Month: August 2010

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris & New York by Paul Gallico

I have been itching to read the Mrs Harris books ever since Claire talked about them so wonderfully a few months ago. This handsome bright pink paperback combines the first two Mrs Harris books, in which the London char lady with a heart of gold finds herself having unlikely adventures in two of the world’s most remarkable cities, Paris and New York. Mrs Harris has had quite a lot of exposure in the blogosphere of late, and normally I get annoyed when everyone is talking about the same books ad nauseum but this one really does deserve to be talked about, a lot. I seem to have hit the reading jackpot in the last couple of weeks; first Anne of Green Gables, which left me dancing on clouds of happiness and delight, and now Mrs Harris… , which has both restored my faith in humanity and left me dizzy at the possibilities of life. Like L M Montgomery, Paul Gallico has created a character filled with such life and warmth and laughter and tenacity that I closed the pages feeling like I had left a friend behind, and my heart and soul had been encouraged, uplifted and warmed by her presence. It’s a rare find to come across a book that can move and engage you so completely, and leave an impression that will change the way you look at the world around you. The Mrs Harris books are just that, and I urge you to read them!

Mrs Harris goes to Paris introduces the indomitable, apple cheeked char lady Mrs Harris, a Londoner of a certain age who ‘does’ for the wealthy residents of Belgravia (this is the area between Sloane Square, Hyde Park and Knightsbridge, by the way – think wide roads of tall white stucco houses and private garden squares that nobody apart from the very wealthy could ever hope to afford). She lives two doors down from her fellow char and best friend Mrs Butterfield, who always imagines the worst of everything and has no desire to leave the comfort of her small flat and her tea kettle. The two women love their jobs, and what they love best is the gossip they pick up from their glamorous clients about the rich and famous people they mix with.

One day, Mrs Harris spots a beautiful Christian Dior dress in the wardrobe of one of her clients, and decides that she must have one. To Mrs Harris, the dress represents everything she has never had; glamour, sophistication, beauty; a window into a way of life that she could never dream of experiencing. She finds out that the cost of such a dress is £450; a fortune to a woman who earns £1 a week. Despite the impossibility of such a sum, once Mrs Harris has made her mind up about something, there is never any going back. Mrs Harris decides she will go to Paris and buy herself a Dior dress, no matter what it takes. Through a spot of luck and sheer willpower, she does eventually amass the necessary cash after two years of scrimping and saving, and heads off to Paris to achieve her dream.

On arrival, Mrs Harris finds herself swept into the lives of staff and customers of the House of Dior, who are all enchanted and inspired by her strength of character and good heart. Mrs Harris’ presence and the fairytale quality of her journey from London slum to Paris couture showroom seems to bring a new sense of hopefulness and joy to the lives of those she comes into contact with. By the time she leaves to go back to London, no one is the same, including Mrs Harris. Her desire to obtain the Dior dress doesn’t turn out with the exact results she expects, as there is a nasty twist that teaches Mrs Harris a valuable lesson, but the positive effect Mrs Harris’ adventure has on everyone involved is far more valuable than the dress she has saved so hard for. It is this realisation of the value of friendship, positivity, self belief and taking joy in the simple things, that is the true treasure Mrs Harris brings back from Paris.

I LOVED Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, and while Mrs Harris Goes to New York is also very charming, it didn’t have quite the same magic; it’s very much a sequel and wouldn’t stand alone, as it implies a knowledge of the events of its predecessor. Even so, as a follow on from Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, it is a welcome continuation of the lives and adventures of several favourite characters. The basic plot revolves around a young abandoned boy who lives next door to Mrs Harris and regularly gets beaten by his foster parents. The product of an illadvised liaison between an American GI and a flighty waitress, he was dumped in Battersea by his mother when she got a new partner, and Mrs Harris is of the belief that if only the boy’s father could be made aware of his predicament, then he would want his son to live with him in America. Mrs Harris therefore decides she will go to America and find little Henry’s father, and, as luck would have it, an American couple whom Mrs Harris ‘does’ for, the Schreibers, need to move back to New York for work reasons as the book opens. Mrs Schreiber wants to take Mrs Harris with her to help her set up her new home, and Mrs Harris agrees, if she is allowed to bring Mrs Butterfield too. Plans are then made to smuggle little Henry along with them, and handily, an old friend from Paris is also onboard the boat to New York to help with the difficulty of getting the smuggled child through immigration. Many misunderstandings, difficulties and surprises ensue during the journey to find Henry’s new father, and Mrs Harris also gets to enjoy the many sights and sounds of New York,  learning a fair few life lessons for good measure along the way. Charming and heartwarming, it also made me very excited to arrive in New York!

