A Tale of Two Families by Dodie Smith

 

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  • Title: A Tale of Two Families
  • Author: Dodie Smith
  • Published: 1970
  • Location of the story: rural England

‘A Tale of Two Families’ by Dodie Smith is the story of the relationship between two families: those of May and June, two sisters, who marry two brothers, George and Robert. When May and George decide to relocate to the countryside for a few years, on a landed estate with a small cottage, it seems the most natural thing for June and Robert to leave their father’s house and set up home in the cottage on May and George’s leased estate. Robert, a skilled but lesser known writer plans on writing his magnum opus in the idyllic surrounds of the cottage. June is happy to be carefree and close to her sister. Robert and George’s father, Baggy, comes to stay with George’s family. May and June’s delightful mother, Fran, decides to stay with her two daughters for a while. The children in the family come upto the property on weekends, from London or the boarding schools they go to and a good time is had by all in the family. Then the close proximity leads to unforeseen events…

The reason for the move is in one way precipitated by May’s need to distance herself from George’s philandering ways in London. George, is a successful businessman in London. He commutes to his workplace by the train. The two sets of adults in the family along with Baggy, settle into a routine. George leaves early in the morning. May, ever the dutiful wife, gives him an early breakfast and he pops off to work on the train. May is busy with various household activities during the day. Robert, potters about the garden and keeps planning his novel in his attic study in the cottage. June is blissfully happy to be in the countryside, so near her sister and George. Quite disturbingly, we learn of June’s secret infatuation for George, a fact that she conceals quite well. George, returns home from work every evening laden with gifts for household members. The couples frequently dine together or George visits the cottage to watch television together in the evenings.

Baggy, the boys’ father feels a little isolated in his small wing of the house. Despite the fine food and company, he misses his home in London, which he had shared with Robert and June. Though May, spoils everyone with her beautifully cooked meals, she lacks the warmth that June had. Baggy also misses his old routine, nightly soaks in his bathtub with his granddaughter’s bath toys! This loneliness is somewhat abated when Fran, the girl’s mother comes to visit. Though Fran Graham is in her seventies she retains her youthfulness, both in spirit and in appearance. When she arrives at the country house by  a taxi, she is mistaken for a young girl by her grandchildren and Baggy.

‘Hello, here’s a taxi. Some girl appears to be arriving.’

Dickon, joining him said, ‘That’s no girl. That’s my grandmother.’

‘Fran does have a girlish figure,’said Prue, then raced after Dickon who was already on his way to the front door.

The family group is complete and a period of great contentment sets in. The lilac bushes on the estate are in full bloom. Nightingales can be heard in the dead of the night.

‘Heavens, how lucky we are,’ said June. ‘Lilac and a nightingale! And there’s a marvelous laburnum coming out near the cottage- and a may tree.’

‘”The lilac, the laburnum and the may”,’ said Robert.’I’m sure that’s a quotation…

They were back at the cottage now. Robert’s torch shone on a drift of cow parsley, left on the edge of the lawn.

‘”Where the cow parsley skirts the hawthorn hedge”,’said Fran.’And I do know who wrote that: Rossetti, the most loved poet of my girlhood.’

This idyllic period is disrupted when Fran’s sister, Aunt Mildred, or ‘Mildew’ as she is jokingly referred to, comes to stay. Aunt Mildred, creates a toxic environment within the household, owing to her childish ways and her overactive imagination which leads to events that have irrevocable consequences.

‘A Tale of Two Families’ arrested my attention till the last page. It had sublime, romantic moments filled with poetry and nature but it didn’t relapse into a completely cozy novel due to the great sexual tension, Dodie Smith developed in the novel.

It is a book I enjoyed reading and will, no doubt, re-read in the future. It is, to echo Dickens, a story about two families, in the best of times and worst of times.

Two poetry references in the book prompted the #poetrymatchart tag on Instagram. The first reference is to a poem by Charles Mackay, the second a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

I am inserting the posts below.

