Friday, January 29, 2010

Too Much Calm

Far from being calm, apparently I lost it. Well you would too if you were a raging anglophile in a world full of moose heads and maple syrup! These lovelies were found in a Chapters bookstore last weekend and I couldn't resist. Reeling with the guilt of loading up my arms with paraphernalia, none of which I needed but desperately wanted, I can barely think without shame, of why I bought a journal when I can type my thoughts on this blog. Perhaps I can console myself by using it to track the number of teabags used in any given day, information which will be highly useful if found in a time capsule 100 years from now I'm sure. This is greed at its height. Actually, the gift bag is for housing my latest knitting project and therefore, most useful. The Keep Calm and Carry On slogan is just the thing required when you've ripped out one hours work because you've taken your eye off of the ball....literally. I do have some pride left in knowing that the first-aid kit (damn, the tin would have made a terrific time capsule!) and bandage box remained on the shelf. Hoarding is not at all a feminine virtue, and desperate to hold on to some sort of decorum, I thought it best to leave something for the other customers. After confession, people are supposed to feel better and I do. Please feel free to share the last time you felt guilty about buying too much of a good thing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

To Bed with Grand Music

When Vera Lynn was singing 'We'll meet again...', it would have touched the hearts of many a young woman during WWII. Deborah Robertson would not have been one of those women. The image we usually have of women whose husbands are away at war is one of housework, queuing for rations, chats over the wall and knitting while listening to the wireless. Marghanita Laski does a fantastic job of showing us that there were women who chose to spend their time engaged in other pursuits. Leaving her young son, Timmy, with the housekeeper, Deborah sets off for London to look up a friend named Madeleine. After some inquiries and decisions are made, the two women are sharing a flat. Staying in at night with their hair in rollers and eating beans on toast is not for these two. Madeleine has a steady stream of male friends taking her out to dinner and it's not long before Deborah is joining in, after all, a girl has to eat doesn't she? Drinks follow dinner and then it's sex. Being faithful while apart is something that Graham said was unlikely, I'm not going to promise you I'll be physically faithful to you, because I don't want to make you any promise I may not be able to keep'. Social mores of the time implied that women would absolutely be faithful lest they be labeled by the proverbial scarlet letter. At first, Deborah is shocked by her behaviour and swears to herself that it won't happen again. But it does...over and over with a string of men. Soon she becomes skilled at saying and doing all the things her lovers want to acquire perfume, furs, jewellery, shoes and handbags. At her core, Deborah is selfish so she justifies her actions with ease and any guilt is fleeting. During an air raid, I desperately wanted a bomb to drop on the very table she was dining at with her latest companion! This is where I thoroughly admire Laski's writing, she was able to have me despise the main character and still love the book. I haven't hated a character so much since Louise from Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. Even though this is a story about men, women and sex during the war, it's so far removed from being romanticized. Turning the last few pages, I wondered how this was all going to end...I was gobsmacked, Laski has a brilliant way with an ending. Just as in Little Boy Lost, you read the last few lines and then stare at the page in disbelief. This is not one of those books that will have you hugging it to your chest as you close the cover, more likely you'll want to fling it across the room! But only because Laski has executed the characterization so well as to bring forth such visceral emotion. This one has me wishing that I could sit in on another book chat at Persephone, I would love to hear Nicola's thoughts on everything about it. So if she does offer one, could someone please attend and let me know what she has to say?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Virago Book of Food

'A delightful selection of literary canapes' states the Evening Standard. I would also hasten to add 'delicious', in the sense that you could sit for ages gobbling up snippets from this wonderful book. There are several paragraphs interspersed throughout from Barbara Pym's books which brought about a 'wonderful' from R who was trying to be happy for me. From Excellent Women, 'I made myself what seemed an extravagant lunch of scrambled eggs preceded by the remains of some soup, and followed by cheese, biscuits and an apple. I was glad that I wasn't a man, or the kind of man who looked upon a meal alone as a good opportunity to cook a small plover, though I should have been glad enough to have someone else cook it for me.' Other culinary descriptions from books include works by Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Mansfield, Beatrix Potter, Sylvia Plath, Sarah Waters, Emily Bronte and Virginia Woolf. Short though still delightful is 'I am glad the new cook begins so well. Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.' Written by Jane Austen to Cassandra at Chawton. Non-fiction writings by domestic doyenne's are included as well. So if you're interested in reading the thoughts of Mrs Beeton or Fanny Farmer among others, you will find interesting advice scattered here and there. An abundance of writings by various aristocrats and ladies from more humble homes throughout history, are presented as well. I just bought this yesterday but couldn't resist telling everyone about its existence before I've explored it more thoroughly. Many of you will no doubt have it on your shelf already but if you don't, please look for it! It has had me smiling ever since I brought it home.