These books are lovely, life affirming reads that will encourage you to believe in everyday miracles in your own life. Mrs Harris is a wonderful heroine who you’ll be rooting for all the way, and Paul Gallico manages to weave stories that have a moral heart without being saccharine or twee. I felt exhilarated after reading these, and reminded that ordinary life can become extraordinary, if only we are prepared to be brave enough to make it so. I can’t recommend Mrs Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs Harris Goes to New York enough; they are not to be missed!

Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

As a child my mum was very good at pushing classic children’s literature on me, and I have many happy memories of long winter afternoons curled up with The Secret Garden, Little Women, The Railway Children, Matilda, and so on. Somehow, despite it being a childhood favourite of my mum’s, Anne of Green Gables never crossed my path until I moved in with my best friend when I was 21, and she had all of the Anne books on her shelf. She assured me I would love them, and I agreed that I probably would, and I soon set about acquiring my own copy. However, it was only the pressure of knowing I would have to leave my books behind for a year in just under under two weeks that made me finally read it, and my goodness, how I have missed out on the joy of knowing Anne Shirley!

I normally thoroughly enjoy most books I read, as I pick wisely, but to say I thoroughly enjoyed this would be a massive understatement. Not only has it now become one of my favourite books of all time, easily on a par with my beloved Little Women, but it charmed and delighted me in a way no book ever has. No words can describe just how truly lovely Anne of Green Gables is. Every page contained something beautiful, and Anne Shirley has to be the most simply delightful heroine in all of fiction. I want to rush out now into the streets of London and press a copy of this book on every downhearted, tired, stressed, and disillusioned person I see, for this book is medicine for the world weary soul. It was the perfect book for me to read as I prepare to go and forge a new life for myself, as it has reminded me of how important it is to wonder at everything, and to see the beauty in the everyday, two things I have truly taken to heart now that I have the opportunity to begin again in a totally new environment.

Anne of Green Gables chronicles the arrival of the red haired skinny orphan girl Anne to the home of the elderly Cuthberts, Marilla and Matthew, who have, due to crossed wires, ended up with a girl instead of the boy they wanted from the local orphanage. Their initial disappointment soon turns to love (albeit reluctantly on Marilla’s part) as Anne sets about charming even the most crotchety person in the small town of Avonlea. Her breathless enthusiasm for life, delight in everything and everyone, wild and romantic imagination, and passionate, loving heart are terrifically endearing and life affirming. She is a truly beautiful soul, and it was the most heart warming, charming and emotional experience to watch her grow up in front of me on the page.

What I loved best about Anne was her ability to turn the simplest things into something magnificent, and how she used her imagination to make her often humdrum surroundings a more exciting and beautiful place for everyone around her. I did have brief moments of wishing I had read this when I was a child, but actually, I think I would have missed most of the joy and beauty I found in it if I had been younger. I certainly wouldn’t have appreciated Montgomery’s sensitive depiction of Marilla’s often inexpressed, but deeply felt love for Anne, and this touching and often tear jerking relationship was one of the aspects of the book that I enjoyed the most. Matthew’s strong and silent personality and fierce love and pride in Anne was also wonderfully written, and when I read the saddest chapter of the book (I won’t reveal what happens in case you haven’t read it!) tonight on the train back from London, I was in tears…most unfortunately as the ticket inspector was asking for my ticket, and I was so absorbed in Avonlea, I couldn’t understand what he wanted!

