A lovely new edition of Black Beauty from OUP World's Classics dropped through my letterbox last week and instant nostalgia set in as I opened it up and started to read. I remember this book so well from my childhood and, along with Beth dying in Good Wives, the death of Ginger in Black Beauty was a deeply upsetting part of my early reading and has never been forgotten.
It is Anna Sewell's only book and as she suffered a fall when she was fifteen years old which resulted in permanent lameness, she became very reliant on horses. She was born in 1820 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and because of her poor health she never married and lived with her parents all her life. Anna became a skilled rider and obviously had a deep understanding and sympathy with these animals, hence her book which has been called the 'Autobiography of a Horse'. Written in the first person (or should that be first horse?) we see life through the eyes of Black Beauty and the ups and downs, cruelties and kindnesses meted out to him during her life. She ends up as a cab horse and one day meets up with an old companion, Ginger:
"How changed. The beautifully arched and glossy neck was now straight and lank and fallen in and the clean straight legs and fetlocks were swelled......the face that was once so full of spirit and life was now full of suffering.....a short time after this a cart with a dead horse in it passed our cabstand....I believe it was Ginger, I hoped it was for then her troubles would be over. Oh! if men were more merciful they would shoot us before we came to such misery"
I am writing this with a lump in my throat and feeling pretty choked up and this passage has had the same effect on me when I read it all those years ago. It is wonderful how first impressions stay with you all your life.
I have mentioned Good Wives above, which I recently re-read and talked about and received lots of lovely comments (review here) and it made me think about other of my childhood books which I love dearly and still read today, as an adult. The Wind in the Willows did not impinge until I was in my late teens when, for some reason, I picked it up, read it and fell in love with Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad. When my girls were small we had a DVD with a puppet version of this book, Toad being voiced by the wonderful David Jason. I gave it to Helen last year and when I was in London last week was simply delighted to see that Florence had watched it and had loved the adventures of the characters and was able to talk to me about it and tell me how dangerous the Wild Wood was. So are stories passed down to the next generation. I have a copy of the WInd in the Willows which I will give to her when she is a little older. You can see from the picture below that I have a few others lined up as well......
This led me to think about the books I loved as a child. I thought I would post about them and ask you all for your fond memories of those you read and which have stayed with you for ever. As well as the books about the March family, I read An Old Fashioned Girl by L M Alcott which I loved almost as much as the Little Women series; Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom also but not loved quite as much. I have wonderful editions of these in the old Green Virago covers which I cherish dearly.
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge - another children's book undiscovered by me until in my teens and which I posted about here. Simply adore this book and have a copy on my shelves with illustrations by C Walter Hodges which are simply marvellous. Then Rosemary Sutcliff and another of my favourites The Armourer's House, again one with illustrations by Hodges. I was less enamoured of her stories set in the days of the Roman Legion, not my cup of tea at all but one story Simon set in the Civil War was another one I remember well.
Then E Nesbit. The Railway Children, naturally, but FIve Children and It, The Enchanted Castle and so many others gave me hours of reading pleasure. My old battered copies are still in my possession.
I cannot let a post on my favourite childhood reading pass by without mentioning Anne of Green Gables. Oh how I loved this book, how I cried when Matthew died, how I laughed when Anne died her hair green, when she smashed her slate over Gilbert's head....love love love it all. It was not until years later that I realised this was just the first in a series. My library only stocked this one title and it was not until a lucky visit to a jumble sale when I discovered a box of L M Montgomery's books under a table and bought the lot of a fiver, that I realised there were so many more to come. I simply wallowed in them and followed Anne through from schoolgirl to teacher, to marriage and motherhood and had the most glorious reading binge I think I have ever had. The my blood was up and I was off tracking down all her other books. I now have every single title she wrote and I can see them if I glance up and look at my bookshelves. These are books I also hope that Florence will like but we shall see.
In between all these reads I devoured, at various stages, all the Enid Blyton books I could lay my hands on. Famous Five were ok, not too keen on the Secret Seven but I loved the Adventure stories featuring Jack, Lucy-Ann, Dinah and Philip and Kiki the parrot. Still have all of those with the wonderful illustrations by Stuart Tresilian - some of them still have their dust jackets as well. All my Famous Five books disappeared in a house move some years ago, I have a sneaky feeling my mother got rid of them though she would never admit to it!
When I look back at some of the books I read as a child and young teenager I am slightly surprised at some of the titles. I mean Quo Vadis? think I read that after seeing a dreadful film in the cinema which starred, if I remember rightly, Peter Ustinov as Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Then I remember very clearly reading St Paul's and later WIndsor Castle by W Harrison Ainsworth a long forgotten Victorian writer. I particularly remember St Paul's had vivid descriptions in of the plague and all its symptoms which gave me nightmares for weeks, and the Great Fire of London. All pretty gruesome and not sure I could read them now so heaven knows why I read them then.
This post has now triggered off a whole shoal of memories but had better stop here before I tell you about all the other books read that have popped into my mind. I am sure many of you have great reading experienes when you were young and would dearly love to hear of those books which you remember from your childhood.
So do tell us what they are.
Go on, you know you want to....