A Thank You and a Eulogy

I have been so moved by the many kind and thoughtful people who have left comments and messages since I wrote a few words about the death of my mother.

It means more than I can ever express in words.

Thank you.

I will pick up the threads here soon, but today I am simply going to share the eulogy that I wrote for my mother’s funeral last Friday and thank all of her friends who made it a lovely service of thanksgiving for her life.

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Beth first came to the promenade when she was four-years old. James and Daisy adopted her and brought her to a lovely home with two big brothers, Geoff and Ken.

That was when she first came to St Mary’s, walking up from the promenade with her mum.

She told me that being adopted was the best thing that could have happened to her. In later life, when she was curious to know a little more about her background, she went through the necessary steps to see her original birth certificate and find out a little more about her twin brother who died in infancy, but she always stated quite clearly that the couple who adopted her were her real parents, that she was lucky that she chose her, and that she wished people spoke more about the joy that adoption could bring.

Beth grew into a bright and outgoing girl. I remember her speaking of Geoff teaching her to ride a bike; of looking through an atlas to find a good name for her dog, an Afghan hound; of going to the Jubilee Pool and to Madron Carn with her friends, Anne and Jenny, who lived a few doors away …

Her school report – which I found a while ago – said that she would do very well if she talked a little less and listened a little more!

She did do very well. She was educated at the Girls’ Grammar School, where she became Head Girl, and then she went to Hockerill Teacher Training College.

Beth taught for nearly forty years in Penzance – at St. Mary’s School, at the Girls’ Grammar School, at the Humphry Day Comprehensive, and finally at the Bolitho School. She always said, quite simply, that she loved teaching because she liked kids.

She always loved meeting former pupils in town and hearing what they were doing.

I couldn’t walk more than a few steps through town with her without bumping into someone she had to stop and chat with. An old neighbour, a childhood friend, someone from church, a teaching colleague, another former pupil …

She always was what she would call a ‘people person.’ Even towards the end of her life she took an interest in her carers, asking what they were going to do after work, admiring a new top or a nice pair of earrings, smiling and saying thank you.

I also remember her, more than once, reaching out to take the hand of an anxious or upset lady in the chair next to hers.

She was always sociable, but she was home-loving too. She recalled sitting upstairs with her mother watching the sea and people walking on the promenade; and in later life, when she moved to another house just a few doors away from her childhood home, she would often sit upstairs in her bay window, watching  the world go by and waving to friends and neighbours.

Beth married Neill – the brother of her friend Diane. They were very  well matched and they were very happy together.

They had two children – Jane and Nicky.

Jane was very quiet, like her dad; and Nicky was very sociable, like his mum.

Nicky had Down’s Syndrome, and caring for him and making the right decisions became the focus of Beth’s life. She tried to keep a balance, doing the right thing for the whole family of four, carrying on teaching; but the son who was so like her was always her special boy.

She was thrilled when Father Jim, after consulting with the bishop, suggested that a grown-up Nicky be confirmed at St Mary’s; because, though he didn’t have the understanding some might expect,  he had his own full understanding of his God. The day of Nicky’s confirmation was a wonderful day; one of many days that Beth said was the best day of her life.

She also said that about the day she was adopted, the day she got married, the day her daughter was born, the day she moved back to the promenade ….

Of course there were sad days too. She found her father dead when she was just seven years-old; and she would lose first Neill  and then Nicky.

The day Nicky died was her saddest day; he had been at the centre of her life when she was a widow and her daughter was many miles away.

She still found joys in life. She went out and about with friends; she moved back to the promenade that she loved, that she would think of as ‘home’ to the very end of her life; she enjoyed holidays is warmer climes with a group of retired teachers; she loved her border terriers, Pip who arrived not long after she retired and Briar who would follow in her paw-prints; and she was delighted when Jane moved back to Cornwall …

But the people who had said that Beth would never be the same again were probably right.

She became physically and mentally frail, but she was very much herself until her last few weeks.

She left this life quietly and peacefully, with her daughter at her bedside.

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The Saddest Day

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Just after sunset on Saturday, my mother left this life.

Her decline had been long and slow, but the final chapter of her life was very short. It was just before Easter that she ceased to recognise the people around her – even her daughter and her beloved dog – and so I have to say that it is a blessing that she went quickly and so very peacefully that I wasn’t quite sure that she had gone.