What is truly remarkable about Anne of Green Gables is how different and fresh it is compared to so many children’s books of the same era. Anne tries woefully hard to ‘be good’, just like she is taught to be by the old fashioned Marilla and the other God fearing adults in Avonlea, but she can’t suppress her romantic imagination or reign in her emotions. Even though she has a temper, indulges in countless hours of daydreaming, talks incessantly and isn’t afraid to voice her opinions, L M Montgomery shows that Anne’s heart is pure and good regardless. Anne demonstrates that true strength and beauty of character come not from following rules and ‘being good’, but by daring to be true to your own heart, and not ashamed of what lies within it. In Anne, Montgomery celebrates the unbridled, passionate, loving and imaginative soul of the child, as yet unburdened by the pressures and griefs of adult life. Unlike other contemporary books for children, Anne of Green Gables is a hymn to the innocence of childhood, and to the magic adults can once again capture through the eyes of the little people they love. It throws out the rule book of didactic, strict, moralising Victorian children’s literature and sings of the delights of impulsiveness, clumsiness, laughter, tantrums, and soaring emotions, all of which are what should be encouraged and embraced, rather than admonished and replaced with neatness, quietness and sickly sweet goodness. Anne is a modern heroine, for the modern age, and L M Montgomery’s bravery in reclaiming childhood from its ethereal Victorian martyrdom and her encouragement of the frivolity and breathless wonder and possibility of youth is what I think has made Anne of Green Gables endure amongst other books of its period.

I want to quote my favourite parts, but I might as well quote the entire novel, as it was all so magnificent. L M Montgomery was a genius and her insights into the human soul and ability to appreciate and perfectly express the beauty and wonder of nature and how it lifts the spirits to gaze upon spring flowers and snow covered dells are just beyond-words-wonderful. I can’t imagine ever loving a book more than I did Anne of Green Gables. Anne Shirley is just the most beautiful creation in the entire HISTORY of world literature and if you haven’t read it yet, you need to go and buy it right this minute. I am now spectacularly excited for the rest of the series…what a joy to know that I have so many books filled with the world of Avonlea to come!

Mrs Ames by E F Benson

This is the second of the new Bloomsbury Group titles, kindly sent to me by the publisher. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I’ve never read any E F Benson before, but I’ve heard many people wax lyrical about his Mapp and Lucia series, and so I knew he came highly regarded by those of the same literary tastes as me. The Bloomsbury Group books can be, to me, anyway, summed up as light, witty, intelligent books that also have a depth and a heart if you’re prepared to look for it, and Mrs Ames fitted this bill exactly. It captures the narrow and often shallow lives of a group of well to do middle aged neighbours during the Edwardian period, and is very clever and often laugh out loud funny. However, it is also a profoundly sad exploration of how the societal expectations of this era amongst the better classes produced people who lived largely unsatisfying and unfulfilled lives, restricted by convention and moralities they were too afraid to counter. When I closed the pages I wasn’t really sure how I felt; it’s marketed as a cosy read, but it isn’t; the satire might be hilarious, but the unhappy reality of many of the characters’ lives made me feel desperately sorry for them.

The small cast of characters live in Riseborough, a Kent town that appears to be populated largely by wealthy retirees. The society leader is Mrs Ames, a small, toad faced woman, married to a retired solicitor ten years her junior. There is no obvious reason for her social precedence; she is neither beautiful, nor rich, but her commanding personality and natural confidence seem to have beaten all of the other ladies into submission. One of these ladies is Mrs Altham, a merciless gossip who loves nothing better than dissecting the latest comings and goings of her neighbours with her equally nosy husband. Mrs Altham spends her days out in town while her husband spends his at the club; at lunch and in the evening, they relish discussing the news they have separately discovered, and coming to their own, not always flattering, conclusions about the circumstances of their fellow Riseborough residents. The novel opens shortly after Mrs Ames has taken the radical decision to invite wives without husbands and husbands without wives to one of her dinner parties. Riseborough is shocked by this unprecendented departure from convention, and Mr and Mrs Altham feast on the topic for nights on end. However, this daring dinner party gives the opportunity for unattended husbands to meet unattended wives, and there will be unexpected consequences as a result.

Mr Ames, a forty five year old who has retired early and now spends all of his time in the garden, or at the club, thinks that he is perfectly content with his life. However, at his wife’s dinner party, he finds himself attracted by the charms of the local doctor’s wife, Millie Evans, who also happens to be his wife’s cousin by virtue of their joint relation to the local aristocrat, Sir James. He is not a passionate man, and has no desire to leave his wife or enter into a clandestine affair, but he increasingly finds himself drawn to Millie’s house, where he finds sympathy and gentle conversation from the simple minded, beautiful woman who is a world away from his unattractive and socially correct wife. Before long, Mrs Ames gets wind of what is going on, and sets about attempting to win her husband back. However, Mrs Ames doesn’t really understand why Mr Ames is going astray, and her outlandish attempts to attract his attention end up making her a laughing stock. With the situation getting out of hand, Mrs Ames resorts to desperate measures, but will they be enough to restore Riseborough to rights?

