Glass: A Collection

The two of us won’t share a glass together
Be it of water or of sweet red wine;
We won’t be kissing, in the morning either
Nor, late at night, enjoy an evening shine…
You breathe the sun, I breathe the moon; however
We are united by one love forever.

I always have with me my true soul mate,
You have with you your ever-merry girlfriend;
Yet I’m acquainted with your eye’s dismay
As you’re the reason of my lifelong ailment.
The length of our dates won’t be increased,
That’s how, it’s doomed, to honor our peace.

Yet, it’s my breath that flows in your rhymes
While in my rhymes your voice is singing clear;
Oh’ neither oblivion, nor fear
Will ever dare to touch this kind of flame.
I wish you knew how I am longing now
To feel your dry and rosy lips somehow.

Anna Akhmatova

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‘Solitude Bowl’ by Celia Colman

* * * * * * *

“Part of her wanted simply to sit and stare out of the window, at the lawn, flaky with sodden leaves, and the branches with yellow leaves, or few, or none, she thought, taking pleasure at least in Shakespeare’s rhythm, but also feeling old. She took pleasure, too, in the inert solidity of glass panes and polished furniture and rows of ordered books around her, and the magic trees of life woven in glowing colours on the rugs at her feet.”

From ‘The Children’s Book’ by A S Byatt

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‘Potions and Cure Alls’ by Victoria Appleyard

* * * * * * *

““While I dress it is my habit to read. Some book is propped up open against the looking-glass, and sometimes, for one’s eyes can’t be everywhere at once, my hooks in consequence don’t get quite satisfactorily fastened. Indeed I would be very neat if I could, but there are other things … “

From ‘In The Mountains’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

* * * * * * *

Gothic Conservatory by Adale Rene

* * * * * * *

“I always think about what it means to wear eyeglasses. When you get used to glasses you don’t know how far you could really see. I think about all the people before eyeglasses were invented. It must have been weird because everyone was seeing in different ways according to how bad their eyes were. Now, eyeglasses standardize everyone’s vision to 20-20. That’s an example of everyone becoming more alike. Everyone could be seeing at different levels if it weren’t for glasses.”

Andy Warhol

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‘Amber Cairns’ by David and Melanie Leppla

‘Cairns have held deep significance for millennia. These Cairns, born of glass in heat and light, capture a brief moment in time when the elements are in balance. Each unique composition represents accomplishments, knowledge and experience gained, difficulties overcome and guidance for pathways yet to be travelled.’

* * * * * * *

‘Blue Monday’ by Caleb Siemon

* * * * * * *

unguentaria

glass blown glass

colossal potteries made tiny bottles
spindle necked, ovoid bodied, long footed
for perfume to anoint the dead
they were buried with their contents
flattening into triangular shapes
though always a long neck
an elongated tear
and a tear
contained

it’s possible
no one can say no

bottles were also bird shaped
break beak or tail to open
shells, shoes, snails
and little boats
even dates in amber
and the heads of gods and men

glass unguentarium
aqua green and yellow
stoppered with cork or wax
the perfume inside expensive
refined not distilled
thousands in a store room

this is  the first century
Bay of Naples
for roses, lilies, violets
from Eygypt and the east
bergamot, cinnamon, cloves
perfumiers  are named on Pompeii’s wall

first find
in an abandoned room
painfully thin and broken
so easily smashed
the wall of the vase
less than a millimetre through
beautiful blue glass
in fragments
grave goods

From ‘Tear Treasury Poems’ – collected by Clare Whistler

* * * * * * *

‘Marbles’ by Margaret Morrison

* * * * * * *

“The two women sat by the fire, tilting their glasses and drinking in small peaceful sips. The lamplight shone upon the tidy room and the polished table, lighting topaz in the dandelion wine, spilling pools of crimson through the flanks of the bottle of plum gin. It shone on the contented drinkers, and threw their large, close-at-hand shadows upon the wall. When Mrs Leak smoothed her apron the shadow solemnified the gesture as though she were moulding an universe. Laura’s nose and chin were defined as sharply as the peaks peaks on a holly leaf.”

