Beauty’s Hour by Olivia Shakespear (1896)

History has it that Olivia Shakespear was the companion of better remembered men, but she was rather more than that. She was a writer, and though she found little success this novella tells me that she had things to say and that, in all probability, she was a very interesting woman.

‘Beauty’s Hour’ was first published in a magazine named ‘The Savoy’; a short lived periodical that was established in the wake of the success of ‘The Yellow Book.’ It didn’t see the light of day again until it was republished by Valancourt Books a year or so ago.

It tells the Mary Gower, a young woman who is intelligent, articulate, and charming; but who knows that she will never marry, that she will have to make her own way in the world. Because she is plain, maybe even ugly. And so she lodges with the lady who had been her governess and she has found employment as the companion to two bright young women who have the good fortune to be both bright and pretty.

They are noticed often, but Mary is noticed never.

She tries to accept that, she tells herself she if lucky to have a comfortable home, a good friend, reliable employment …. but it is hard when she falls in love with the brother of her two young ladies and she knows that he would never even think of her as anyone who might be loved, who might be married.

Her dearest wish is  that she could be beautiful, and one night, as she looks into her mirror it seems that she might.

“I only shook my head; and fell to looking into my own eyes again, with the yearning, stronger than it had ever been before, rising like a passion into my face. Then something unforeseen happened: Miss Whateley, standing behind me, saw it; and I saw it myself as in a dream. My reflected face grew blurred, and then faded out; and from the mist there grew a new face, of wonderful beauty; the face of my desire. It looked at me from the glass, and when I tried to speak, its lips moved too ….

…. My voice was the same; but when I glanced down at my body, I saw that it also had undergone transformation. It struck me, in the midst of my immense surprise, as being curious that I should not be afraid. No explanation of the miracle offered itself to me; none seemed necessary: an effort of will had conquered the power of my material conditions, and I controlled them; my body fitted to my soul at last.”

When she wakes the next morning she finds that her beauty has gone, but then she finds that she can will it back again. She decides that she will venture out into the world as a new woman – as the Mary Hatherley – so that she can learn how different life is for those who are beautiful, and maybe find a way to make people understand that a woman can have other attributes that are as important – more important – than beauty.

Mary Hatherley held the attention of everyone she met, and she was a wonderful success in society. How could she be anything else, with her beauty and with Mary Gower’s wisdom, wit and interest? The man she loved fell in love with her, but try as she would she could not make him understand what really was important, and she realised that he had fallen in love not with her but with her beauty.

“A woman must be good,” he said reflectively. “Only a plain woman,” said I. “Who has been behaving ill now?” “I was generalizing; or, to be frank, I was thinking of Bella Sturgis.” “So am I. You surely don’t expect her to possess all the virtues, and that face?” “To be sure, the face is enough,” answered he; and sat staring full at me, but thinking, as I knew, of Bella Sturgis. “Does she amuse you?” I asked. “Amuse me?” said Gerald. “I’m sure I can’t say. One doesn’t think about being amused when one is with her.” “She just exists, and that’s enough,” I suggested.”

And  worse that that, Mary realised that her success had caused – and would cause – a great deal of harm to others.

“Yet I was more wretched than I had ever been when I was only Mary Gower. I grew to hate the other Mary’s beautiful face; her smile; the gracious turn of her head; her shapely hands. I grew to hate all this with a passionate intensity that frightened me. I seemed to have realized Mary Hatherley in a strange, objective way, as distinct from myself. She was the woman Gerald Harman loved; she was the woman I should have been, and was not; and then came a heart-stricken moment when I knew she was the woman who had done both Gerald and another a wrong that might never be undone.”

She made a momentous decision.

But was that decision hers to make?

Would her transformation have consequences that she had not foreseen?

This is not a ‘lost classic’, Olivia Shakespear was not a great prose stylist, and her characters have no great depth; but this is a wonderfully readable book and I had to keep turning that pages to find out what would happen.