E F Benson’s writing is wonderfully funny, and very descriptive; the characters come alive off the pages and the dialogue really sparkles. The plot is thick with the small and seemingly insignificant details of daily life, but which take on an extra measure of excitement and intrigue when they are picked over and elaborated on by the gossipy Riseborough residents. There are awkward dinner parties to be negotiated, costume parties to attend, holidays to decide upon, anti aging measures to try, and suffrage campaigns to launch, none of which can be done without inciting much gossip, envy and one -upmanship. It is an incredibly witty satire of the small lives of people whose world is limited to the narrow confines of a minor county town, but E F Benson’s wit does not disguise the unmistakeable air of melancholy that pervades the novel.

In an age when marriages were built upon the foundations of three week courtships, women were stuck in drawing rooms pouring out tea, and men were nothing but providers, the characters in Mrs Ames reach middle age and find themselves living lives lacking in any real passion or personal fulfillment. Mrs Evans realises she has never fallen truly in love; Mr Ames is made aware of the shallowness of his life; and Mrs Ames wakes up to the fact that the majority of her priorities are utterly meaningless. It made me sad to think that so many of our ancestors must have lived similarly limited lives, trapped by a society whose norms didn’t allow for the freedoms we now take for granted. Most of the characters in Mrs Ames are just going through the motions of life, doing the same things that everyone else does because they are too scared to strike out and live the life they want for themselves; or, even worse, they have no idea of the possibilities that could be out there for them. By the end of the novel, some changes have been made, but the inevitability of things going on much the same made it difficult for me to feel contented when I closed the pages. It is a very funny, and very interesting read, but don’t be fooled into thinking it is merely a light, bright and sparkling satire; it’s much deeper than that, and will give you plenty to think about upon finishing.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

I left the Victoria and Albert Museum as a member of staff for the last time yesterday. No longer will I be able to mysteriously disappear through doors marked ‘Staff Only’, or go behind the scenes and get sneak previews of exhibitions and new galleries. I’m going to miss it, enormously. It was an immense privilege to walk through galleries of sculpture on the way to a meeting; to be taken to attic store rooms lined with treasures; to be able to wander around before and after opening hours, and look and linger as long as I wanted to; to attend glamorous opening parties; and to have the company of colleagues passionate and knowledgable about their work, from whom I learned an awful lot. It was a magical one year and nine months, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone to work in a museum for a while – it’s an unforgettable experience!

I’m going to take you on a little ‘insider’s’ tour of the V&A now…my favourite gallery is the Cast Courts (or gallery 46a, to us!), which is the first picture at the top. These two galleries were purpose built in the 1870s to display the V&A’s now unrivalled collection of Victorian casts of famous world monuments. These casts, made of plaster and painted to resemble stone or iron or whatever the original monument was made from, are colossal in their size and include Michaelangelo’s David and Trajan’s Column (in the top picture – in two halves). The casts are mostly hollow and double up as useful storage receptacles – last time I popped my head into the space underneath the bottom half of Trajan’s Column, which looks like a big brick chimney from the inside, it was storing a massive gold Menorah!

Casts went out of fashion in the 20th century and all museums apart from the V&A and the Ashmolean in Oxford got rid of their collections. The sheer size of them makes them impractical to display, and technically, as they are not original works of art and merely copies, they are considered by many academics to be not worthy of being displayed as objects of architectural and design history in their own right. The V&A took a different attitude, however; the casts are an integral part of the V&A’s history as an art and design school, and as we had the space for them, the casts stayed. Now they are the most comprehensive collection of architectural casts anywhere in the world, and due to pollution and damage inflicted during both world wars, in some cases, the casts have provided vital evidence of original details and carving that has been lost over the past one hundred years from the originals. They are currently having a resurgence in importance in the art and architectural worlds, and there is nothing like them anywhere else. They are not widely known about, but they are so impressive in the flesh, and if you are ever in London, they are well worth a visit. Sadly, you can no longer access the gallery that runs along the top for health and safety reasons; I’ve been up there, and it’s an incredible view, though there are a lot of uncatalogued boxes of small casts up there so it’s probably best the public doesn’t see that bit!