I’m working through all of the many things that have to be done, but I am shattered.

I was so lucky to have a wonderful mother and father, and a lovely brother, and now they are all gone.

I had so many shared memories that are mine alone now.

I know that I have to come to terms with this, I know that I am lucky to have The Man of the House and my lovely Briar, but it’s going to take time.

I just don’t have any words right now ….

A Book for Elizabeth Goudge’s Birthday: The Little White Horse (1946)

‘The Little White Horse’ is one of a number of stories that Elizabeth Goudge wrote for children. It is set sometime in the 19th century, in the Devonshire countryside that the author so loved; and it is an engaging and old-fashioned tale, underpinned by both magic and faith.

Maria Merryweather was born and raised in London, but when was thirteen she was orphaned and sent to live with her  last living relative – Sir Benjamin of Moonacre Manor – in the heart of the country. She travelled with her governess, Miss Heliotrope, and her beloved spaniel, Wiggins. Night was falling when arrived, and they were all enchanted by the sight of a moonlit castle set in a beautiful and expansive grounds.

The travellers are made wonderfully welcome, and immediately feel completely at home. Everything that they might want has been thought of and every detail is right. Maria is particularly taken with her tower bedroom, its ceiling covered in moons and stars, its silvery furniture, its little tin of sugar biscuits ….

8826252_origThere are no servants to be seen, and Sir Benjamin declares that no woman has set foot on the house for twenty years!

Maria finds that her imaginary friend from London is a real boy living in the nearby village of Silverdew.

Yes, there is magic in the air.

There is also something darker. Maria learns of her sadness and wrong-going in her family’s history, and she realises that it has fallen to her to set things right.

Elizabeth tells her story beautifully; she really was a mistress of the art of story-telling. Every sentence is beautifully wrought; every character is clearly and distinctively drawn; every place, every meal, every setting is perfectly explained; and there is a wealth of lovely detail.

I think that this  is a book that would work best read in childhood – and I do wish I had discovered it as a child – but it still has a great deal to offer to the grown-up reader who is still in touch with her inner child who loved books.

I say ‘her’ because this is a very girly book.

My inner child loved this book.

But as a grown-up reader I have to point out a few failings.

It has a little too much squeezed into its pages, and as a result sometimes things feel rather rushed and there isn’t quite as much suspense and intrigue as there could have been.

And in the end everything was tied up rather too neatly, with happy-ever-afters for all.

I think I might understand why. I think that just after the war Elizabeth Goudge wanted to say – wanted to believe – that the world could be a better and happier place, that everything could be alright again.

The Little White Horse won the Carnegie Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature in 1946, when it was described as ‘not merely the best children’s book of this year, but the best which has appeared for the past ten years.

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I’m very pleased that I chose this book to read for Elizabeth Goudge Day .

Thank you Lory, for steering me back towards her work again.

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I inherited a love of Elizabeth Goudge’s  writing from my mother. She has been seriously ill, she is probably near the end of her life, and that is why I have been quite elusive over that last few weeks.

She recommended a few authors when I progressed from the junior to the adult library, and others over the years since them; but now, as I look back, I think that it is her recommendation of Elizabeth Goudge that says much about the woman she was and is.

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Walking Through The Virago Art Gallery

I’ve always loved putting together collections of Virago cover art, and I thought it was time to put together another.

The more I look through my collection – and I’ve been looking through it a lot lately, thanks to the TBR Dare and the LibraryThing Monthly Virago Author Reads – the more interesting artists and artwork I find.

I’ve also been delighted to find some wonderfully thoughtful matches of book and cover.

The covers are lovely, but the paintings come alive when they are released from their green frames. I’ve learned that sometimes images have been cropped, or re-coloured, or altered a little in some other way to fit that frame. And that may be the best way to make a good cover for a book, but it shouldn’t be the only way we see the work of these artists.

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I should love to be able to step into the cover of this book.

