I thought that it might be a mistake, putting a date so close to Christmas in the Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors.
She belonged there but I really don’t have the time or attention at his time of year to do justice to Rebecca West’s wonderful writing. I picked up three of her novels, and each time I read a little but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the right moment for that book
That means that I don’t have a book to talk about today, but I can share the opening of the one I think I will be reading first.
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‘She never could understand machinery. So when the chauffeur tried to explain what was so seriously the matter with the automobile that it would take a whole two hours to repair, she cut him short and said, ‘Never mind, Harrowby. Accidents will happen, and anyway it’s much nicer than travelling by train.’ She noticed a look of real perturbation round his nice eyes, and was puzzled till a flash of comprehension came to her, and she hastily explained, ‘Oh, it’s all right about my being late. I’m not expecting—anyone.’ But she did wish Essington would not get so angry when she was late that the servants noticed. It wasn’t her dignity she was thinking of; she was too tired to think of that. But it dug away her defences. For if nobody else knew how he behaved, then when she woke in the middle of the night and felt like a trapped rat she could pretend that things weren’t so bad, she could say to herself, ‘I expect I imagine most of it. For he’s awfully fond of me, really. He can’t get on without me. Look how he always wants me to go away with him for his holidays. Yes, I’m silly, that’s what I am.’ But if other people knew about it she couldn’t fool herself, and had to go on feeling like a trapped rat.
She shivered, and said, ‘Well, I suppose I can’t go on sitting here if you’re going to do all that to her. I’ll go for a walk,’ and stepped out of the automobile. The garage yard was full of the clear light of May, and it was a pleasanter place than most of its kind, for it had evidently been an old livery-stable and its walks were of mellow red brick, patterned with streaks of moss and golden patches like freckles where time and sunshine had toasted away the surface. In the end wall was an archway barred by an iron gate, through which one could see a green country garden that was as much orchard as garden, with fruit trees standing in grass too long and strong for a lawn, and rows of rhubarb. It made her think of the orchards round Chiswick when she was a little girl. They had been so pretty; and she had had time to look at them, for then her days had been too empty as now they were too full. She was glad that this breakdown which gave her an hour to herself had happened in this little market town, where there were orchards.
‘Yes, Miss, a kind of big pond it was, with lily pools. A gentleman’s estate left to the district for a park, I should say it was. There were seats. About three quarters of a mile back, it was.’
‘Oh, dear! That’s too far. I’d have to walk a mile and a half in all. I suppose I won’t have time. And it was so pretty. It seems as if one never could do anything one wanted, doesn’t it?’ She felt like crying. Nowadays she was all to pieces.
‘But you said, Miss, that you hadn’t got to hurry. And I could run you back to town in an hour and a half from here. This is Packbury, you know. I should go if I were you, Miss. It’ll do you good.’
It was all right. There was really no reason at all why she should not go. It was simply that she was so unused to liberty, so seldom free from the leash that jerked her back to heel whenever she was doing anything she enjoyed, that she felt at a loss when she was on her own. She pulled herself together and said gaily, ‘All right. I’ll come back here. Don’t try to fetch me, for I’ll take a footpath if I can.’ She hadn’t been on a footpath for years. He tuned up his engine and took the car, calling over his shoulder, ‘Never known you have an hour to yourself before, Miss!’ She smiled and waved her hand, and turned towards the street. She meant to buy some fruit and chocolate, and eat it sitting by the pond.’
From ‘Sunflower’ by Rebecca West
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This the final date marked in the Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors.
I’m glad that I did it and I don’t rule out doing it again one day, with some of the same authors and some different ones. I will definitely go on celebrating authors on their birthday, but I want to do something different next year …..