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!