slinging everything in your bag that you think you might want to keep. Within five minutes, I had filled two carrier bags, dumped them at the holding bay, got another two and made second sweep, slightly less frenzied than the first. Third sweep is more contemplative and and takes more time and this is usually when you find things you have missed in Sweeps 1 and 2. You then find a nice quiet corner and go through everything and decide what you really really want and what you just grabbed in case anybody got there first. I have to say that everyone is very polite and friendly but I noted that there was much more room this year. Were things dropping off? Oh no said one of the nice NSPCC ladies, we are only allowed to have 200 people in the hall at any one time. The dreaded Health and Safety I gather but it did make wandering around a little more comfortable.
Under the tables are boxes of books to replenish the stock on top and underneath these tables is where it gets interesting as you squat down and crawl under to see what is what. This is a trifle more problematical for me these days but fun. You meet others down there 'Oh hello I will swap you my Christie for your Sayers and is that a Dick Francis you are sitting on?"
There has been a change over the years and I notice that there are less and less hardbacks and those that are there are ones I am not interested in. Once upon a time there were tables full of old battered second hand books, the kind that I love, but these are few and far between now. So today for the first time I only filled one bag after my first haul and discarded many, but I got some goodies.
A first edition of the Rosemary Tree which is not on my Goudge shelves so very pleased with that and Lady of Quality as first published with the cover on. Lovely.
And then this superb annotated copy of Sense and Sensibility. Large sized book with fantastic illustrations. Found it in the refill box under the table. How lucky was that?
The sale is also on tomorrow and sometimes it is worth returning on the second day as it is easier to look around and spot things you might have missed first time round. So that is what I think I shall do.