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"I have lived and I have loved; 
I have waked and I have slept; 
I have sung and I have danced; 
I have smiled and I have wept; 
I have won and wasted treasure; 
I have had my fill of pleasure; 
And all these things were weariness, 
And some of them were dreariness;– And all these things, but two things, 
Were emptiness and pain: 
And Love–it was the best of them; 
And Sleep–worth all the rest of them, 
Worth everything but Love to my spirit and my brain. 
But still my friend, O Slumber, 
Till my days complete their number, 
For Love shall never, never return to me again!" by Charles Mackay Painting – The Long Sleep by Briton Riviere. Last night, while reading Dodie Smith's 'A Tale of Two Families' I came across a reference to this wonderful poem by Charles Mackay. Isn't it lovely?Another tag is being started- #poetrymatchart. I am tagging a few people whom I think might like to do or appreciate this tag. A very happy Monday to all!

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"Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,– The finger-points look through like rosy blooms: Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms 'Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass. All round our nest, far as the eye can pass, Are golden kingcup-fields with silver edge Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge. 'Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass. Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:– So this wing'd hour is dropt to us from above. Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower, This close-companioned inarticulate hour When twofold silence was the song of love." Silent Noon by Dante Gabriel Rossetti Painting by Alfred Sisley Meadow , 1875. #poetrymatchart I came across the reference to this nice poem in a book recently – A Tale of Two Families -by Dodie Smith. How lovely is the line 'Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorne-hedge' ? Wish everyone a happy Thursday!

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Introducing #bookmatchartwork – the pairing of a unifying theme in literature and art

Today I am posting about two things I am very passionate about- books and paintings. So by incorporating a hashtag #bookmatchartwork I will be trying to pair two otherwise unrelated creative bodies of work. This Instagram post befriends Peter Mayle with Van Gogh- in the beautiful location of sunny Provence.

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Do you hear the word 'Provence' and immediately think of purple lavender fields, succulent grapes bursting off their vines, weekend summer markets and long, balmy evenings, languorously eating cheese and sipping red wine? There is no need to exert the imagination when you have Peter Mayle's 'A Year in Provence' at hand. Through his lively, year long diary, we glimpse a vision of Provençal beauty that exceeds our imaginative expectations. (This book made it to my top 10 books list of 2015 on my blog). To add to that, we have the beauty of two of Van Gogh's most famous paintings: The Starry Night and Wheat Field with Cypresses. Both were painted during Van Gogh's stay at the asylum in Saint- Rémy-de-Provence. A key feature common to these paintings are the diagonal line created by the low rolling hills of the distant Alpilles mountains. Don't you love it when a book or a piece of art takes you to a faraway place? I'm creating a tag called #bookmatchartwork . If you would like to pair a book that you think thematically or visually matches a work of art please use it. I am tagging a few friends who I think might be interested in doing this tag. If you are interested in art and books I tag you!

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Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

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‘Our Spoons Came from Woolworths’ is the story of twenty-one year old Sophia, during the time when she was married to Charles Fairclough. The story is in its entirety, a first person narrative and tells of the harrowing poverty, the ups and downs of the young couple, in a time during which Charles refuses to take any financial responsibility for his household, using his need to practice his art as an excuse to shirk his duties.

The story commences when Sophia and Charles, two art students, meet on a train, are immediately drawn to one another and decide to marry even in the face of severe opposition from Charles’s family, who believe that domestic responsibilities and marriage will hamper Charles’s artistic progress. Charles’s mother Eva, practically falls upon Sophia and accuses her of trapping her son.

Eva said I was not capable of love, only lust, and it was all a trap to catch Charles.

They are married in less than ideal conditions, in a church ceremony, presided over by an impatient priest, a handful of less then enthusiastic friends and relatives and the bride wearing an ugly green wrap-over skirt that had a tendency to unwrap at the most inopportune moments.

They arrange to live in a small flat on Haverstock Hill in London. With the ten pounds that a spiritualist friend gives them for a wedding gift they buy  furniture and household essentials.

We had a proper tea-set from Waring and Gillow, and a lot of blue plates from Woolworths; our cooking things came from there, too. I had hoped they would give us a set of real silver teaspoons when we bought the wedding-ring but the jeweler we went to wouldn’t so our spoons came from Woolworths, too.

