Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton

Processed with VSCO with a4 presetI must admit that ‘Guard Your Daughters’ was one of those books, where one paragraph in, I just knew that this was going to be one of my most favourite books.

One can’t but help draw a comparison between Dodie Smith’s voice in ‘I Capture the Castle’ and Diana Tutton’s in this particular novel.

There are heaps of whimsical characters, a novel writing Father who keeps himself locked up in his dressing room, an unconventional upbringing, a sort of coming-of-age story but here the similarities end.

Guard Your Daughters deals with the unconventional upbringing of five daughters. Five daughters, who despite a lack of formal education, shine in different ways.

Their father is an eminent detective novel writer, their mother is a delicate lady, suffering from unknown neuroses- the main one being the relative sequestration of her daughters from mainstream society. The Mother strives through various means to ‘protect’ her girls by not sending them to school, discouraging them from going to parties or dances, and not having a social life. The girls strive to never cross their Mother, mainly due to the constant watchfulness of their Father but there are stray incidents that threaten to upset the delicate balance of the family.

The daughters, devise various ways of meeting young men. A certain gentleman is literally pounced upon when his car breaks down in front of the family homestead. Another young man is befriended at the cinema. None of them is encouraged to visit the isolated family.

Due to the fame of the literary father, none of the girls needs to venture out of the house to earn a living. There is no dearth of money as such – but the limitations and deprivations of post war rationing are evident in the conjuring up of the family meals. As the girls observe – Father is never stingy with his money but there’s a mystery about where all the money goes, given his great fame and fortune.

It’s only during the last few pages of the novel that you realize that Guard Your Daughters is quite a serious novel and it deals with quite a serious subject- that of mental health. In retrospect, one appreciates that the author has been building up slowly to this realization through the entirety of the storytelling process.

One of the things that drew me to Guard Your Daughters was the strength of the mother and father’s relationship. It was very beautiful to see, especially given the sacrifices the father made to appease his wife.

Guard Your Daughters would have undoubtedly been one of my favourite novels – given the sprinkling of odd characters, memorable situations, sparkling and witty dialogue and creation of beautiful moments. But for me, Diana Tutton takes the story to an entirely new level with her dexterity in storytelling, and her ability to convey raw emotions. I will be thinking about this book for a very long time.

The juxtaposition of the funny and the extremely sad has been so skillfully managed by Tutton. In a modern world where mental health issues are so frighteningly relevant, Tutton seems to strike a very raw chord. If you were to read only one Persephone book this year, please make it this one.

The Bird in the Tree

‘The Bird in the Tree’ was the first Elizabeth Goudge novel I’ve ever read and certainly won’t be my last.

Published in 1940, The Bird in the Tree, is the first in a trio of novels – collectively called the Eliot Chronicles. The second and third books in the trilogy are ‘The Herb of Grace’ and ‘The Heart of the Family’.

For the Eliots of Damerosehay, the family homestead, Damerosehay, as such, is very much the central character in the story.

The Eliots are a large family and their story is as intricate and detailed as most familial tales. The matriarch, Lucilla, is still living- Mother to many children and grandmother to many more.

The children- her beloved son Maurice (father to David) and Roger have died in the Great War. All who remain are an unmarried daughter, Margaret , a son Hilary- a parson, Stephen and George who lives in India.

Damerosehay means a lot to Lucilla. She found it during a particularly troubled time in her life and sold the dwindling family fortunes to create a home – a sanctuary of sorts – that would protect her and her descendants for years to come.

Damerosehay is a large homestead situated along the Hampshire Coast. Surrounded by sprawling gardens, woods and marshes – the sea is not that far away and is a part of the charm of living at Damerosehay.

Grandson David, son of her favourite child Maurice, is the apple of Lucilla’s eye. They see eye to eye on many things- one of them being their shared passion for Damerosehay. Lucilla deems that David is the true future protector of the family fortunes – and she decides to bequeath Damerosehay to him upon her death. The other grandchildren, George’s children are still too young and uninitiated as to the great value of the estate.

However, David has a guilty secret of his own to disclose- a secret that threatens to break the Eliot family apart and the homestead that provides a roof over their heads.