 Betty and Babbin by a Fountain by Mainie Jellett
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Jenny Wren by E H Young (#177)

‘On their father’s death, Jenny and Dahlia Rendall, with their mother Louisa, move across the river to the heights of Upper Radstowe. Here they try to make a living by taking in lodgers. But their neighbours eye this all-female household with alarm and distrust — especially when a local farmer takes to calling on Louisa, now an attractive, if not entirely respectable widow. Dahlia takes it all with a pinch of salt; fastidious, conventional Jenny cannot. Embarrassed by her mother’s country ways, smarting at every slight, both real and imaginary, she longs for a different life. Then Jenny falls in love with a handsomne young squire — but certain of his prejudice and a prisoner of her pride, she dares not reveal her name …’

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An usual – but effective – choice of image.

 

Head of a Girl by Célestin Joseph  Blanc
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Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather (# 160)

‘At the end of the seventeenth century, on that “grey rock in the Canadian wilderness” known as Quebec, a French family, the Auclairs, begin a life very different from the one they knew in Paris. On her mother’s death ten-year-old Cécile is entrusted with the care of the household, and of her father, Euclid, the town’s apothecary. Two years later, in late October 1697, as the red-gold autumn sunlight pours over the rock “like a heavy southern wine”, Cécile and her father prepare for the long, difficult winter ahead with no word from home – news of events in the world they have left behind must wait until spring, when the annual boats from France are able to make their way up the St. Lawrence. For her father it will be a painful exile, but for the young Cécile life holds innumerable joys as old ties are relinquished and new ones are formed…’

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I think you might guess this author from the painting

The Reception

L’Ambitiuse by James Tissot
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Old New York by Edith Wharton (#179)

‘The four novellas collected here, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ‘The Age of Innocence’, brilliantly capture New York of the 1840s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Originally published in 1924, this outstanding quartet includes ‘False Dawn’, about a rocky father/son relationship; ‘The Old Maid’, the best known of the four, in which a young woman’s hidden illegitimate child is adoted by her best friend, with devastating results; ‘The Spark’, involving a young man and his moral rehabilitation — “sparked” by a chance encounter with Walt Whitman; and ‘New Year’s Day’, an O. Henryesque tale of a married woman suspected of adultery. Each reveals the codes and customs that ruled society of the time, drawn with the perspicacious eye and style that is uniquely Edith Wharton’s.’

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The collection of short stories shares a cover artist with the long series of novels that I read with friends last year.

A Corner Of The Artist’s Room In Paris by Gwen John
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Journey to Paradise by Dorothy Richardson (#321)

‘Published together for the first time are Dorothy Richardson’s short stories: delicate and slippery tales which range from the vast gardens of childhood and the anticipation of seaside holidays, to the shifts in perception as youth stutters towards maturity and on to the levelling experiences of old ages and death. Accompanying the range of fictional voices are her autobiographical sketches, offering insight into Dorothy Richardson’s life and the development of her creative talent.’

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I’ve spotted the brother of the last artist on covers of several Green Virago Modern Classics.

A French Fisherboy by Augustus John
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Mr Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner (#2)

‘The Reverend Timothy Fortune, ex-clerk of the Hornsey Branch of Lloyds Bank, has spent ten years as a South Seas Island missionary when a ‘maggot’ impels him to embark on what he describes as a ‘sort of pious escapade’ – an assignment to the even more remote island of Fanua, where a white man is a rarity.Mr Fortune is a good man, humble, earnest – he wishes to bring the joys of Christianity to the innocent heathen. But in his three years on Fanua he makes only one convert – the boy Lueli, who loves him. This love, and the sensuous freedom of the islanders produces in Mr Fortune a change of heart which is shattering…Beautifully imagined, the paradise island and its people are as vivid as a Gauguin painting. Told with the driest of wise humour, touching and droll by turns, its theme – that we can never love anything without messing it about – is only one of the delights of this enchanting book.’

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I have found very similar paintings of lilies on two covers: this is the lesser known of the pair

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Calla Lilies by Hannah Gluckstein

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A Saturday Life by Radclyffe Hall (#267)

‘Confronted with the news of her daughter’s naked dancing, Lady Shore is temporarily distracted from the Egyptian papers littering her desk. At three years old Sidonia could draw; a spate of morbid poetry followed, and now, at the age of seven, her Greek movement is superb. Having little comprehension of modern civilisation, Lady Shore asks her sharp and monocled friend Francis to guide this extraordinary child. As she grows older, Sidonia’s various and intuitive talents show no sign of abating. Increasingly precocious and superior, she moves on — from the frowsy atmosphere of a sculpture studio to singing lessons with the white-clad and extensive Ferrari family in Florence.’