Sophia earns two pounds a week with which she pays the rent, food and other household expenses. Charles stays at home painting. He sometimes tries to get work at commercial studios but nothing turns up in the face of the Great Depression. He is not troubled by the fact that he does not in any way contribute to the family. Sophia states:

Charles was quite happy just painting away, and as long as I earned two pounds a week and there were a few cheques in the drawer he hadn’t a care in the world.

This happiness is broken when Sophia quite unexpectedly discovers that she is expecting a child. At first she thinks her sickness is a result of eating too many strawberries but a visit to the doctors dispels that idea.

There is a quite memorable passage describing Sophia’s vague ideas regarding birth control:

I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said ‘I won’t have any babies’ very hard, they most likely wouldn’t come. I thought that was what was meant by birth-control, but by this time I knew that idea was quite wrong.

Sophia although eager to be a mother is weighed down with the knowledge that Charles is terribly against being a father because he does believes they will not fit in with the kind of life he want to lead.

As time goes on, the stash of wedding cheques kept in a drawer whittle down and the couple find themselves living from hand to mouth, always guessing where the next few pounds will come from, to pay of their substantial debts. The descriptions of the poverty that Comyns describes are at times quite harrowing. They are told in quite a light manner though so that the reader does not feel excessively weighed down.

Sophia’s loss of job before having the baby signals the downward spiral that the couple find it hard to recover from.

I found the book to be quite compelling reading. The descriptions of Sophia’s child delivery in the hospital were at times quite funny but also shocking. The book quite brilliantly reflects the period that it describes, the hard circumstances of the Depression and the plight of women.

The book is very much a story about women, for women. Even in the depths of helplessness and despair for Sophia we are witness to her great strength and determination.

‘Our Spoons came from Woolworths’ is an exceptional domestic drama and Comyns displays consummate skill as a voluble spokesperson for the downtrodden women of that age.

December 2015, Book Wrap Up

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Here is a round up of book related favourites for the month of December, 2015. For a glimpse into November, 2015’s Bookish Favourites please see here.

1. Books

 I  read a total of five books in December.

1) The Sweet Dove Died (4/5*) by Barbara Pym.

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#currentlyreading 'The Sweet Love Died' by the inimitable Barbara Pym. (By the way, could we have a vote for the ugliest book cover ever?!😀) ——————————————– 'How do you think of me, then?' Leonora asked. 'Just living in your perfect house, leading a gracious and elegant life,' said Meg. 'It's hard to explain,' she said, seeing a shadow of displeasure cross Leonora's face. 'You make me sound hardly human, like a kind of fossil,' Leonora protested. ———————————- Leonora Eyre, a middle-aged woman of independent means, finds herself confronted with the unusual predicament of becoming romantically entangled with a uncle and nephew pair. Both the uncle and nephew vie for her attention and when she chooses to bestow her affection on the young nephew, she is confronted with the unhappy truth that she may not be in a position to have a future with him.

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2) The Thirty Nine Steps (4.5/5*) by John Buchan.

3) Emma- A Modern Retelling (3.5/5*) by Alexander McCall Smith.

4) Mystery in White (4/5*) by J. Jefferson Farjeon .

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The gloaming hour is upon us. Time to light up those golden candles, forsake the 'to do list', sip the warming honey green tea and slip into that delicious mystery novel that is set on the eve of Christmas. Several passengers are stuck on a train that gets trapped in the snow on Christmas Eve. Some passengers, rather foolishly, decide to venture out into the blizzard enveloping the immediate countryside. They stumble upon an empty country house and decide to seek shelter there. The fire is lit, the tea table set and the kettle is on the boil. But the owner of the house is nowhere to be seen. Trapped in the house due to the deep, all encompassing snow, there is an eerie sense of impending doom surrounding the house and it's inhabitants. What will happen next? ——————————————– 'Mystery in White' by J Jefferson Farjeon is a terrific, atmospheric read. Reading this as a buddy read with my dear friend @louised_1987 and so far, I think we both agree it is a terrific book!

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5) Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp.

2. Blogposts

 I published nine blogposts excluding this round-up post this month. Two were reviews of  children’s books: The Story of Babar and Miss Rumphius. The rest included reviews of the books-  Family Roundabout and Illyrian Spring. I also published bookish list posts: 12 New Authors I Would Like to Read in 2016Top 10 books of 201512 Classics I Want to Read in 20165 Endearing Christmastime Scenes from the Best Children’s Books and 2015: A Diary of Reading in 30 Instagram Pictures.