Rather than fight a battle with David, Lucilla trusts that David’s love for Damerosehay will win through in the end and he will forsake his private passions for the greater good of the family.

In trying to persuade David to do this, Lucilla reveals secrets from her own past that are quite personal and that provide an example of her past sacrifices for her family.

Without giving too much of the plot away – the book is a gentle dialogue on the tousle men and women have of choosing between personal gratification or making choices that benefit family and future generations.

Whilst the story was a compelling one, what drew me to the book was Goudge’s unhurried storytelling, her talent for noticing the small things in life and her gift for writing beautifully about nature.

I’m quite eager to carry on with this family saga- and follow the future fortunes of the Eliots of Damerosehay.

Have you read this particular book and do you have a favourite Goudge novel?

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Revisiting the Chalet School Series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

D81B984F-EC0F-43E8-B382-4449D357E5EB.pngI had a such a lovely time revisiting the first in a series of books written by the school story writer Elinor M Brent-Dyer.

Best known for her prolific Chalet School series, the book that I am speaking of is ‘The School at the Chalet’.

 

The Legacy of the Chalet School Series

The Setting of the Chalet School

The setting is the glorious cold climes of the Tyrolean Alps, to be more exact a small lakeside village perched up in the mountains above Innsbruck. The time is the interwar years.

Madge Bettany finds herself left with a small legacy and the predicament of having to look after herself and her younger sister. Their brother Dick Bettany is posted in the Forestry Department in India but living there poses a problem for the delicate health of Jo Bettany, Madge and Dick’s young sister.

To Madge’s mind, opening a small English boarding school in the Alps is a solution to all their problems. It provides Madge a source of income and allows Joey to recover her health.

The trio travel to Briesau in the Tyrolean Alps and set up school in a chalet on the shores of an alpine lake. Initially the students are few in number, consisting of a handful of girls from England, France and a few locals. However, based on the glowing reports of the English education provided at the institution, the students swell in number.

 

The Chalet School Book Plots

Most of the Chalet School books are quite formulaic. There is usually an errant school child who tries to break the rules, causes trouble and strife and learning the fault in her ways – tries to conform.

If you can tolerate these slightly predictable plots the books have a lot more to offer. Brent-Dyer writes beautifully about the customs and cultures of Tyrol, the simple ways and endearing relationships that the Tyrolean people nurture with the British and international students at the school.

In the second book in the series, ‘Jo of the Chalet School’ a typical Tyrolean Christmas in Innsbruck is described with great charm.

 

A Portal to a Different Culture

In a way, the books provide a good example of travel writing. Ever eager to discover the world through books, the Chalet School series are the perfect portal in to discovering Austrian culture.

As the series progresses (58 or more books in total!) the school ages in real time and the effects of the Second World War are felt by the inmates of the school. Shifting to Guernsey and later to England and Wales and finally to Switzerland, we follow a protracted course in the school’s growth and development.

‘Chalet School in Exile’ is the book that describes the Chaletians fleeing from Austria to safer pastures during the ensuing Second World War.

 

The Central Characters of the Chalet School Series

Josephine Bettany is one of the most central characters in the Chalet School stories. She is a strong, independent character, blessed with great writing skills and a bad temper. She reminds me so much of another Jo- the Jo of Louisa May-Alcott. Are all great female heroines of a certain type?

Strong female characters have always been the way in the Chalet School stories. They are uplifting to read. Though the times change and school girls come and go through the hallowed precincts of the Chalet School, the example of female leadership and female education burns very bright.

 

I’ll be curious to see how my 6 year old daughter enjoys the Chalet School series. I hope to pass on the legacy of reading the Chalet School series on to her. I have twenty more books to collect in the Chalet School series. Filling the gaps in my collection of this substantial work of children’s literature has kept me busy and has been tremendously satisfying.

‘Young Anne’ By Dorothy Whipple

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‘Young Anne’ is the eighth and final Dorothy Whipple novel to be published by Persephone Books but in the grand chronology of things, is Whipple’s first and most autobiographical novel.