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I wonder if the author might have read the magazine that provided an illustration for her book’s cover …
Illustration by Helen Dryden
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Treasure Hunt by Molly Keane (#356)

‘When old Sir Roderick dies in the stately but crumbling Irish mansion, his family discover that he’s left nothing but debts. His brother Hercules and sister Consuelo cannot understand why they cannot continue their feckless, champagne-drinking ways. They are outraged when young Roderick and Veronica insist on stringent economies and taking in paying guests. Meanwhile dotty Aunt Anna Rose, ensconced in her sedan chair (which she fondly believes to be the Orient Express) has a Dark Secret and, just possibly some long-lost rubies…Originally a play, this 1952 novel sparkles with comedy, mystery and a gallery of eccentricities.’

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The complete painting is much lovelier than the cropped cover image.

The Language of Flowers by George Dunlop Leslie
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The Semi-Attached Couple and The Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden (#16)

‘Born the daughter of Lord Auckland in 1797, Emily Eden was a witty nineteenth-century aristocrat whose two delightful novels were first presented to an admiring world one hundred and fifty years ago. These matching masterpieces satirize the social world Eden knew, loved, and laughed at. Like Jane Austen she is concerned with love and marriage, money and manners. but her voice is distinct. Eden’s charm and humor – both above- and belowstairs — and her sharp social commentary make her work enduringly captivating.’

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That’s the last painting in this little exhibition.

Another one will be along in the summer.

I already have paintings and illustrations in mind …

A Book for the 1951 Club: Lise Lillywhite by Margery Sharp

In 1900, Charles Lillywhite left his family’s ancestral home in Somerset to settle in France. He didn’t return until 1946, when he took up lodgings in North London with his daughter, Amelie, and his orphaned granddaughter, Lise.

Lise Lillywhite had been brought up in the best traditions of French and English society, she was watched over by her fiercely protective Tante Amelie, and her family’s dearest wish was that she would take her place in high society as the wife of a great and good man.

It was quite possible – Lise was beautiful, demure, poised and accomplished.

Her days were spent:

“In domestic duties, in the study of Italian, in selected French and English reading: in listening to classical music on the wireless: in visits to museums and picture galleries, always accompanied by her aunt: and in fine needlework.”

The trouble was, she had been brought up for a world that didn’t exist anymore; a world that had been irrevocably changed by two wars.

Her grandfather hoped that his family would help to launch Lise, but the ancestral home that he had left nearly half a century earlier had changed too. The fortunes of the Lillywhite family had faded and the ancestral home had been turned into a pig and poultry farm.

And so Margery Sharp asked one of her favourite questions, about a young woman slightly out of step with the world:

“What’s to become of her?”

The answering of that question makes a lovely romantic comedy.

The Somerset Lillywhites – Luke who ran the farm, his lovely wife, Kate, and his unmarried sister, Susanna – are much too busy getting on with things to be interested in relations they had never met; but Luke’s younger brother, Martin, is a rather dull bachelor who lives and works in London, and he is charmed by young Lise.

The ever vigilant Tante Amelie spots that, and she is quick to take advantage. She secures an invitation to Somerset, where she hopes that Lise will charm young Lord Mull. She makes use of his London contacts and positions Lise to catch the eye of his friend Stan – a Polish refugee who is more formally known as Count Stanislav.

It was unfortunate that Lord Mull was a rather vacant young man who wanted only to escape to a Scottish Island.

It was even more unfortunate that Stan was a racketeer who would face criminal charges if he tried to go home to his castle in Poland.

Margery Sharp drew all of these characters – and others – so very well. She dropped little details of what they said, what they did, what they looked like, so cleverly that I felt I knew them all wonderfully well.

She spins a story around them just as cleverly.

It’s a wonderfully light and bright social comedy, with just enough weight and reality to stop it floating away.

It paints a wonderful picture of a time when the war is over and done with, but nobody quite knows what the future will hold.

There are themes and details here that are familiar from reading Margery Sharp’s other books, but this book has more than enough that is different to make it distinctive.

At first it seems that Lise Lillywhite is quiet and passive; her voice is rarely heard and she follows the course set out for her.