Next up, is my favourite object. The painting above is a typical portrait of the Aesthetic period, and is by Sir William Blake Richmond. The sitter is Mrs Luke Ionides, born Elfrida Bird, wife of a wealthy Greek trading magnate and art patron. I adore everything about the Victorian period; the literature, the art, the design, the tastes, the history; and I especially love the Arts and Crafts movement. This painting is a perfect distillation of everything wonderful about Victorian Britain; sumptuous colours, ridiculous fashion, the interest in exoticism and the natural world, and the innovation and idealism practised by many. In the flesh, it is an absolute feast for the eyes. I used to go and just look at it on my lunch break, in awe of how lovely it is. It’s situated in the paintings galleries, which again, not a lot of people seem to know the V&A has. There is a magnificent collection of paintings on permanent show that are typical of the Victorian era; another favourite of mine is Rosetti’s The Day Dream.  The collection is well worth a look, and is a real hidden gem amongst the colossal range of the Museum’s holdings.

Finally, above is my favourite space in the V&A; the Morris room in the Museum cafe. There are three rooms that make up the cafe; the Morris, Gamble and Poynter rooms, all named after the men who designed them. They are beautiful rooms with tiled walls, stained glass and painted murals, all original survivals from the Victorian period when they were designed specifically as the first museum cafeteria in the world. William Morris’ design is stunning; it creates the effect of being in a forest glade, with the rich green walls and dappled light coming through the stained glass. Up close you can see the delicate paintwork on the walls, and the intricate ceiling design; it’s a perfect example of the decadence and earthiness of Morris’ designs. As a lover of everything Victorian, it is heaven in four walls to me. What could be a better place to sit down with a cup of tea and a slice of cake after a few hours wandering through the halls of magnificent objects?

I hope you enjoyed this whistlestop tour, and that it will encourage many of you who have never been before to take a trip to the beautiful Victoria and Albert Museum, otherwise known as the world’s greatest museum of art and design. I will leave you with a haunting poem from the sculpture that topped the grave of Countess Emily Georgiana of Winchelsea and Nottingham, and which I passed every day on my way to and from my office; she wrote it herself before she died to give her husband comfort once she was dead:

I
When the knell rung for the dying
soundeth for me
and my corpse coldly is lying
neath the green tree

II
When the turf strangers are heaping
covers my breast
Come not to gaze on me weeping
I am at rest

III
All my life coldly and sadly
The days have gone by
I who dreamed wildly and madly
am happy to die

IV
Long since my heart has been breaking
Its pain is past
A time has been set to its aching
Peace comes at last.

High Wages by Dorothy Whipple

Sob. High Wages has completed my reading of Dorothy Whipple’s novels. Bar coming across more short stories, or cheap copies of her autobiographical sketches, I have no more new words from Dorothy left to savour. This makes me very sad. However, I have ended on a high; High Wages is so good, I could hardly bear to put it down. I sat up until midnight two nights in a row because I didn’t want to leave the world of Jane Carter and her wonderful shop, so marvellously realised as it is on the pages.  This, her third novel, is somewhat different to her later, meatier, chunksters; this is no domestic family saga, and Jane is neither wife nor mother. High Wages is very much like Young Anne, her first novel, in that it explores the growth of a young girl and her fight for independence, though where Anne gives in to societal expectations and finds herself trapped in a limiting marriage, Jane positively shuns male attention for most of the novel and chooses to spend her time on building up her entrepreneurial talents. She is an invigorating heroine, whose determination and passion are inspiring. I was enthralled throughout, and not only by Jane’s story, but also by the story of the fast changing fashion and retail industries, and the changes in opportunities for women during the early years of the twentieth century.

The novel opens with Jane, a 19 year old orphan working in a haberdashers’,  finding herself forced to seek a live out position when her father dies, as her stepmother isn’t keen on keeping her under her roof.  When she sees that Chadwick’s, a high end haberdashers’ in the neighbouring town of Tidsley, has put up an advert for a shopgirl, her means of escape from her stepmother’s home appears obvious. Filled with excitement at such an opportunity, Jane presents herself and is accepted. She moves into a room above the shop that she shares with her fellow assistant, Maggie, and is deliriously happy as she begins learning her trade in the upmarket Chadwick’s. When Jane starts, it is 1912, and ‘ready-mades’ are only just coming onto the market. As such, everyone in Tidsley still buys fabric and trimmings to have their dresses made up by a dressmaker, and it is Jane’s excellent eye for the right fabric and trimmings to perfectly suit a customer that soon sees her becoming a favourite and bringing in a good income for the surly and stuck-in-his-ways Mr Chadwick.