It is set in the years leading up to the First World War and follows the life and growth of Anne Pritchard, youngest child of a middle-class, Lancastrian family. The ‘Young’ in ‘Young Anne’ not only refers to the tender age of the female protagonist, it also helps to emphasize the extreme naïveté of Anne Pritchard, the mistakes that youth often make and the consequences of immature decision making on adult life.

Anne is the daughter of Henry and Olive Pritchard. They have two other children- Gerald, the eldest and the apple of his father’s eye and the quiet, forgettable middle child- Philip. Henry Pritchard is an unforgiving, strict disciplinarian and his wife Olive is infuriatingly detached from her family. The only person who shows little Anne any love is the long-time maid of the family, Emily.

Anne is a curious, vivacious child, always getting into scrapes much to the consternation of her father. On one occasion she invokes the wrath of her father to such a great extent that she is sent as a day-boarder to the local Catholic school, even though their values do not meet that of the Pritchard families. Anne, blunders her way through school. She does quite well in her studies and manages to leave school with a first in English.

Anne is close friends with Mildred Yates, the Yates being a rich family involved in the cotton industry. George Yates is Mildred’s poor cousin and has been educated relying on the aegis of his rich Uncle, Mildred’s father.

George and Anne’s paths intertwine in their childhood and as two youth, on the brink of adulthood, they meet again and fall in love. Without giving too much of the plot away, the book deals with the unusual relationship that Anne and George have, how their paths continually intersect and diverge from one another. Young love is full of misunderstandings and the pair certainly seem to have a star crossed fate.

Towards the end of the novel, Anne, no longer armed with the excuse of youth and naïveté has an important decision to make: to follow her heart or to listen to the voice of reason and convention for the first time in her life.

The scope of ‘Young Anne’ unlike many of Whipple’s other novels is smaller. It lacks the sexual tension of ‘Someone at a Distance’ or the violence of ‘They Were Sisters’ or even the large country house setting of ‘The Priory’. What it does manage to convey is the immaturity of youth, especially of those growing up in a constrained, repressed society. It also manages to convey the beauty and purity of first love.

Anne and George’s early romance is sweet, heady and intoxicating. The writing is beautiful. Whipple creates dreamy, rural scenes and these chapters are some of my most favourite in the book.

Whipple is brilliant at dispelling the magic of life, especially the feeling of security and complacency that comes with a protected childhood, with a single unnerving incident. In ways she reminds one of Katherine Mansfield.

 

Life, like a cross nurse, had slapped her hands away from every thing she had held, and she was like a child sitting on the floor, blank, bewildered, uncomprehending.

 

Such events, frequently occur in Anne’s life and she is ill-equipped to tackle them. ‘Young Anne’ is a memorable coming of age novel. The characters are flawed, the situations created in the novel are perverse, and like all of Whipple’s most excellent creations, we are on the edge of our seats to find out what happens next.

 

I received a review copy of Dorothy Whipple’s ‘Young Anne’ from Persephone Books but as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Photogenic Persephone Books

How could I resist participating in the Persephone Books related fun that is going on over at Jesse’s blog – Dwell in Possibility Blog, where she is hosting an 11 day long Persephone readathon.

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Persephone Books are beautiful, both inside and out. They are perhaps my favourite books to collect and I never tire of photographing them for my Instagram account.

Here are some photos dedicated to the prompt – ‘photogenic Persephones’.

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My Thoughts on Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles Series

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It took me two years, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally finished the set of six novels that collectively form the Barchester Chronicles series.

The genre of novels I enjoy, mostly modern classics written by women, tending to focus on matters of home and hearth and human psychology, frequently referred back to this seminal work by Trollope. So, for this reason I was eager to discover his writing. A group of fellow Trollope enthusiasts who decided to readalong with me, enabled me to finally find out what all the fuss was about.

 

The Chronology of the Barchester Novels

The six books in the series, in chronological order consist of The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington and lastly, The Last Chronicle of Barset.

 

Favourite Books in the Barchester Chronicles Series

It’s hard to pick favourites, but if I was compelled to, I would choose The Warden for being memorable and the Last Chronicle of Barset due to its poignant, soul-searching subject.