From ‘Lolly Willowes’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner

* * * * * * *

‘Oeillets Bowl’ by Rene Lalique (c 1932)

* * * * * * *

No, I did not swallow or inhale the glass piano.
It has grown inside me like a crystal in salt water
or an alien cell, accreting keys and string after string
until one day I reached the full eight octaves.
Some days I’m loud. I growl bass chords
or sigh chromatically from a to middle C,
play a waltz or gigue until notes hurtle form my skin.
Still, I keep my distance. Clasped or grasped I’ll shatter
endlessly with every lovely theme and variation.

‘The Glass Piano’ by Katharine Towers

(Inspired by the true story of Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria (b. 1826) who believed that her body contained a grand piano made of glass)

* * * * * * *

‘Looking for Squirrels’ by Nicholas Hely Hutchinson

* * * * * * *

“She kept her glass dreams from him, even whilst she appeared to talk about them. He was an admiring listener, but she only showed him the opaque skin of her dreams–window glass, the price of transporting it, the difficulties with builders who would not pay their bills inside six months. He imagined this was her business, and of course it was, but all the things she spoke of were a fog across its landscape which was filled with such soaring mountains she would be embarrassed to lay claim to them. Her true ambition, the one she would not confess to him, was to build something Extraordinary and Fine from glass and cast iron. A conservatory, but not a conservatory. Glass laced with steel, spun like a spider web–the idea danced around the periphery of her vision, never long enough to be clear. When she attempted to make a sketch, it became diminished, wooden, inelegant. Sometimes, in her dreams, she felt she had discovered its form, but if she had, it was like an improperly fixed photograph which fades when exposed to daylight. She was wise enough, or foolish enough, to believe this did not matter, that the form would present itself to her in the end.”

From ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ by Peter Carey

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

“I hope, in years to come, I shall hold my heart up and it will be a pane of clear glass, through which I see all, but nothing is distorted.”

From ‘The Folded World’ by Catherynne M Valente

A Book for Margaret Kennedy Day: The Oracles (1955)

Margaret Kennedy’s twelfth novel is dark and clever.

It is set in a small town close to the Bristol Channel, not long after the war; and it spins around the family of a Bohemian artist, a more conventional young married couple with a new baby, a number of their friends and neighbours, and its catalyst is a remarkable work of art.

The story begins as an apocalyptic thunderstorm rages over the town. The residents, horribly reminded of wartime bombings, huddle in their houses; but when they look outside only one thing has changed. A huge tree near the home of abstract sculptor Conrad Swann has been struck by lightning and is split in two.

When his wife died, leaving him with three young children, the sculptor had ran away from London to the country with the wife of his agent and his oldest friend, Frank Archer. Elizabeth, the mother of twins who came along with her, had been an actress, but her beauty was faded and she was drawn to of alcohol and idleness. Ten year-old Serafina Swann was left to manage the house and the four younger children as best she could. Serafina was bright, she did her best, but the the family’s new home was beginning to decay.

The tree had been the children’s refuge, where they hid from their fathers work, which they saw as malevolent ‘artifaxes’. Imagine their horror when they saw that it had been struck, and that in his branches was a horrible new creation. Serafina took charge, hauling the strange form of distorted arms and legs and hiding it in the shed, pushing a new work of her father’s that was to be collected for an exhibition well out of the way.

Only Joe, the youngest of the children realised what it was – the remains of the chair they had used to climb into the tree – but when he shouted at it nobody seemed to be listening.

Meanwhile, Christina Pattison was happy with her new home, her new baby, and her role as the perfect housewife. She was only a little worried that her husband Dickie might feel a little left out, might be a little less than happy. She was right. Dickie hadn’t really wanted to come back to his home town after the war, but his mother had died and so he felt that he had to, for the sake of his elderly father.

Dickie, eager for new experiences and new friends, was glad to accept an invitation to a party to celebrate the completion of Conrad Swann’s latest work. Christina was reluctant. She clung to convention, she worried about the children in that most unconventional of households, and she had no taste for modern art. Dickie went to the party alone, and rolled home the next morning with a hideous hangover.