Monday, January 18, 2010

High Wages by Dorothy Whipple

If you are familiar with Persephone Books then you know the brilliance of Dorothy Whipple. She has worked her magic once again with High Wages, I loved this book! My heart ached for Jane Carter, still in her teens, leaving the family home after her father passes away, to strike out on her own. She left behind a stepmother and 'those children', an image of Cinderella did pass through my thoughts at one point. Being accepted for work at Chadwick's, a fabric and haberdashery shop was a dream come true for Jane. Sharing a room with another employee and being served various forms of offal for dinner by Mrs Chadwick, while she ate fine cuts with her husband upstairs, rarely brought about a complaint from Jane. She was independent and learning more every day about how to sell to customers in the shop. Jane catches on quickly and has a knack for fashion and design, quickly making herself popular with customers and indispensable to Mr Chadwick. Mrs Greenwood is one of those customers who doesn't mind utilizing Jane's way with a ribbon but won't let her forget that she's just a shop girl. No where near close enough in station to socialize with her pampered daughter, Sylvia, or the young men in her circle. At one of the social events of the year, The Hospital Ball, Jane is kindly treated to tickets by the warm and generous Mrs Briggs. Again, like Cinderella, Jane fashions an outfit she's absolutely giddy about and attracts the eye of some handsome young men. Mrs Greenwood is livid and with her booming voice and looks of disgust, she makes Jane feel horrible. But not for long, after all, what crime has she committed? When she's hauled up on the proverbial carpet by Mr Chadwick for upsetting the town know-it-all, Jane defends herself with a spirit that had me cheering her on with a smile on my face. That should give you a pretty good idea of what you're in for with this wonderful story. I despair for anyone who isn't interested in where this story leads. Dorothy Whipple has created a perfect cast of characters with this book, bringing forth feelings of loathing, sympathy, hope, dread and romance. The sign of a good book is one that has me dying to complete my list of things to do so that I can make a pot of tea and find out what's going to happen next. High Wages is definitely one of those books!

Monday, January 11, 2010


Everyone was up early this morning as The Heiress is home for a quick visit to take her driver's test. Simon, thank you so much for the distraction of tagging me for a book meme! The gist of which is to choose ten books from your shelves, eyes closed, and then write about where you got them, who got them for you, what the books says about you and so on. Here we go: The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett: This cloth-bound gem came from Pickwick Books in Waterdown, a lovely shop filled with antiquarian books and run by an older gentleman, passionate about restoring books. I bought this before I ever clicked the 'send' button on a Persephone order. Keeping Their Place by Pamela Sambrook: The sub-title is Domestic Service in the Country House which calls out to me as I'm convinced that I was a downstairs girl in another life. At the age of 17, I scrubbed the stains out of a friend's parents teapot while visiting...just because. Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes: The Dewey Divas gave a talk at our library and they very kindly brought some books for us to take home. This was the only English title left for the taking so it was inevitably mine. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Rachel from Book Snob steered me in the direction of Her Fearful Symmetry and it became one of my favourite reads of 2009, it was so much fun, in a spooky sort of way! My thoughtful husband bought this title for me for Christmas this year, I must be one of the few who hasn't read it yet. Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence: R and I went to see Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy at the theatre in 2007. I love that R will accompany me to 'parasol movies' as he calls them. He says it's for the popcorn but I know that he's enjoying himself. Anyway, we had to drive directly to Chapters from the theatre so that I could buy this book. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple: The moment that I told my Across the Pond friend, Kristina, that I was going to London she wrote 'Don't buy The Priory as I have a double from a library sale'. It was going for something ridiculously inexpensive like 10p! She brought it with her, wrapped in lovely paper, when she came to call at my B&B. A wonderful day. A Place in My Country by Ian Walthew: The author and his wife impulsively buy a cottage in the Cotswolds and he writes about their settling into village life. This is something I spend probably far too much time day-dreaming about so I just had to buy the book from a sale table in Stratford. The Book Vault usually has me taking off my seat belt before the car comes to a full stop in the parking lot as it's full of lovely English titles. The Finest Type of English Womanhood: The cover is beautiful and I admit to being a sucker for beautiful cover art. I first heard about this book on Verity's blog and loving her taste in books I ordered my own copy. Set in South Africa, this was a leap for me as most of my reading consists of all things way of fulfilling the ache to live there. I loved this book which tells me that I should really get out of England more often. The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black & Deirdre Le Faye: Now you would think that a cookbook would be in the kitchen and not on the bookshelves in a spare bedroom but for me, this book is all about social history. Besides, I won't be making Pigeon Pie or a Harrico of Mutton any time soon. This book was bought at a book festival, I think it was Word on the Street, in Toronto around six years ago. There were quite a few socialist free press sorts and graphic novel publishers but trust me to find Austen amongst it all. The New Tea Book by Sara Perry: At a staff Christmas party a few years ago, a co-worker gave this to me as a Secret Santa gift, along with a t-shirt that says 'Queen Bee'. Tea is a bright spot in my day and taken quite often throughout. Pat was truly thinking of me when she chose this book, the t-shirt was the cause of much laughter! That was such a nice way to re-visit some of the books on our shelves, thanks again Simon! Late edit...The Heiress is back and has passed her test!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Leverson vs Whipple

