The Bell Family
‘The Bell Family’ is the account of the lives of the Bell Family, in the heart of south-east London after World War 2. Their father is the Reverend of St Mark’s and the family, though a happy one, are rather short of money. Though they have food to eat, a roof over their heads, and help in the house from lovely Mrs Gage, Mother doesn’t have the money for a new dress and must wear Aunt Rose’s cast-offs, Jane, the eldest daughter, who is a promising dancer can’t apply for a place at Sadler’s Well School and Paul, the eldest son, must contemplate giving up his dream career of becoming a doctor in order to secure a more lucrative position in Grandfather’s booming business.
The family, as a whole manage quite well but it is particularly when they are pitted against their rich relatives, some of whom take pleasure in flaunting their wealth, that they feel despondent about their lot in life.
The children’s father, Reverend Alexander Bell, once exceedingly displeased his father by taking up orders with the Church, rather than engage himself in the family business. Grandfather’s wrath was so searing that he vowed that as long as he lived, his son, Alex Bell would not get a penny from him. The result is the story of the Bell Family. Though they have chosen to live their life on their own terms
Central Theme of ‘The Bell Family’
Though I would say that the central theme of the book is money, social circumstance and the dearth of opportunity created by a lack of money, the book is so much more than that. The book shows us that a lack of money can never take away true talent from a person, that hard work and perseverance can bring rewards and that being poor sometimes renders a need for innovation and enterpreneurship – a quality in which the Bell children were certainly not lacking.
Outspoken ‘Miss Virginia Bell’
Mostly, I adored the characters in this novel, particularly that of outspoken and plucky Ginnie, the younger daughter or ‘Miss Virginia Bell’, as she frequently referred to herself as, in the course of this novel. She had so much character, determination and a tendency of getting herself into the worst scrapes. She also spoke out volubly in the face of injustice, particularly when she could not tolerate the affected manners of her rich relations. I especially loved how her parents dealt with her tempestuous nature – choosing not to suppress it but guiding her wilfulness, to become a more controlled version of herself.
Best Parts of the Book
Some of the best parts in the novel were memorable outbursts and speeches from Ginnie – particularly a birthday party outburst at the ballet and an impromptu speech delivered on stage to her Aunt Rose (a chief guest), in front of the entire school. Also particularly funny were her attempts to raise money for the thwarted annual family holiday – by busking on a street corner and being accidentally discovered by her shocked father.
Dreamy Nostalgia by the Kentish Seaside
The book ends with a beautiful holiday by the Kentish seaside. The story captures a wonderful glimpse of ordinary life in London, a social history of its time, and the characters, writing and events are so memorable that I was quite sad to say goodbye to the dear Bell Family at the end of the book. Recommended reading for children and adults alike.