As a long time fan of the adult novels of Richmal Crompton, I was delighted to hear that Bello, the digital print part of Pan Macmillan, are planning on reissuing some of these titles. I have about twenty of this author's books on my shelf and they have been the result of internet searches, scrabbling around in second hand bookshops and hard bargaining when some of the titles have been too expensive.
One title in particular had been sitting on a shelf in a bookshop I visit regularly, for some five years as I had logged it each time I was there, and in the end I offered slightly less than the marked price for it and after a bit of bargaining was successful.
I first came across Richmal's adult novels when Persephone published Family Roundabout the story of two families and their respective matriarchs and their relationships with their children. It was an absorbing story, one to be read straight through and then, of course, I was off on a hunt for more Crompton adult novels. They are all out of print and quite difficult to track down. I have about half a dozen of them and wish I could find more but those that I have located are very expensive.
Richmal Crompton and Frances Hodgson Burnett would not seem to have a great deal in common but one thing that they have both suffered from is being viewed only as authors of children's books. Frances Hodgson Burentt wrote over 50 books for adults but most modern readers think of her as the author of The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy. While FHB was very happy with the huge income generated by these books, she sometimes felt her other works were neglected.
Richmal Crompton suffered the same fate complaining that all her adult writing was forgotten and all people were interested in was William.
‘. . . for many years I looked on William as “my character”. He was my puppet. I pulled the strings. But gradually the tables have been turned. I am his puppet.’
She wrote the William series alongside her adult books and on checking her list of published works, she seemed to churn them out at an amazing rate. In 1927 alone she produced three William books, two full length adult novels and a collection of short stories which is a huge output by any standards. Here is a summary of a few of the titles that Bello is reissuing:
Marriage of Hermione, first published in 1932, tells the story of the married life of Charles and Hermione Dereham from their first meeting in 1882 to their golden wedding in 1932, an ordinary and overtly honest depiction of a marriage without sensation. Marriage of Hermione contains much comedy, tragedy and drama, all universal facets of family life, in its analysis of a marriage marred by monotony.
First published in 1936, The Old Man’s Birthday, is a thoroughly entertaining book offering a dry satire of British village life and a nostalgic treat for fans of the gentler brand of interwar fiction. It is the story of old Matthew Royston’s 95th birthday. A day which, from breakfast to the family dinner party, precipitates climaxes for each member of his assembled family. Teaming beneath the calm surface of village and family life, readers will find a whole world of secrets, desires, hopes and dreams.
In There are Four Seasons, first published in 1937, a young girl Vicki’s faces resentment from her father for resembling the wife who ran away and left him for another man. Following Vicki from her childhood to old age, Crompton explores how this childhood trauma stays with Vicki throughout her life, through marriage and motherhood.
Bello will also reissue Chedsy Place, Narcissa, Merlin Bay, Caroline, The Holiday, Steffan Green, Portrait of a Family, and Journeying Wave.
Richmal Crompton sets her stories in a fairly limited environment. Most of her characters are born, live, marry and die in the one place and, like Jane Austen who said that characters in a village were the most interesting to write about, Richmal Crompton delves deep behind the facade each character presents to the world and gradually peels away the layers of pretence.
I remembered reading a biography of Richmal Crompton by Mary Cadogan some years ago and I shall have to re-read it as I seem to remember that the main thing that struck me on reading this book, was what an quiet, slightly dull life she led. Ok, writing over 60 books is hardly uneventful by any standards, but apart from that she led a blameless existence. One presumes that she lived through her characters and, like them, her facade concealed hidden depths.
Of course, another lady who led a sheltered life in a village, but who maintained that all human traits of weakness, infidelity, pettiness, unkindness and evil could be found in such a place, was Miss Marple and,well, we all know what happened in St Mary Mead...........
Bello is a digital imprint, launched by Pan Macmillan in 2011 to bring long out-of-print books by iconic authors to a new readership in the 21st century.
For more information on Bello see www.panmacmillan.com/bello