This was me this afternoon. Try as I might, I just could not get into Love's Shadow by Ada Leverson. Yes, the delicious pink cover looked stunning on my bedside table but past that...nothing. For two days I've struggled and today, in horror, I realized that I was only on page 19. This was supposed to be a read-along with Kristina, I've already sent her an email with the disappointing news that, as they say on Dragon's Den...'I'm out!' (with an apology of course). This is surely a case of right book, wrong mood. On a bright note though, Kristina really enjoyed Dorothy Whipple's, High Wages. Which, as luck would have it, was sitting on my bookcase. What a contrast! In no time at all I was at the end of chapter three with a vivid picture in my mind as to the characters, the shop's interior and the starkness of Jane's bedroom. This story is fitting the bill perfectly and has me thoroughly engaged. It simply wouldn't do to begin a new year reading something less than the perfect book...and Dorothy Whipple has certainly offered that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A London Child of the 1870's by Molly Hughes

*Be warned, there is a spoiler* Reading this book reminded me of being a child myself and spending ages inspecting gravel on the drive for fossils. It was so refreshing to spend time reading about children who were not dashed off to some sort of activity every day and were left to their imagination. Molly Hughes was a lone daughter with four brothers which could be a trial at times. For instance, when her brothers were engaged in a 'druidal sacrifice' behind closed doors. The smell of something burning brought Molly to investigate upon where she learned that the object being sacrificed was her wax doll! I burst out laughing at one point when Hughes wrote: During our fifteen years in the one house we never had the slightest acquaintance with our 'semi-detached', nor with the people round, although we knew several by sight and gave them nicknames. We have nicknames for some of our distant neighbours, so some things are not really so different then! I also loved the image of Molly going on rounds with the village doctor in his buggy, something that would never happen today. Even though there were not many books around the house, they were held in high esteem. The children took ages to discuss which book would be purchased with some extra money. They would have to wait, albeit impatiently, for the next serialized episode of a story to arrive in the latest magazine. One story had Molly beside herself when she thought a young lady would have to marry someone out of duty when she really loved another. But Charles announced one day that the first young man would die, and all would be well. 'How do you know?' we asked him. 'I noticed him cough in the second chapter.' The family loved to visit relatives in Cornwall and you can sense the excitement coming off of the page when Hughes describes preparing for the journey by train. This bit of the book has me now in search of a decent pastie, something I've never tried before but absolutely must now! A London Child of the 1870's gets better and better as the book goes on. But just when you're filled with such affection for this family you could burst, the end comes all too soon and with a tragedy. In November 1879, Molly's father fails to return home one evening. She writes that he's been run over and killed instantly, what she doesn't tell us is that in actual fact, her father has committed suicide. The sense of laughter and charm that runs throughout the book comes to an abrupt halt on the last page. There are more books written after this one titled A London Girl of the 1880's and A London Home in the 1890's that I'm dying to read now. Here's hoping that Persephone Books can somehow publish these or I'll be spending some time in Oxfam shops trying to find them on the shelves during my next trip to London!