 

The Subject Matter of the Series

Though the focus of each individual novel differs, on the whole, the series addresses problems within the ecclesiastical system of Victorian England. Trollope pinpoints various gaping defects in church matters in the obvious hope for reform. The clergy are depicted as flawed individuals, sometimes greedy for power, sometimes prone to  earthly pleasures like other mortals. In this sense, the world that Trollope paints is incredibly real and believable.

Trollope’s female characters are no mealy-mouthed individuals. They have plenty of spunk, force of character and show that they can and will marry for love alone. For this reason the names of Lily Dale, Mrs Proudie and Eleanor Bold are memorably penned in the annals of Victorian literature.

In short, without revealing too much of the plot, here is what each individual novel focuses on:

The Warden

‘The Warden’ takes place in a fictional cathedral town in Victorian England-Barchester. It highlights the plight of an elderly man, a church employee. As he is suddenly thrust into the middle of a much publicized national scandal surrounding his (suspected) inflated salary, thereby cheating several bedesman, under his direct care, out of the stipulated income in an old will. It is a story involving several Victorian institutions: the government, the press, the church, the law, and several tiers of society. But at the heart of the matter, it is the story of a man’s desire to quell his conscience.

Barchester Towers

‘Barchester Towers’ takes us back to the hallowed precincts of Barchester, a few years after where ‘The Warden’ left off. The main plot centres around three key events- the position of Warden at Hiram’s Hospital is still unoccupied, the Bishop of Barchester is on his deathbed and John Bold has left for his heavenly abode.

There is a struggle for ecclesiastical power which highlights the power hunger greediness of the clergy.

Another plot line is that of the love interests of newly widowed Eleanor Bold- who unfortunately falls prey to several bachelors, some of who are interested in acquiring Eleanor’s substantial private income.

Doctor Thorne

Doctor Thorne is one of the most romantic books in the series and deals with the story of Frank Gresham and Mary Thorne. Frank Gresham is the son of a bankrupt landowner, so it is highly derrière by his family that he marry for money to revive the family’s fortunes. However, he falls in love with a lovely girl, Mary Thorne, said to be illegitimate and certainly with no claims to fortune. The story has an excellent twist and is highly readable.

Framley Parsonage

This, the fourth book in the series deals with the ambitions of a young clergyman, Mark Robarts, who quite naively strives to climb the social ladder and lands himself in woeful monetary trouble due to the dubious company he keeps.

The Small House at Allington

The main issue that the novel deals with is the question of whether or not a person should marry solely for the purpose of money. The two sisters in the novel have two very distinct personas. There is Lily Dale- a Victorian version of Elizabeth Bennet/Marianne Dashwood (bubbly and impetuous) and we have the more cautious figure of her sister Bell. Each of the sisters is part of a unique love triangle. The novel largely deals with the love interests of each sister.

Virginia Woolf describes ‘The Small House at Allington’ as perhaps ‘the most perfect of English novels’ alongside Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

The Last Chronicle of Barset

The last book in the Barchester Chronicles and Trollope’s most soul-searching, heart-rending book about a man’s effort to preserve his integrity in the face of extreme adversity.

 

Who Should Read This Series?

Readers Who Love a Good Love Story

Trollope is surprisingly eloquent when he expresses the feelings of love between men and women. Nearly each novel has a central love theme and Trollope waxes quite lyrically during the innumerable love scenes.

Readers Who Enjoy Long Detailed Novels

The Victorians loved their long novels, many of which were published in serial format in many reputed newspapers and journals of the time. Trollope is no exception to the rule. The Warden is the only slim volume in the pack.

Readers Who Love Cozy, Comforting Books

People might be taken aback by the length and breadth of Trollope’s bibliography, but fear not! Trollope’s writing is incredibly comforting and cosy. Once you get used to the Victorian language, the writing is very easy to follow,

Readers Who Love Learning About Details of Victorian Living

How Victorians dressed, what they ate, their education and most importantly, how they managed their money, are all subjects of interest in these novels.