In time though it becomes clear that Lise is a very clever girl, and when she was being education and acquiring all of those wonderful accomplishments she was learning the most important things of all. She was learning to think for herself, and she was learning what she really wanted from life and how she might get it.

She was all the things she had been brought up to be, but she was also had the one essential attribute of a Margery Sharp heroine.

Lise Lillywhite would chart her own course through life!

I was delighted when I read:

“It is time to enter Lise Lillywhite’s mind. So far its workings, at any rate in result, have easily been reflected in the minds of others: now what Lise thought about was strictly her own business. She was in fact engaged upon a most important and difficult enterprise….”

I loved the way that Lise twisted her own story, and brought it to the most wonderful ending.

The more I thought about it the more I liked it; and it was exactly the right conclusion for Lise, for her times, and for the future.

A New A to Z for a New Month

A is for ALEXANDRE DUMAS. I have ‘The Black Tulip’ lines up to fill the 1850 slot in my 100 Years of Books project.

B is for BLANKET. Briar usually takes a while to get used to knew things, but she sat on the new blanket I bought for her visits to my mother’s nursing home room the first time I laid it out.

C is for CELEBRATION. I’m delighted that Lory will be hosting another celebration of Elizabeth Goudge’s birthday on 24th April.

D is for DARE. I made it to the end of the TBR Dare for the very first time!

E is for ELIZABETH VON ARNIM. Author of the Month for April in the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group.

F is for FOUR BAGS left the house last time we did a charity shop drop.

G is for GREEN PENGUINS. I picked up eight books, including titles by Anthony Berkeley, Mary Fitt and Elspeth Huxley, in my local second-hand bookshop. Someone with very similar taste to me – and I think I know who – has been thinning out their shelves.

H is for HAIR. It’s that time of  year when we start thinning out Briar’s winter coat, putting the hair out in the garden, and then watching birds fly off with their beaks full.

I is for IN PROGRESS. My easy knitting project and my more complex knitting project are both close to completion, so expect a knitting post or two very soon.

J is for JUNE. Margaret Kennedy Day will be happening again on June 20th. More details will be coming soon.

K is for KAFFE FASSETT. I love the pattern on the cover of the new edition of Vogue Knitting, but with Felted Tweed held double it would be quite an investment.

L is for LYMOND. I’m smitten, I was tempted to pick up ‘Queen’s Play as soon as I put ‘The Game of Kings’ down, but I decided I shouldn’t rush and that I really should write about one book before I start the next one.

M is for MARGARET LAURENCE. Author of the Month for June in the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group.

N is for THE 1951 CLUB. I have books by Margery Sharp and Howard Spring lined up.

O is for OXFORD WORLD CLASSICS. The new editions are lovely, but at the moment I am smitten with older editions that I picked up in a charity shop a week or so ago.

P is for PUZZLED. We ordered Briar some steps, to help her get into her chair now she’s getting a little older. When they arrived we couldn’t work out how the pieces could fit together. When I rechecked the packaging I found some brief instructions and realised that we had been sent a dog gate instead of steps.

Q is for QUIET – but not as quiet as it usually is this time of year, as we have major building works two houses away.

R is for READING LIBARY BOOKS AGAIN now that the TBR Dare is over is a lovely prospect, but I’m going to be very selective now that I’ve been reminded how many wonderful books I have in the house already.

S is for SPIN. The Classics Club Spin gave me ‘The Beth Book’ by Sarah Grand. I’m not thrilled but it is a book I want to read and an author I’d like to get to know.

T is for TINDERSTICKS. I hadn’t listened to them for years but when I heard The Waiting Room I was smitten.

U is for UP IN THE ATTIC is where I have to go to do some clearing out now that spring is here.

V is for VISSER. I love this design, and I hope it won’t be too long before I can start to knit.

W is for WILLA CATHER. Author of the Month for May in the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group.

X is for (E)XHIBITION. A Casket of Pearls is going to be hard to follow, but a summer exhibition of works by Stanhope Forbes at Penlee House is very enticing.

Y is for YIN YANG DANCE. Here is a knitting pattern with a fascinating construction. You begin with an i-cord loop and knit outwards …

Z is for ZZZZZZZZZZ. Border terriers are very good sleepers ….