When Mrs Greenwood, the local society leader, insists that Jane must be sacked due to a misunderstanding or Mr Chadwick will lose her custom, Jane’s skill and gumption enable her to convince Mr Chadwick that she makes more money for him than Mrs Greenwood pays in, and so she keeps her job. This victory gives her the confidence to keep pushing Mr Chadwick for more responsbility and opportunities to bring about change in the old fashioned shop, as she sees the changing methods of merchandising and the rapid rise of ready-mades revolutionising the department stores in the big cities Mr Chadwick never bothers to visit. The years pass and the war disrupts life, but Jane’s indomitable spirit carries on. She decides that she wants to open her very own shop, and when the opportunity arises, she is free to finally be her own boss. Her talent and good sense are able to give her the success she so deserves, but as she soon finds out, success comes at a price…

Oh! There is so much to rejoice about in this book, there really is. Firstly, there is the fascinating insight into the rapid changing of fashions in the Edwardian period. When Jane starts at Chadwick’s, the idea that anyone would buy ready made clothes was unthinkable. Women bought paper patterns, fabric and trimmings from the draper’s, and then had a seamstress make up their clothes to fit; over their corsets and stays, of course. There are so many different fabrics to choose from; crepe, gabardine, alpaca, cotton, silk…I was in raptures at imagining the bolts of shining fabric piled up around Jane and Maggie, with trimmings galore on display, ready to bring an outfit to life. The possibilities of dress when each piece you wore could be made exactly to your requirements; how wonderful the experience of choosing an outfit must have been! Jane’s instinctive eye for cut and colour and drape are what make her such a successful assistant, and when she strikes out into her own dress shop, selling exclusively ready mades, this eye again comes into good use as she sets off to Manchester and London on buying trips. She buys up quantities of sumptious fur coats, beautifully cut skirts, delicate, foamy blouses, and flowing dresses, all of which can’t fail to tempt the local ladies. As underwear became less restrictive, body shapes normalised, and women could buy clothes off the rail and instantly transform their appearance. Jane’s ability to recognise the change in women’s priorities and needs when it comes to fashion is what makes her such a success; unlike Mr Chadwick, who would rather hang on to the traditions of the past, she understands that women can’t go on being draped in layers of fabric and trimmings, trussed up like chickens in corsets and ribbons and crinolines. The clothes she chooses are deliberately simple and supple, embracing the wearer’s movements rather than restricting them. This taste reflects her own free spirit, independence and forward thinking attitude, and her inspirational, light hearted outlook on life encourages the women of Tidsley to branch out and move with the times along with her.

Secondly, Jane’s independence delighted me from the first page. Determined to make her own way in the world, and confident in her own abilities, Jane will not be kept down by the selfish and greedy Mr Chadwick. She knows her skills and she knows her worth, and she pushes to be able to use her talents to the utmost, and to be valued for the treasure she is. She has ambition and drive, and her passion for the retail industry and her joy in serving customers and helping them to make the right purchase is what spurs her on to success. However, she is no cold hearted career woman; she rejoices in the simple pleasures of nature, books, good meals, friendship, and her independence. She is greatly admired by others but her attractive personality and beautiful soul do lead her to be chased by men, who Jane resists with a fierceness that shows just how impossible it was for women at the time to pursue a career and marriage. Jane ultimately chooses her career over love, though it is not always an easy ride; she is a rare role model for the single woman and demonstrates that there is a lot more to happiness and self fulfilment than being part of a successful relationship.

All in all, this is a marvellous page turner of a book that allows a fascinating insight into the life of women and the changing face of Britain throughout the early part of the last century. I just adored it, and I also very much enjoyed Jane Brocket’s illuminating foreword (don’t read it until you’ve read the book, though!) that puts the novel firmly in context. If you’ve never tried Dorothy Whipple, this would be a perfect place to start.

ps. I hope you like my new look! I thought that as I’m changing my life, I might as well change my blog to match!