Mary was such an engaging heroine, and I would have loved to have known her. I understood her situation and her feelings, and I appreciated what she was trying to do.

The plot is well constructed, and the story moves along at a good pace. It makes its points well, and though some of them might feel obvious they were points that were definitely worth making clearly. It was fantastical, but there was enough truth in the characters and the situations to make it feel real and to make me believe that it might have happened.

And the suspense, the atmosphere, was perfect.

As Tonight We Have a Full Moon: A Collection to Celebrate Moonlight

“Just to love! She did not ask to be loved. It was rapture enough just to sit there beside him in silence, alone in the summer night in the white splendor of moonshine, with the wind blowing down on them out of the pine woods.”

From ‘The Blue Castle’ by L M Montgomery

* * * * * * *

‘Une enfance dans la lune’ by Peinture de Benoît Moraillon

* * * * * * *

“I laughed on the way home, and I laughed again for sheer satisfaction when we reached the garden and drove between the quiet trees to the pretty old house; for when I went into the library, with its four windows open to the moonlight and the scent, and looked round at the familiar bookshelves, and could hear no sounds but sounds of peace, and knew that here I might read or dream or idle exactly as I chose with never a creature to disturb me, how grateful I felt to the kindly Fate that has brought me here and given me a heart to understand my own blessedness, and rescued me from a life like that I had just seen — a life spent with the odours of other people’s dinners in one’s nostrils, and the noise of their wrangling servants in one’s years, and parties and tattle for all amusement.”

From ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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‘Moonlight, Rye’ by Harry van der Weyden

* * * * * * *

“The road to Nice ran up in front of them, along the opposite slope of the valley. But they could only see a small portion of it, as it takes a sudden turn about half a mile from the bridge, and is lost to view among the wooded hills. On looking round they caught sight of the other end of the road, that which they had just traversed, and which leads in a direct line from Plassans to the Viorne. In the beautiful winter moonlight it looked like a long silver ribbon, with dark edgings traced by the rows of elms. On the right and left the ploughed hill-land showed like vast, grey, vague seas intersected by this ribbon, this roadway white with frost, and brilliant as with metallic lustre. Up above, on a level with the horizon, lights shone from a few windows in the Faubourg, resembling glowing sparks. By degrees Miette  and Silvere had walked fully a league. They gazed at the intervening road, full of silent admiration for the vast amphitheatre which rose to the verge of the heavens, and over which flowed bluish streams of light, as over the superposed rocks of a gigantic waterfall. The strange and colossal picture spread out amid deathlike stillness and silence. Nothing could have been of more sovereign grandeur.

Then the young people, having leant against the parapet of the bridge, gazed beneath them. The Viorne, swollen by the rains, flowed on with a dull, continuous sound. Up and down stream, despite the darkness which filled the hollows, they perceived the black lines of the trees growing on the banks; here and there glided the moonbeams, casting a trail of molten metal, as it were, over the water, which glittered and danced like rays of light on the scales of some live animal. The gleams darted with a mysterious charm along the gray torrent, betwixt the vague phantom-like foliage. You might have thought this an enchanted valley, some wondrous retreat where a community of shadows and gleams lived a fantastic life.”

From ‘The Fortune of the Rougons by Émile Zola

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

“So, now I shall talk every night. To myself. To the moon. I shall walk, as I did tonight, jealous of my loneliness, in the blue-silver of the cold moon, shining brilliantly on the drifts of fresh-fallen snow, with the myriad sparkles. I talk to myself and look at the dark trees, blessedly neutral. So much easier than facing people, than having to look happy, invulnerable, clever. With masks down, I walk, talking to the moon, to the neutral impersonal force that does not hear, but merely accepts my being. And does not smite me down.”