 

Crossriggs by Jane and Mary Findlater (1908)

I had lots of reasons to think I would love this book:

  • It’s set in a small Scottish town, early in the 20th century.
  • It’s is a collaboration between sister authors I writers working together always intrigue me.
  • It’s a Virago Modern Classic, and Liz and Ali both loved it.

I did love it. I can’t say that its a great book, but it is a lovely period piece.

Alexandra Hope lives in Crossriggs with her father. He is generous to a fault, he loves to help people and to try new things but he rarely stops to consider practicalities; and so the family is rather poorer than it might be. She is bright, spirited and unconventional. Marriage doesn’t appeal to Alex, and she turned down a proposal from a rather dull man who was deemed a good catch; but that didn’t mean she didn’t worry about her family’s situation.

Her worries increase when her recently widowed sister comes home from Canada with her five young children. Alex  loves her sister and adores her nieces and nephews, but she knows that she will have to find a way to keep the family afloat. Matilda is rather more conventional than her sister, but she is almost as oblivious to practicalities as her father  and she blithely assumes that everything will be alright.

Alex finds that she can earn a little money by reading to the Admiral Cassilis of Foxe Hall, the family’s blind, aristocratic neighbour. She does her job very well and that leads her to other jobs that require a lovely speaking voice.

It also leads her to a friendship with Van Cassilis, the Admiral’s nephew. It quickly becomes clear Van has deeper feelings than friendship for Alex, but those feelings are not reciprocated. She knows that he is younger than her, she doesn’t think his feelings will last, and, most significantly, she has already lost her heart to another.

Alex is in love with Robert Maitland, another neighbour who has rather more money and social standing than the hopes. He is fond of her, he is her wisest counsellor and her moral compass, but as he is married Alex knows that her she can never speak of or act on her feelings.

I was inclined to like Alex. She was a wonderfully imperfect heroine; walking a fine line between idealism and realism; pride and humility; compassion and causticity; reserve and outspokenness.

There were so many characters that were so very well drawn. I’ve mentioned some of them already, I can’t mention them all, but I can’t leave out Robert Maitland’s Aunt Elizabeth – known as Aunt E.V by everyone in Crossriggs – who was a wonderful matriarchal figure, or Miss Bessie Reid, who was no longer young, who had to look after a very elderly aunt, but who still dreamed of romance.

I believed in them all, and I believed in their village community.

The Hope household was poor but it was never dull. The children were bright and entertaining, the family patriarch – who would always by known as ‘Old Hopeful’ – was a welcoming host, and there were lots of lovely outings and much fun to be had.

The Findlater sisters must have taken such care over the characters, the community and the stories that they created. I loved them all.

I particularly loved the beautiful evocation of the changing seasons.

The story was beautifully positioned between two different eras. Much of it feels wonderfully Victorian, but Alex is quite clearly a ‘New Woman’ caught up in small town life,

The influences were clear. There are definite echoes of a particular Jane Austen novel  in the characters and the relationships, and there were something in the style and in the drawing of the community that told me  that the sisters must have read and loved Trollope too.

The writing style seemed fluctuate, the plot was rather uneven, but because there were so many good things, because I was so caught up, I could forgive that.

The story moved slowly for a long time, but in the later chapters all of the storylines came to a head.

Alex and Van fall out, and he makes a reckless decision that will have irreversible consequences. There’s a villainess in the mix here, and I’m afraid she was the one character I couldn’t quite believe in. Maybe because she came into this world from outside …

The unhappy loss of her friend, the pressure of the work she has taken on to support her family, takes its toll on Alex. Her physical health, her emotions and her mental health all begin to fray.

There was a suggestion that another relationship could change.

I saw an obvious ending, but there were one or two twists in the tail of this story, before it came to a conclusion that I hadn’t expected but thought was completely right.

Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915)

I knew little of Susan Glaspell when I put this book on my Classics Club list; just that two of her books had been republished by Persephone and that she was both a novelist and a dramatist.

That was reason enough.

The opening of this book told me that she was mistress of each art.

In Freeport, a small town in Iowa, an old man was gravely ill. He was asking for his daughter and his numbers wondered if she would dare to come home. She had left town in the wake of a terrible scandal. She hadn’t come home when her mother died, and that hardened the widely held opinion that she wasn’t the nice girl had thought she was; that she was a selfish, manipulative woman who shouldn’t be allowed in decent society. But if she was ever to come back surely this was the time.