I wrote a blogpost for Mustlovefestivals.com interviewing the Latvian Tourism Board regarding the best upcoming Latvian Festivals in 2016. It was lovely chatting to Lelde Benke and learning about the Staro Riga Festival of Lights and the Cesis Town Fair.

3. Movies

The whole family sat down to watch ‘Home Alone‘ and the recent Disney adaptation of ‘Cinderella‘ during Christmas time. We adults watched ‘Brief Encounter‘ directed by David Lean. I highly recommend this movie, adapted from a minor play by Noel Coward. After reading Buchan’s ‘Thirty-nine Steps‘ we also watched the Hitchcock film by the same name. The story has been slightly modified for the big screen but both the book and film are exceptional.

4. Audiobooks

 I listened to the excellent BBC dramatization of Dodie Smith’s ‘Dear Octopus’ on BBC radio this month. I also listened to the BBC dramatization of a ‘Brief Encounter‘.

5. Miscellaneous

I purchased a number of Noel Coward plays on audible this month.

I did a few paintings for my art journal on Instagram.  It is my favourite social media platform!

Wish you all a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!

Have you been reading/listening or watching anything nice this month?

2015: A Diary of Reading in 30 Instagram Pictures

I’ve really enjoyed being part of the bookish Instagram community or ‘Bookstagram’ as its popularly called in 2015. Here is a peek at my year in Instagram pictures; set in chronological order.

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Have you read 84 Charing Cross Road? This is an account of the correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer in New York and Frank Doel, an employee of a used antiquarian bookstore in London. The correspondence is spread over the years 1949 to 1969, documenting the lively dialogue between two people, with nothing in common but a knowledge and love of good books. Set in the years after World War II, the reader is treated to an insight of the reality of what it was like to live in the aftermath of the war. The book is funny and poignant and shows how people separated by great distance and circumstances can nonetheless, touch each others lives and create the most beautiful of relationships. Full Review in Blogpost. Link in profile.

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I reviewed Inspector French's Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Crofts as part of @simondavidthomas 's #the1924club . In the second half of October everyone is asked to review books published in 1924. The link to the review is in my profile. ——————————————– In 'Inspector French's Greatest Case' we are introduced to a case of murder that occurs at the offices of Duke and Peabody, a diamond merchant located at Hatton Garden in London. On a cold night in the middle of November, the body of an employee, by the name of Mr. Charles Gething is discovered prostrate on the floor in the inner office of Mr. Duke. Mr. Duke's large Milner safe has been ransacked with the loss of thirty-three thousand pounds worth of diamonds and a thousand pounds in bank notes. Mr. Gething has undoubtedly been murdered as evidenced from the ugly wound made to the back of the skull by a blunt instrument. The theft of the diamonds and money previously secured in the safe are the motive behind the murder. To investigate the case, Inspector French of the Criminal Investigation Department of New Scotland Yard is called in.

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Martha in Paris is the funny, quirky story of the relationship between an artistic English girl and a lonely Englishman in Paris. ———————————- Martha in Paris recounts Martha's student years in Paris. Whilst in Paris, Martha meets an Englishman by the name of Eric Taylor. Eric invites her to dinner to meet his mother on Friday night and Martha accepts when she hears of the Taylors' recent bathroom renovations and their abundance of hot water. The weekly Friday visits and baths become a ritual and Martha and Eric find themselves in a situation which is too close for Martha's comfort. How Martha deals with the resultant circumstances of her relationship with Eric forms the theme of the remainder of this novel. Link to the full review in my profile. Happy Tuesday friends!

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'Cheerful Weather for the Wedding' by Julia Strachey is the story of a day in the life of the Thatcham family, in their English country house. It is, however, no ordinary day in their lives. The eldest daughter of the family, Dolly, is to be married that morning. The house is inundated with quirky guests who say and do the most unusual things. A ex-beau, Joseph, is plucking up the courage to speak to Dolly. The bride is upstairs, liberally drinking from a tall bottle of Jamaica Rum while adjusting her toilette. As the time for leaving the house for the wedding ceremony approaches, we wonder what else might occur on this unusual wedding day. Will Dolly make it to her wedding in one piece? Will Joseph be able to unburden his heart to Dolly? Full review in the link in profile. This was one of my favourite books from this year. Highly recommend it!