Conrad Swann had disappeared. It was said that he was going to Mexico, but Frank Archer, who had come to face his friend for the first time since he absconded, pointed out that he didn’t have the means to get very far from home at all. He was right, but that’s another story. Elizabeth wept and wailed, and Frank enlisted Dickie to keep the party going, with the help of a crate of brandy that he found in the kitchen. The supposed next artwork – actually the children’s artefax – was unveiled, and the company was astounded by the sculptor’s radical new direction.

Martha Rawson, Swann’s would be patron is eager to celebrate and promote the wonderful new work. Architect, Alan Wetherby, who bought an earlier work in unconvinced, and eventually he will uncover the truth.

While that is happening Elizabeth abandons her household, Conrad finds a new life in the country, Serafina struggles to look after herself and the younger children, and – as sides are drawn in the dispute over the new artwork – the Christina becomes more conventional and Dickie more determined to explore new possibilities.

The satire is lovely – and I was pleased that Margaret Kennedy was satirising the people rather than the art – and there is much more here to appreciate.

The plot is cleverly and elaborately constructed, and the outcomes are unexpected.

Margaret Kennedy draw her characters so well, and she is at her most clear-sighted in this book. Some are lightly sketched, others are drawn with much more detail, but all are real fallible human beings. That made it easier for me than I expected to believe this rather improbable story.

The portraits of Christina and Dickie as their marriage reached crisis point, and Christina finally realised that she had to learn to change and make compromises, was wonderful.

Serafina Swann, who was thrilled when a lady at church described her as ‘a little mother’, who had to cope somehow when the adults abandoned the children of her family, who was so worried when she thought that her next home might not have enough books, was a marvellous creation, and one my favourite Margaret Kennedy characters. I should love to spend a little more time with her, and know rather more about her future.

My disappointment with this book was that it spent a little too much time with the characters I couldn’t care for and focused a little too much on the weaknesses of the characters I liked. That meant that I couldn’t feel quite as engaged with this book as I did with many of Margaret Kennedy’s other works.

I was disappointed that neither Conrad nor Elizabeth were ever held to account for abandoning their children.

The way that the story played out made me realise why much of that had to be though.

And when I look back at this book as a whole, I realise that I found much to love and much to admire.

* * * * * *

Now, please do tell me if you’ve read  – or if you’re reading – a book for Margaret Kennedy Day.

I’ll post a round up in a few days.

And please don’t worry if you haven’t found a book or haven’t been able to read for this particular celebration  – Margaret Kennedy posts are welcome on any day of the year!

War and Peace: The Before We Begin Questions

I’ve been wanting to read ‘War and Peace’ ever since I finished ‘Anna Karenina’ and I think that the time has come.

The ‘War and Peace’ read-along at Reading in Bed begins in July

Here are my thoughts about the ‘before we begin’ type questions:

Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace?

I looked at this read-along – a chapter a day for the whole year – back in January. The idea was lovely but I realised quite early on that the pacing too slow for me and I drifted away.

What edition and translation are you reading?

I have two and I’m really not sure which one I’m going to read.

On one hand I have the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation in a lovely old Macmillan edition, with maps for endpapers and headings at the top of each page.

When I auditioned translations of ‘Anna Karenina’ theirs was my favourite by far, I love that they knew Tolstoy, and what I’ve read of their translation of ‘War and Peace’ feels right.

On the other hand I have the Anthony Briggs translation in a recent Penguin edition.

 

It’s wonderfully readable, I’d be less worried about wear and tear with a newer, more replaceable edition, I like what he has to say is his translator’s note. But it feels a little less Russian, a little less of the period than the Maudes.

I’m going to read a little more of each translation, and then I’ll make a decision and stick to it.

How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

I watched the most recent BBC adaptation. That’s given me an idea of the characters and the story arc, but I know that there is going to be much more to the book.

How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I don’t want to over-think this, so I’ve just read the introductory material and the translator’s notes from my two edition.