 

Favourite Quotes

What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?…Was ever anything so civil?” – The Warden

 

“Don’t let love interfere with your appetite. It never does with mine.”- Barchester Towers

 

“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.”- Barchester Towers

 

“Rest and quiet are the comforts of those who have been content to remain in obscurity.”- Doctor Thorne

“And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.”- Small House at Allington

Further Reading

If you enjoyed Trollope’s ‘Barchester Chronicles’, the good news is that he wrote lots, lots more novels- over and above 50 novels! Other Victorian writers who come to mind who remind me of Trollope are Mrs Gaskell and Dickens- although Trollope’s characters ate more middle-class than Dickens’ poor people. The novelist who perhaps was the most influenced by Trollope was George Eliot.

Later Angela Thirkell set her series of loosely linked novels in the fictitious county of Barsetshire. Several Trollopian characters reappear in different avatars in her books, Great fun!

 

Trollope was one of the most prolific of Victorian writers. Her wrote exactingly and untiringly about the quotidian details of provincial life. And he sought to highlight some glaring flaws in ecclesiastical order. He deserves to be read more widely by modern audiences.

Top 10 Books of 2017

 

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Looking back on 2017, I see a wonderful list of books and honestly I can’t say that I regret reading a single one of them. In this particularly good year of reading (52 books in the year) a few stood out to me.

 

These are the ten books that left the most indelible impression on me in 2017:

1. Mariana by Monica Dickens

A coming of age novel dealing with a young girl’s quest to find the perfect love. Though the body of the novel is well written and engaging, it is the beginning and ending of the novel that elevate the quality of the story in my opinion, making it truly memorable. There are echoes of Tennyson’s poem ‘Mariana’ in this book.

2. Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

What a delight of a novel. The characters are excellent, the plot immaculately constructed and the writing is very funny.

A young woman, Miss Barbara Buncle opts to become a novel writer when her annual dividends are not as lucrative as usual. As the young lady has no imagination whatsoever, she writes completely from experience, portraying the people and incidents occurring in her rural corner of England. When the village people read the book and discover themselves (in an unflattering light) in the pages of the story, they determinedly set out to uncover the identity of the perpetrator of the village crime.

3. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

This might be my new favourite du Maurier novel alongside Rebecca. It kept our book club continually guessing (we are still unsure to this day). Apart from the suspenseful aspect of the novel, I enjoyed the Cornish setting and the gothic feel of the story.

4. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

This was such a quiet, wistful novel, spanning the events of one particular day. It deals with the struggles of the post-WW2 upper-middle class, coming to terms with the loss of their glorious past and changing domestic situations.

5. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

A suspenseful, fast-paced Victorian novel and a pre-decessor of the modern day thriller, although in my opinion, much better written than most of the modern-day bestsellers.

6. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Hard to describe Mrs Dalloway. Perhaps to me- it strikes as a poem of a novel talking about deep-seated issues – some of them related to mental health. The descriptions of  London in the novel are glorious.

7. Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

Set in Toronto during World War 2, Earth and High Heaven deals with the then frowned upon love affair between a Canadian English woman and a Canadian Jewish man. The book is an elaborate social commentary on racial prejudice. It shows how people born into a fixed social pattern can overcome centuries of difference, in an overwhelming desire to embrace the most unifying emotion of all- love.

8. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

The last book in the Barsetshire Chronicles and Trollope’s most soul searching, heart-rending book about a man’s quest to preserve his integrity in the face of extreme adversity.

9. My Grandmothers and I by Diana Holman-Hunt

A memoir written by the grand daughter of the eminent pre-raphaelite painter William Holman-Hunt. It tells of her unusual upbringing, alternating in the homes of her paternal and maternal grandmothers. It is a wonderful chance to glimpse into the eccentric lifestyle of Holman-Hunt. It’s also a rather poignant memoir written in a cheerful way, from the viewpoint of a young girl, who was essentially an orphan and who never knew the comfort of a stable home.

10. Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell

The subject of this Victorian novel had quite a modern tone. It dealt with illegitimacy and the strictures of Victorian society and religion. However, what I appreciated the most about this novel was the fact that the pain and suffering, the vulnerability of a young orphan girl was highlighted, thus painting her plight in a very sympathetic way.

Please leave me a comment sharing your favourite book of the year.

Here’s to many more books in 2018.