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"Oh, Charles, must we go now?" Ma said. The weather was so cold and the snug house was so comfortable. "If we are going this year, we must go now," said Pa. "We can't get across the Mississippi after the ice breaks." ———————————- Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Little House on the Prairie'. I am simply amazed at the spirit of intrepid exploration as a man, his wife and family make it across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas in nothing but a horse drawn cart filled with their belongings. They cross frozen lakes, almost drown in a water-logged creek, wash their clothes in the river and lay them out on the sweet smelling prairie grass to dry. Laura's Pa builds their log cabin in Kansas with his own hands. I cannot but admire the self-reliance and adventurous nature of this family. Have you read the book?

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Watching Charlotte, Lucy was sad. She had loved Geoffrey with all her heart. Too much. "You shouldn't love as much as that," thought Lucy. It's a bit abject. You should keep something of yourself." ——————————————– 'They Were Sisters' by Dorothy Whipple is the story of three sisters who marry three very different men. Lucy, the eldest is happily married to William. Charlotte, is besotted with Geoffrey who is a cruel, dominating husband and Vera, the beautiful youngest sister marries caring, wealthy Brian, whom she marries for security. The story deals with the fact that choosing a life partner can have far-reaching consequences, and that this decision can dictate to a large extent a person’s individual happiness and the happiness of their families. Whipple delivers a masterful plot and powerful cast of characters. She creates extraordinary drama and turbulence within the boundaries of everyday domestic occurrences. Full review on the blog. Link in profile. Happy Friday friends!

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#currentlyreading 'The Sweet Love Died' by the inimitable Barbara Pym. (By the way, could we have a vote for the ugliest book cover ever?!😀) ——————————————– 'How do you think of me, then?' Leonora asked. 'Just living in your perfect house, leading a gracious and elegant life,' said Meg. 'It's hard to explain,' she said, seeing a shadow of displeasure cross Leonora's face. 'You make me sound hardly human, like a kind of fossil,' Leonora protested. ———————————- Leonora Eyre, a middle-aged woman of independent means, finds herself confronted with the unusual predicament of becoming romantically entangled with a uncle and nephew pair. Both the uncle and nephew vie for her attention and when she chooses to bestow her affection on the young nephew, she is confronted with the unhappy truth that she may not be in a position to have a future with him.

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Review of 'Family Roundabout' by Richmal Crompton on the blog today. Wish everyone a very happy Friday! ——————————————– This Persephone book looks at the complex relationship between two neighbouring families, the Fowlers and the Willoughbys, whose outlooks on life, are on one hand in opposition to one another, but on the other hand, find their paths unavoidably intertwined. Both the matriarch’s of the families, keep a close eye on the fates of their beloved families, but employ different styles in guiding them. Mrs Willoughby, has control of the family fortune, and dictates the actions of her family members by way of controlling the money she endows them. Benevolent Mrs Fowler, watches silently, as her children fall in and out of their individual problems. Most of her children appeal for her help when they require it. But despite, however much the mothers’ try to resolve their children’s problems, new troubles, recur in cyclical events, almost like a roundabout. To read more click on the link in the profile ☝🏼️

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The gloaming hour is upon us. Time to light up those golden candles, forsake the 'to do list', sip the warming honey green tea and slip into that delicious mystery novel that is set on the eve of Christmas. Several passengers are stuck on a train that gets trapped in the snow on Christmas Eve. Some passengers, rather foolishly, decide to venture out into the blizzard enveloping the immediate countryside. They stumble upon an empty country house and decide to seek shelter there. The fire is lit, the tea table set and the kettle is on the boil. But the owner of the house is nowhere to be seen. Trapped in the house due to the deep, all encompassing snow, there is an eerie sense of impending doom surrounding the house and it's inhabitants. What will happen next? ——————————————– 'Mystery in White' by J Jefferson Farjeon is a terrific, atmospheric read. Reading this as a buddy read with my dear friend @louised_1987 and so far, I think we both agree it is a terrific book!