What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

I hope to enjoy spending time with the characters in their world. And to be able to say that I’ve read it!

What are you intimidated by?

Just the sheer scale of the thing.

Do you think it’s okay to skip the ‘war’ parts?

I have no plans to – the ‘war’ parts are a large and significant part of the book.

I’ve come across the Napoleonic War in books before, I’m interested in seeing it from a different perspective. So I have no plans to skip it though I suspect that – as when I read ‘Vanity Fair’ – I might be wishing that Jonathan Strange might appear to help move things along ….

And that’s it!

Any advice would, as always, be gratefully received!

Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy (1871)

The idea of re-reading Thomas Hardy’s work in order of publication floated in my head for quite some time; and now that I have made a start and re-visited his first published novel I think that it was a rather good idea.

‘Desperate Remedies’ isn’t his finest work but it is a good start, and a very readable story. Hardy wrote another novel before this one, but after it was rejected and now it is lost. He took advice; and it resulted in a book that is a curious mixture of Hardy and of certain other novelists who had found success some years before he did.

Cytheria Graye was named after her father’s great lost love; a young woman who had, quite explicably, sent him away and broke his heart. He built a career as an architect, some years later he married, and when his wife died he raised their two children, Cytheria and Owen, alone. He was a good man, but he made some poor decisions and he trusted some people who were not worthy of that trust, and when he died his children found that they had nothing.

They made plans together. Owen would continue his training to become and architect, and his sister would go into service, just until his training was complete and he could support the household. Cytheria was beautiful, she was accomplished, and they thought that she would find a position easily. She didn’t, and she had to lower her sights time and time again.

Cytheria was downhearted, because she had fallen in love with her brother’s friend, Edward Springrove; and he had fallen in love with her.

6352716One day, unexpectedly and inexplicably, Cytheria was offered a position much grander than she dared to hope for.

She became lady’s maid to the mercurial Miss Aldclyffe. She could be terribly imperious, but it was clear that she desperately want to be a mother to the girl, and and bring her up to be strong and not to be dependent on any man. There were definitely echoes of Miss Havisham ….  

When Cytheria learned that her employer shared her distinctive name, she realised that she must be her father’s lost love.

She realised that Miss Aldclyffe was troubled, and that she had secrets she was determined to keep.

She couldn’t understand why Miss Aldclyffe went to such lengths to secure a man named Aeneas Manston as her steward. Edward Springrove had applied, he was well qualified, he was a local man, and he had the support if the lady’s solicitor; but Miss Aldclyffe disregarded that and insisted that she would have Manston, even though her solicitor told her that he was “a scoundrel of the first order”….

Miss Aldclyffe tried to plant doubts about Edward in Cyrethia’s mind; and to encourage a match with Manston. Cyrethia disliked Manston and was resolute in her love for Edward; but when his family faced a crisis and Owen was taken ill she found herself alone and trapped ….

The story starts slowly but it accelerates and turns into a wonderful, page-turning sensation novel. There are wonderful twists and turns, there is much more to the plot than I have set out, and there were questions in my mind right to the end.

There is a little too much melodrama; but not so much that it spoils the story.

This may sound more like Wilkie Collins than Thomas Hardy – and yes, it is – but there is so much in this book that is Hardy. The descriptions are lyrical, country life is portrayed with real understanding, the set pieces are beautifully handled, and I saw themes and ideas in this book that he would develop in later works.

Aeneas Manston was a magnificent villain, Edward Seagrove was a reliable, if slightly dull, hero, and Owen Graye had an interesting part to play.

Cyrethia was a little unpredictable – sometimes brave and sometimes just the opposite – but I found it easy to like her, I could always empathise with her, and she carried me through the story. Hardy would go on to create stronger, more complex heroines, but Cyrethia was the right heroine for this book.

I loved the story arc of Miss Aldclyffe. I didn’t remember it and I didn’t work it out, because I was far too caught up with the story to stop and think.