Amy Frankin, the doctor’s wife, was a newcomer to the town and she had no idea what her new friends were talking about, or what disgraceful thing Ruth Holland had done. She would learn that Ruth had fallen in love with a married man, and that, when his health had broken down and his doctor suggest a change of climate, they had left town and set up home together in Colorado.

Ruth Holland was coming home, and she was well aware that it wouldn’t be easy.

“It was over the pain and the sweetness of life that this woman—Ruth Holland—brooded during the two days that carried her back to the home of her girlhood. She seemed to be going back over a long bridge. That part of her life had been cut away from her. With most lives the past grew into the future; it was as a growth that spread, the present but the extent of the growth at the moment. With her there had been the sharp cut; not a cut, but a tear, a tear that left bleeding ends. Back there lay the past, a separated thing. During the eleven years since her life had been torn from that past she had seen it not only as a separate thing but a thing that had no reach into the future. The very number of miles between, the fact that she made no journeys back home, contributed to that sense of the cleavage, the remoteness, the finality. Those she had left back there remained real and warm in her memory, but her part with them was a thing finished. It was as if only shoots of pain could for the minute unite them.”

She wasn’t aware – but she would learn – was that her behaviour had caused terrible problems for her family. That so many things she had said and done would be re-evaluated and misunderstood after her departure. And that friends and neighbours would still say that what she had done was beyond the pale and turn their backs on her.

Deane Franklin, the town doctor, supported her. They had been close friends and he had helped her to when she needed to keep her relationship secret, he had listened when she needed someone to talk to. Amy couldn’t understand why her husband was still drawn to another woman, why his view of what had happened was so different to her friends’ views, or why he  would make himself complicit in such a scandalous situation

“I do know a few things. I know that society cannot countenance a woman who did what that woman did. I know that if a woman is going to selfishly take her own happiness with no thought of others she must expect to find herself outside the lives of decent people. Society must protect itself against such persons as she. I know that much—fortunately.”

Susan Glaspell tells her story beautifully. The pace is stately; the perspectives shift; and she moves between a traditional third-person narrative and more modern visits to her characters’ thoughts. There was complexity, there there was detail, and yet there was always such clarity of thought and purpose.

I found it easy to be drawn into the world she created, and to believe that these people lived and breathed, that the events and incidents I read about really happened.

I could see where the suthor’s sympathies lay, but I appreciated that she had understanding and concern for all of her characters and their different views.

I loved the telling of the story, and I loved its emotional depth.

(The endpapers of the Persephone Books edition of ‘Fidelity’)

The title of this book was very well chosen. It is underpinned by the question of who or what we owe fidelity. Our spouses?  The standards of society? Our families? To the lover with whom we’ve aligned? Or our selves?

There are no easy answers, but the asking of the question allowed Susan Glaspell to make a wonderful exploration of the possibilities and the problems that it presents.

A conversation with an old school-mate – a girl who had came from a much poorer background that Ruth and her friends and had not had an easy life – gives Ruth food for thought and helps her to face the future.

“It’s what we think that counts, Ruth. It’s what we feel. It’s what we are. Oh, I’d like richer living—more beauty—more joy. Well, I haven’t those things. For various reasons, I won’t have them. That makes it the more important to have all I can take!”—it leaped out from the gentler thinking like a sent arrow. “Nobody holds my thoughts. They travel as far as they themselves have power to travel. They bring me whatever they can bring me—and I shut nothing out. I’m not afraid!”

This is a story set in a particular time and place, the world has changed a great deal in more than a hundred years since it was written, and yet it still has the power to touch hearts and minds.

The questions it asks would need to be asked differently today, but they are as important now as they were then.

Casket of Pearls: Celebrating 20 Years of Collecting at Penlee

This was an exhibition that I really couldn’t miss: a celebration of the collection of my hometown museum to mark the twentieth anniversary of its expansion from a small collection of Newlyn School artworks into a fully fledged museum and gallery with collections of fine and decorative art, social history, photography and archaeology.

I still haven’t learned to speak the language of art – and I probably never will – but I’d love to show you some of the paintings and tell you some of my thoughts.