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"Good heavens!" said Grace;and dropping down upon a rock, she stared incredulously about her. The white rocks, the flowers, their blade like silvered leaves, all glowed in the strong sunshine with an effect that was quite literally dazzling. Nicholas sat down beside her…Grace was aware of the strong current of feeling set flowing within him at the sight. And this time, with a curious precision and certainty, she was aware of something more-how her own presence increased and heightened his delight, his response. Unspoken and unexpressed, this awareness grew and deepened, and with it her own pleasure in the sight. And for a short space of time, forgetting everything else, she gave herself up to this wordless sympathy, this peculiar accord between them, which made of the shared moment something more delicate and wonderful than it could have been for either alone. ———————————- 'Illyrian Spring' by Ann Bridge is a part travelogue, part love story set in 1930's Croatia, along the picturesque Dalmatian Coast. World-renowned artist, thirty-eight year old Lady Kilmichael, the wife of an eminent economist and mother to three grown-up children, leaves her family and all that she holds dear and escapes to Venice and Croatia's remote Dalmatian Coast. She fears for her marriage, suspecting her husband of embarking on a possible affair and also is saddened by the strained relationship she has with her daughter. In Venice she meets a disillusioned young man, Nicholas, a man on the verge of being coerced into an architectural career by his parents but desperately yearning to paint. By chance, Grace and Nicholas find themselves on the same cruise to the Dalmatian Coast. Grace is persuaded to guide and train Nicholas in his artistic endeavours and together they spend several idyllic weeks together painting and enjoying each other's company. However, when young Nicholas falls in love with Grace, she finds she must choose between following her better judgement or her heart. Full review of this beautiful travelogue on the blog. Link in profile. Happy Friday friends!

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Are you an Instagrammer? The ‘Bookstagram’ community is such a friendly, wonderful community to be part of: there are tags you can participate in, photo challenges, ‘shelfies’ and monthly reading round-ups to follow. You can be sure that your ‘to be read’ list will get higher and higher and higher…

Lastly, here is a snapshot of my nine most popular Instagram pictures of 2015.

200th Anniversary of Austen’s Emma

Just a quick little post. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and received lots of bookish favours. A gift from my husband included the 200th anniversary edition of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, which I am excited to re-read as part of my classics challenge next year. I will see you again in a few days with what will most likely be the last post of this year.

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Emma was first published in December of 1815. This month marks its 200th anniversary. On Christmas Eve, my husband took me to our local bookshop to choose a book and I plumped for this anniversary edition. Besides having a gorgeous cover, it has beautiful deckled edge pages, contextual essays, maps of Austen's England, tips for reading the book, along with photographs of the first edition. Emma is not my most endearing Austen heroine; she annoys me with her meddling ways. But so many people have been discussing Emma recently and it has shed new light on the way I view the novel. After twenty five years I will read it more objectively and hope it will improve upon renewed acquaintance. This book marks the first book in my classics challenge for next year.

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5 Endearing Christmastime Scenes from the Best Children’s Books

I love to give and receive the gift of books at Christmastime. One particular Christmas, my mother gave me four beautiful new Puffin Classics books. They included the titles ‘Little Women’, ‘What Katy Did’, ‘The Children of the New Forest’ and ‘The Water Babies’. I will always associate the memory of Christmas with these books. Here are some endearing Christmastime scenes, taken from five of my favourite childhood books.

Little Women

 

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“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

Can anyone forget the first New England Christmas that the March girls spend  during the American Civil War? They are gathered around the fire, feeling very sorry for themselves, because their mother has said that there will be no gift giving this particular Christmas, when so many people are facing extreme hardship. Each of the sisters is grievously planning what they will do with their own personal funds. Amy means to buy pencils for herself, Beth some sheet music, Jo a new book and Meg yearns for pretty little trifles. Then they observe their beloved Marmee’s worn slippers and it has a sobering effect on them. They resolve to sacrifice their own happiness to buy something for their mother.


Anne of Green Gables

Do you the remember the Christmas when Matthew insists on puffed sleeves for Anne? One grey December evening Matthew notices a bevy of small girls practicing  for a play in Green Gable’s sitting room. As he observes them from a distance he notices that Anne looks different from her friends. After a while he realizes that it is due to the fact that Marilla dresses Anne in very plain, unattractive clothing. Matthew decides that a Christmas present is a good excuse to give Anne a dress with puffed sleeves.