Thomas Hardy wrote a good sensation novel; and it was lovely to read that story mixed with the things that Hardy did so well. That made it feel familiar and yet unlike any other book I’ve read. I’m glad though that he didn’t continue down that route, and that he went on to do the other things he began to do well in this book even better as his writing career progressed.

Margaret Kennedy Day is just a week away …. so I pulled out some of my favourite books ….

…. because I’d realised that I had read twelve of them and that I only had four left.

It felt like time to take stock, and to decide if I should re-read one of the twelve or read one of the four for the first time.

That inspired me to write a list of favourites, to share descriptions and reviews of those books, and to try to explain what makes them special. It’s not a definitive list, because I still have books to read, because the margins are very fine, and because I always reserve the right to change my mind.

The first two books picked themselves, but I had to shuffle the books that followed quite a few times and expand the list from five to six before I felt that it was right, and that it showed all of the different qualities to be found in Margaret Kennedy’s work.

* * * * * *

ONE

The Feast (1950)

“The germ of the idea for The Feast – Margaret Kennedy’s ninth novel and perhaps her most ingenious, first published in 1950 – came to the author in 1937 when she and a social gathering of literary friends were discussing the Medieval Masque of the Seven Deadly Sins. The talk turned excitedly to the notion that a collection of stories might be fashioned from seven different authors, each re-imagining one of the Sins through the medium of a modern-day character. That notion fell away, but something more considerable stayed in Margaret Kennedy’s mind over the next ten years, and so she conceived of a story that would gather the Sins all under the roof of a Cornish seaside hotel managed by the unhappy wife of Sloth…”

There was no question in my mind that this book had to come first. It really is the most accomplished, most engaging and most intriguing of Margaret Kennedy’s novels, and it should be much better known and widely read.

I said:

“I might describe The Feast, Margaret Kennedy’s ninth novel in many ways: a character study, a morality tale, a social comedy, an allegory. But, above all of that, I would describe it as very readable novel.”

Kaggsy said:

“Reading “The Feast” was a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience and I’m so glad I chose it. In fact, I think it will benefit from a re-read as I was so anxious to reach the conclusion that I’m sure there are many profound little bits I’ve missed.”

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TWO

Lucy Carmichael (1951)

“This work by a mature novelist at the height of her powers – opens on an unforgettably disastrous scene, as the novel’s eponymous heroine, preparing to savour her wedding day, is instead jilted at the altar. Lucy Carmichael’s recovery from this calamity forms the substance of the story that follows. She takes a job in the rural Lincolnshire village of Ravonsbridge, at an educational institute established by a wealthy manufacturer for the cultural benefit of the local community. This employment will come to offer Lucy a second chance at romance, but it also brings her unexpectedly into contact with a host of remarkable characters who will influence how she sees the world.”

Lucy’s story is a little uneven, but she is the most wonderful heroine, and you really should meet her.

This is how her best friend describes her:

“She is incautious and intrepid. She will go to several wrong places and arrive at the right one, while I am still making up my mind to cross the road. She is cheerful and confident and expects to be happy. She taught me how to enjoy myself … Lucy forced me to believe that I might be happy. I don’t expect I’d have had the courage to marry you, to marry anybody, if it hadn’t been for Lucy”.

And this is the very perceptive review that Audrey wrote for last year’s Margaret Kennedy Day.

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THREE

The Fool of the Family (1930)

“The fool of the title in this charming light-hearted Margaret Kennedy novel is solid, reliable, put-upon Caryl, one of the innumerable offspring of the eccentric musician Sanger. He too is a musician and to save money to put on a concert, he works in the evening as a cinema pianist on the Lido in Venice. Within the space of one summer week, two fateful meeting disrupt his calm and ordered life: that with beautiful Fenella and, much less welcome, with his handsome, amoral half-brother Sebastian.”

‘The Constant Nymph’ was a huge success in the 1920s, and it is a very good book indeed; but I am fonder of its rather less successful sequel, and I had a lovely time wandering through.

Here is a lovely review at GenusRosa, explaining the charm of this book much better than I can.

