I have so enjoyed everyone’s Persephone Week posts. It’s been wonderful to read about Persephones that I had previously not known much about, or which had gone under my radar. I especially enjoyed FleurFisher’s review of Marjory Fleming, Teresa’s review of Hetty Dorval, and Verity’s review of Julian Grenfell. It’s also been lovely to find new blogs through Persephone Week and I will be spending some time exploring these over the next few weeks.
I’ve been having a busy week so unfortunately I’ve only just managed the one Persephone, House-Bound, which I briefly touched on in a previous post. However, it was well worth spending a full five days reading it, as there is much more than meets the eye to discover within its pages. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the story and taking the time to dwell on its many interesting and thought provoking insights on life.
As I said before, this is ostensibly a book about Rose Fairlaw, a middle class wife and mother, learning to run her own home for the very first time due to the shortage of domestic staff available during the war. However, it soon emerged that this was very much a periphery theme compared to the other action within the novel, which centres around Rose and her relationships with various family members. Having lost her adored husband in the first war, and left to bring up their baby daughter Flora alone, Rose made a marriage of convenience to Stuart, the kind widower of her cousin and best friend, shortly afterwards, and became a mother to his young son, Mickie, in the process. Together they had their own son, Tom, and life drifted on, with Rose and Stuart growing further emotionally distanced from each other as the years progressed. Rose is devoted to Mickie; a delicate child, she lavished care and attention on him, to the unintentional detriment of her biological daughter Flora, causing a rift between mother and daughter that has never been healed. Flora has grown into a demanding, jealous, difficult and proud woman, scorning her family, especially her mother, and spreading ill feeling everywhere she goes. Stuart is incapable of expressing his emotions and Rose relies heavily on her two sons, now soldiers fighting on the front line, for love and support. Theirs is not a happy home, and it is Rose’s realisation of this, and how she goes about changing things for the better, that forms the body of the novel.
Rose sees herself, her husband, and her daughter, as ‘House-Bound’; shut up in their own metaphorical houses with the doors and windows barred, unable to open themselves up to those around them and share the emotional turmoil within. As she learns to clean her physical house, Rose begins to get rid of the clutter inside her own mind and heart, and reach out to the husband she has allowed to become nothing but a fireside companion and the daughter she has never tried hard enough to understand. As the war rages outside of the walls of her home and tragedy strikes the everyday life she used to think of as so quiet and ordinary, Rose becomes dissastisfied with the way she has allowed herself and her relationships to become and dares to hope that she can make a new start of things. The more the foundations of her world are shaken, and the more uncertain her future appears, the richer Rose’s world becomes, as she learns to listen and act upon the desires of her heart, and break down the barriers of an old world order of decency and convention that have prevented her from expressing herself for so long.
This book was not what I had expected; I thought it would be a humourous, Provincial Lady style account of how a useless woman became domesticated, and though it does have its moments on this front, really, it’s nothing like that at all. It’s such a subtle, thoughtful, and heartfelt story about the importance of being true to yourself, and about daring to take risks in order to develop meaningful, rich relationships with those we love. At times it is hilariously funny, but at others it is almost unbearably sad, and frustrating, and painful; I was moved to tears at several points. Peck is also absolutely wonderful at exploring the often complicated relationships between siblings, parents and children, and husbands and wives, showing how easy it is for jealousy, complacency and habit to creep in and rob relationships of emotional intimacy and true understanding. I cannot more highly recommend it. It is not all that it appears on the surface, but it is better for it, and it is a truly marvellous, sensitive, and powerful novel that really does give you food for thought on a lot of fronts.
As promised, I am also happy to report the immense success of the wonderful Jane Brocket’s talk at the V&A Women’s Institute on Monday; we were all simply enchanted by her, and awe struck by the beautiful quilts she showed us that are featured in her new book, pictured with House-Bound at the top, The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking. Jane very kindly gave me a copy to keep, and I have been so inspired by it; I can’t wait to try out one of her designs, but I might want to finish my current project first – just give me 20 years! Jane spoke to us about how and why she started her blog, and about the process of getting published, and where she got her ideas from. She also shared how she has learnt a lot as she has gone along, and how she is by no means an expert at a lot of the things she does, such as knitting and quilting – hard to believe from the lovely things she makes! What I loved the best was her insistence that you don’t have to be perfect or do things the ‘right’ way all the time – making things you love for yourself is not about being faultless, but about creating something lovely, and if you can’t do it perfectly or want to take shortcuts, it doesn’t matter! This made me feel so liberated and inspired to just give things a go – if Jane can do it, so can I! Her passion and dedication, and her ability to inspire and encourage others, is, in my opinion, why she has made such a success from her creative skills. It was such a pleasure to listen to her speak and also to meet her, and my admiration for her has only grown!
In other news, thank you very much to everyone who wished me a happy birthday for yesterday. Despite being at work I had a lovely day, and amongst other things, I got two gorgeous new books that I am very excited about – Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green, and Richard Yates’ Collected Stories, courtesy of my sister. I also got a swish new camera (thanks Mum and Dad!), which means I can take photos again! Hurrah! So a very good haul, and you know what? I don’t even feel any older!