He arrives at the store, but he is so embarrassed to enquire about the dress that he walks away with several garden rakes and many pounds of coarse brown sugar instead! In the end, Mrs Lynde helps him, by agreeing to make a dress for Anne and the following scene ensues on Christmas morning at Green Gables.

Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables. “Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn’t it a lovely Christmas? I’m so glad it’s white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn’t seem real, does it? I don’t like green Christmases. They’re not green—they’re just nasty faded browns and grays. What makes people call them green? Why—why—Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!” Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air. Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was—a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves—they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon. “That’s a Christmas present for you, Anne,” said Matthew shyly. “Why—why—Anne, don’t you like it? Well now—well now.” For Anne’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears.

“Like it! Oh, Matthew!” Anne laid the dress over a chair and clasped her hands. “Matthew, it’s perfectly exquisite. Oh, I can never thank you enough. Look at those sleeves! Oh, it seems to me this must be a happy dream.”

 

 

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What Katy Did at School

The two sisters, Katy and Clover Carr, whom we first met in the book, ‘What Katy Did’, have been sent off to boarding school in the book ‘What Katy Did at School’. On Christmas Day, the entire school is snowed in. Only Katy and Clover’s Christmas box magically arrives, laden with Christmas goodies from home. It is a delightful box, holding such wonderful treasures. When I was little, I read and re-read the contents of the box several times. Here is an excerpt that describes part of the contents of the box.

The top of the box was mostly taken up with four square paper boxes, round which parcels of all shapes and sized were wedged and fitted. The whole was a miracle of packing. It had taken Miss Finch three mornings, with assistance from old Mary, and much advice from Elsie, to do it so beautifully. Each box held a different kind of cake. One was of jumbles, another of ginger-snaps, a third of crullers, and the fourth contained a big square loaf of frosted plum-cake, with a circle of sugar almonds set in the frosting. How the trio exclaimed at this!”I never imagined any thing so nice,” declared Rose, with her mouth full of jumble. “As for those snaps, they’re simply perfect. What can be in all those fascinating bundles? Do hurry and open one, Katy.” Dear little Elsie! The first two bundles opened were hers, a white hood for Katy, and a blue one for Clover, both of her own knitting, and so nicely done. The girls were enchanted. “How she has improved!” said Katy. “She knits better than either of us, Clover.”

…Never was such a wonderful box. It appeared to have no bottom whatever. Under the presents were parcels of figs,prunes, almonds, raisins, candy; under those, apples and pears. There seemed no end to the surprises.

 

 

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The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Pevensie children, Peter, Susan and Lucy are on their journey across the Narnian countryside in search of Aslan, after they discover their brother Edmund has betrayed them to the White Witch. They are accompanied by Mr and Mrs Beaver. Narnia is a country, which under the magic of the White Witch is assailed by a constant Winter, but never Christmas. Slowly, the Witch’s magic is broken because Aslan is on the move. Quite unexpectedly, the children come face to face with Father Christmas who bestows them with important gifts. It is moment of great joy and hope for change, that might shape the future of the country.

“Didn’t I tell you,” answered Mr. Beaver, “that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!”
And then they were all at the top and did see.
It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world—the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn. “I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”

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Little House on the Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder provides the best descriptions of Christmas. These are not the Christmases of extravagant gifts and yuletide excesses. The Christmases are plain, heartfelt and filled with simple joys.

The children’s stockings are stuffed with peppermint candy cane, a tin cup (because the children had to share from the same cup before this), a heart shaped cake sprinkled with white sugar and a shining penny, wedged into the toe of the stocking. Their requirements are so simple and the children are so grateful. It is a wonderful reminder to me, that receiving a lot does not always equal greater happiness.

 

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And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny!

They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny.Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.

There never had been such a Christmas.


 

Which books are your favourite Christmas time reads?

I like to read a little Miss Read, this time of year and of course there is always the quintessential ‘A Christmas Carol’. For a look at my Holiday Booklist for the Booklovers in your life please click here.

I wish you all a peaceful and very happy holiday season!