We saw a wonderful array of paintings from the glory days of the Newlyn school. Many of them – alomost all of them – were wonderfully familiar and it was so lovely to see them in real life.There were works by Walter Langley,  Frank Bramley, Harold Harvey, Fred Hall, Henry Scott Tuke, Stanhope Forbes …

  (Abbey Slip, 1921 by Stanhope Forbes)

This is a painting I love for its own sake and because the scene is so familiar. I have walked up and down those steps so many times, my best friend lived just a few minutes walk from the top of the steps, and the Man of the House recalled that his grandfather lived in that part of town too and his father told him that he learned to swim in that harbour basin.

Little has changed today; but the warehouses fell into decay and have been restored as office accommodation, so you’ll see parked cars in front of them today rather than upturned boats. Unless the weather is rough and waves are crashing up …

(Dinner Time by Henry Scott Tuke)

This is such a striking portrait; and it reminded me of a very recent photograph of a group of fisherman in a net loft, in a photographic book published a few years ago to raise finds for the Fisherman’s mission.

(Forty Winks by Fred Hall)

And this is the donkey from the exhibition poster. It was suggested that there might be a link with the writer Derek Tangye, and the Man of the House wondered if it might be an ancestor of the donkeys he knew when he worked out at the National Trust’s Botallack base.

The hallway was filled with photographs from a recently acquired collection. We were particularly taken with an early photograph of St Michael’s Mount Boatman. Their uniforms were remarkable, and most have been horribly cumbersome. Mount jobs were often passed down through families and the Man of the House thought he could see resemblances to one or two of the boatmen he knew as a child.

A number of the paintings on display were chosen by the gallery’s small army of volunteer stewards, and the next painting was the most popular choice.

(On Paul Hill, 1922 by Stanhope Forbes)

I have to commend their taste; and tell you that my father grew up in a house on that hill.

As we moved through the galleries we saw that the paintings were moving forward in time.

I was thrilled to see a painting by an artist who is a particular favourite ‘in real life’ for the first time.

(The Pied Piper by Elizabeth Adela Forbes)

And maybe even better, a beautiful illustrated book that she prepared for her children was on show in a cabinet. There were some lovely sketches by Norman Garstin there, as well as a cartoon by his writer son, Crosbie, showing the artist followed by his daughter Alathea – another artist – and a string of pupils.

I wish I could show you that cabinet, but I can’t.

And, before I leave Elizabeth Adela Forbes behind, I must tell you that her drypoint etchings are quite wonderful.

(Laura and Paul Jewill Hill, 1915)

I know that Harold Harvey is much loved, and a particular favourite of the Persephone Post, so I had to show off one of his paintings from this exhibition. I chose this one because I saw that it was a bequest from one of the subjects, Miss Laura Jewill Hill.

One painting that I particularly liked was a bequest from Doctor Eric Richards. I spotted more of his bequests, I have a number of books from the library book-sale that came from his collection, and I have to think that we have very similar tastes.

(Old Harbour Newlyn by Geoffrey Snyed Gardiner)

Upstairs, we saw the most contemporary works. Some were by artists still alive and working, and we spotted two artists whose paintings we own. Bob Vigg was a friend of my godmother, Michael Praed was one of my mothers teaching colleagues before he began to paint full-time, and I must confess that we liked our own paintings a little more than the works in the exhibition.

There was a great deal of wonderful work in this gallery, and it was here that I saw how certain artists had influenced others.

I was very taken with a painting by John Miller, quite unlike his more famous works. I wish I could show you but it doesn’t seem to be in the museum’s database yet. It was another bequest from Dr Richards …

I loved this view of my hometown.

(Penzance Panorama by Ken Symons)

I have always loved Jack Pender’s work.

(Untitled (Boats at Mousehole by Jack Pender)

And this lovely sunset, over the lighthouse that inspired the young Virginia Woolf, seems to be the right place for me to stop.

 (Godrevy Lighthouse, Carbis Bay by Hector Arthur Mace)

* * * * * * *

A Casket of Pearls runs until 3rd June 2017.

Do visit if you have the chance. There is so much wonderful work, and art is so much lovelier, so much more alive, face to face than it can ever be in a book or on a computer screen.