* * * * * *

FOUR

A Night in Cold Harbour (1960)

“Romilly Brandon was heir to a fortune and the handsomest and liveliest young man in the county. But in his twenty-first year, the pretty daughter of the local parson, Jenny Newbolt broke his heart, and he left to live a dissipated life in London. Returning years later, Romily finds many surprises – his one-time sweetheart grown old and withered, and in possession of a great secret that shakes him to his core. When Romily finally learns the truth, is it too late to atone?”

This a rare thing – a perfectly pitched historical novel with something to say that still resonates today.

I wouldn’t often reference an Amazon review, but this one catches the book perfectly, and I am so glad that I saw it and it inspired me to pick up one of Margaret Kennedy’s most obscure works.

* * * * * *

FIVE

The Midas Touch (1938)

“A young Welshman, Evan Jones, arrives in London towards the end of the 1930s. Attractive and agreeable to outsiders, he has the power to sell anything to anyone; and he sees other people as an opportunity.Across the city, Mrs Carter Blake sells her psychic powers, mixed with a healthy dose of charlatanism. Desperate to maintain a respectable life, though ashamed of her work, she preys upon the superstitious and susceptible rich. And the self-made capitalist, Corris Morgan, is one of the richest men in Europe, with the power to destroy anyone who crosses him. But even Corris has his weak points – and as he struggles to escape the fate he fears, both Mrs Carter Blake and Evan are drawn into his orbit and inexorably swept along with him.”

One thing that Margaret Kennedy does particularly well is bring together curious mixtures of character, plot strands and themes to make a fascinating and thought provoking story. This is said to be her favourite of her own books, and my review is here.

* * * * * *

SIX

Together and Apart (1936)

“Betsy Canning is dissatisfied with life. She has always taken pains to be healthy, popular and well-treated, but despite her wealth, her comfortable homes and beautiful children, happiness eludes her. The problem must lie, she thinks, in her marriage to Alec, and a neat, civilised divorce seems the perfect solution. But talk of divorce sparks interference from family and friends, and soon public opinion tears into the fragile fabric of family life and private desire. Alec and Betsy’s marriage will not be the only casualty, and in this newly complicated world, happiness is more elusive than ever.”

I wrote about this very recently and so I won’t repeat my own thoughts.

I’ll just say that I agree with Darlene, who said:

“There is so much more to this book than initially meets the eye … This story delivers far more than the light read I initially bargained for and is almost epic in scope; it’s a book buyer’s dream.”

It would be an interesting first book for anyone who has read the works of Margaret Kennedy’s contemporaries.

* * * * * *

Do tell me which Margaret Kennedy novels are your favourites.

If you haven’t read her, please do.

And remember that Margaret Kennedy Day is just a week away.

It’s really quite simple.: all you need to do to take part is read a book and post about it on the day.

* * * * * *

Kingdom Lost by Patricia Wentworth (1930)

I had intended to make steady progress through Patricia Wentworth’ Miss Silver mysteries, but I was distracted from that plan when one of her stand-alone novels caught my eye. It sounded quite unlike any of her other books that I’ve read, it sounded a little like a certain other book that I loved, and it sounded far too good to resist.

It sits somewhere between a golden age mystery and romantic suspense, and I would say that the vintage cover that proclaimed it as a ‘romantic adventure’ got it about right.

What I want to say is that this is the story of the most spirited and engaging heroine you could ever hope to meet.

Valentine Ryven was born on an ocean liner and she was shipwrecked on a small island in the South Seas not very much later. She was picked up and carried to safety by Edward Bowden, a distinguished scholar taking long and rambling holiday after working much too hard.

Edward was wonderfully resourceful, salvaging a great deal from the wrecked liner and harbouring the islands natural resources. He also educated Valentine and brought her up to be ready to take her place in the world he had left behind. He was sure that one day another boat would pass by to rescue them; but he prepared Valentine for the possibility that he might die before that day came.

4449347This story begins some twenty years later, when a young man named Austin Muir came ashore and heard a young woman reciting Matthew Arnold. He was amazed and when Valentine recovered from her initial fright she was thrilled that she was being rescued and that she would have a chance to meet more people and to see so many things that she had only been told about by Edward.

Austin had been sent ashore by his employer, Nicholas Barclay, who had set out to find the island not on any map  that one of his ancestors swore he had discovered.  He was delighted with Austin’s discover, he was charmed by Valentine, and when he saw the papers that Edward had told her to present to her rescuer he knew who she was straight away.

Valentine was the missing heiress to a vast fortune!

Barclay took Valentine home via a Caribbean island, where he bought her clothes, shoes, and all of the other accoutrements a young woman going home to England should have. Valentine was delighted with it all, and she was smitten with the two very different men who were taking her back to her family.

It didn’t occur to Valentine for a minute that her family might not be pleased to see her.

She didn’t know that society had changed a great deal in the years since Edward left England.

Helena Ryven – Valentine’s aunt – was very correct and proper. That was a shock to the warm- hearted Valentine, who had been so looking forward to having a family she was sure she would love and would love her back.

She thought that the problem might be that she was disinheriting Helen’s son, Eustace, and so she offered him as much of the estate as he wanted. She explained that she needed very little to be happy, that all she needed was food and shelter and the lovely countryside around her. Her offer was rejected out of hand!

When she saw the wonderful work that Eustace was doing, restoring run down properties and looking after poor families in the East End of London, she knew that she had to find a way for him to carry on. She realised that the answer was simple – she and Eustace should be married and then everything that was hers would be his.

She loved Austin but he had rejected her – explaining that their family backgrounds. She didn’t understand but he stood firm, and after that it really didn’t matter who she married.

Her proposal was accepted.

Valentine tried to be happy but she couldn’t.

She loved the warm family home of Aunt Helena’s elder sister, Ida Cobb. She loved spending time in the country cottage where Aunt Helena’s younger brother, Timothy Brand, lived with his soon to be married half-sister, Lil. But she knew that Aunt Helena – a knitter who thought that wool-winding was an excellent occupation for her niece – would never understand her, and that she would never quite understand Aunt Helena. She also began to suspect that Eustace wanted to marry another woman, and that he was marrying her from a sense of duty.

She could never quite fit into the role life had given her.

As the wedding day drew nearer she knew that she couldn’t go through with it, but she wasn’t sure how to get out of it.

And one or two things happened that made her think she was in danger ….

I found so much to love in this book.

Patricia Wentworth is always good at clothes and in this book she must have had a lovely time writing about the joy Valentine found in so many lovely things in her new world.

She understood Valentine so well; and she created a wonderfully diverse band of characters to populate her world.

Eustace’s work in London gave the story just enough serious underpinning.

And I should say that ‘Kingdom Lost’ was not so like that certain other book – ‘Miss Ranskill Comes Home’ by Barbara Euphan Todd. They had similar beginnings, they had some themes and ideas in common, but the two heroines and their stories are different and distinctive.

I loved – and can recommend – both!

This particular story was improbable but it was so engaging; it rang true logically and emotionally.

I really didn’t know how the it would play out, and I so wanted to know, I was so concerned for Valentine, that I had to turn the pages very quickly.

There was romance, but I couldn’t even predict how that would play out.

Some might consider the twist at the end of the story to be a little too convenient, but I loved that it had the roots in the very first pages of the book, and it made me realise that Patricia Wentworth had plotted very cleverly.

Most of all, I loved spending time with Valentine.

I’m thinking now that maybe I should alternate Miss Silver books and Patricia Wentworth’s other stories ….

Together and Apart by Margaret Kennedy (1936)

I love Margaret Kennedy’s writing, but I didn’t rush to pick up this book because I wasn’t that taken with the subject matter. The disintegration of a marriage, and all of the fallout from that, in upper middle-class England between the wars ….

When I finally picked the book up – thinking of Margaret Kennedy Day, which is only a couple of weeks away – I was hooked from the first page. It is a wonderfully engaging human drama; beautifully written and rich with understanding and insight.

It all begins with a letter.

Betsy Canning wrote a long letter to her mother, explaining why her marriage was much less happy than it appeared, why her husband’s rise from suburban civil servant to successful librettist and the changes that it brought to their lives hadn’t suited her; and why, therefore,  they had agreed to divorce.

She hoped that her mother would understand and support her; but  Mrs Hewitt was terribly shocked and rushed back from her holiday in Switzerland, pausing only to send a telegram:

” … horrified … ‘do nothing irrevocable till I see you …”

Mrs Hewitt went immediately to Mrs Canning, her ‘fellow mother-in-law’, so that they could work together to set things right. But by the time she arrived she was in a state of nervous collapse, and the formidable Mrs Canning set out for her son’s Welsh holiday home without any real understanding of the crisis she was going to have to resolve.

Alec had persuaded Betsy to think again about divorce, they had agreed to go away for a while alone to talk it over, but Mrs Canning’s arrival and her efforts to reconcile the couple didn’t help at all. The peace talks collapsed, there were bitter arguments, and the mood of the house changed.

Alec decided that he has to go away.

Joy, his wife’s mother’s help, followed him. She was infatuated, he was charmed, and so they left together.

And so the stage was set for a terrible scandal and an acrimonious divorce.

Margaret Kennedy managed all of this drama beautifully. She drew her characters and relationships quite simply but so well that it was easy to understand why events played out as they did. I saw that Betsy and Alec could have been happy together, that their relationship could have been beautifully balances; but I could also see that it so easily unbalance and break.

The stories of what Betsy and Alec do next are fascinating. His career is damaged by the scandal surrounding is divorce and when he learns that Joy is expecting a child he realises that they are irrevocably bound together. She had liked the idea of independence but she is flattered by the attentions of Lord St Mullins and finds the lifestyle that marriage to a peer could bring her rather appealing.

The stories of the effects on their elder two children are more profound. Kenneth  sides with his mother, and says that he will never speak with his father again; but he is troubled and that makes him easy prey for school bullies who will lead him into a great deal of trouble. Eliza would rather go to her father, but she fears losing touch with her siblings, and she is disturbed when she finds that there is a new baby in her fathers home.

Margaret Kennedy weaves a wonderful plot from these and other threads; drawing in enough to give a clear picture of the world around the different members of the Canning family as they spilled out of the family home.

She spoke clearly about how quickly events can run out of control, about how decisions can have so many repercussions, and about how vulnerable children are, even – and maybe particularly -when they are very nearly grown up.

Her characters are not always likeable, but they are real, fallible human beings, and their stories are full of real and varied emotions.

Everything rings true.

Some characters learn and grow; some characters don’t.

I loved the use of letters in this book, and this passage from a letter written by a family friend really struck me:

“I don’t see how any of them can ever be happy again. You say it is love gone bad. Do you think that is because they are all denying the truth? Love doesn’t go bad, however unhappy it makes you, unless you poison it yourself. It isn’t the injuries and wrongs that they can’t forgive; it’s because they know, Alec and Betsy know, and Joy does too, that in spite of everything, in spite of all they’ve done and said to hurt each other, they can’t bear to be apart.”

I loved that while this book is very much of its time there is a great deal about it that is timeless.

There were interesting details and points to ponder. I wondered if Joy, who became rather down-trodden, was suffering from post-natal depression. I noticed that she and Lord St Mullins had many shared interests and concerns. I wondered what would happen to the family of German refugees granted a home on the Cannings’ estate in Wales,

I’m inclined to agree with Margaret Kennedy’s daughter, Julia Birley, who writes into the introduction to the Virago edition of this book that this was one of her mother’s best half dozen.

It’s not my favourite, but it is a very good book, I’m very glad that I finally picked it up, and I think that Margaret Kennedy did what she set out to do very well indeed.

* * * * * * *

Circumstances mean that Margaret Kennedy Day will be a little more low key than usual this year, but it will work just as these days usually do.

If you need a reminder, last year’s introduction is here.

If you need inspiration, you can see what we read last year here

But it’s really quite simple.

All you need to do to take part is read a book and post about it on the day.

* * * * * * *

 

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.

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * *

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 ….