Sylvia Plath

* * * * * * *

‘Studio in Moonlight’ by Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

* * * * * * *

She was wearing coral taffeta trousers
Someone had bought her from Isfahan
And the little gold coat with pomegranate blossoms
And the coral-hafted feather fan,
But she ran down a Kentish line in the moonlight,
And skipped in the pool of moon as she ran.

She cared not a rap for all the big planets,
For Betelgeuse or Aldebaran,
And all the big planets cared nothing for her,
That small impertinent charlatan,
As she climbed on a Kentish stile in the moonlight,
And laughed at the sky through the sticks of her fan.

‘Full Moon’ by Vita Sackville-West

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‘Moon and Tree, Hay Bluff’ by David Inshaw

* * * * * * *

“Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, even upon a dreamer’s fancy. As I stood there, hushed and still, I could swear that the house was not an empty shell but lived and breathed as it had lived before. Light came from the windows, the curtains blew softly in the night air, and there, in the library, the door would stand half open as we had left it, with my handkerchief on the table beside the bowl of autumn roses.

The room would bear witness to our presence. The little heap of library books marked ready to return, and the discarded copy of The Times. Ash-trays, with the stub of a cigarette; cushions, with the imprint of our heads upon them, lolling in the chairs; the charred embers of our log fire still smouldering against the morning. And Jasper, dear Jasper, with his soulful eyes and great, sagging jowl, would be stretched upon the floor, his tail a-thump when he heard his master’s footsteps.

A cloud, hitherto unseen, came upon the moon, and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it, and the lights in the windows were extinguished. I looked upon a desolate shell, soulless at last, unhaunted, with no whisper of the past about its staring walls.

The house was a sepulchre, our fear and suffering lay buried in the ruins. There would be no resurrection. When I thought of Manderley in my waking hours I would not be bitter. I should think of it as it might have been, could I have lived there without fear. I should remember the rose-garden in summer, and the birds that sang at dawn. Tea under the chestnut tree, and the murmur of the sea coming up to us from the lawns below.”

From ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier

* * * * * * *


‘Moonlit Sea’ by Robert Borlase Smart

* * * * * * *

“But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen; they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness. The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. The autumns trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore.

From ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf

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 ‘Ill Omen: Girl in the East Wind with Ravens Crossing the Moon’ by Frances MacDonald MacNair

* * * * * * *

“Sometimes, when you’re deep in the countryside, you meet three girls, walking along the hill tracks in the dusk, spinning. They each have a spindle, and on to these they are spinning their wool, milk-white, like the moonlight. In fact, it is the moonlight, the moon itself, which is why they don’t carry a distaff. They’re not Fates, or anything terrible; they don’t affect the lives of men; all they have to do is to see that the world gets its hours of darkness, and they do this by spinning the moon down out of the sky. Night after night, you can see the moon getting less and less, the ball of light waning, while it grown on the spindles of the maidens. Then, at length, the moon is gone, and the world has darkness, and rest, and the creatures of the hillsides are safe from the hunter and the tides are still.

Then, on the darkest night, the maidens take their spindles down to the sea, to wash their wool. And the wool slips from the spindles into the water, and unravels in long ripples of light from the shore to the horizon, and there is the moon again, rising from the sea, just a thin curved thread, re-appearing in the sky. Only when all the wool is washed, and wound again into a white ball in the sky, can the moonspinners start their work once more, to make the night safe for hunted things . . .’

From ‘The Moonspinners’ by Mary Stewart

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‘Mare al chiaro di luna’ by Shoda Koho

* * * * * * *

“I think of you often. Especially in the evenings, when I am on the balcony and it’s too dark to write or to do anything but wait for the stars. A time I love. One feels half disembodied, sitting like a shadow at the door of one’s being while the dark tide rises. Then comes the moon, marvellously serene, and small stars, very merry for some reason of their own. It is so easy to forget, in a worldly life, to attend to these miracles.”

Katherine Mansfield

* * * * * * *



The Dry by Jane Harper (2016)

I’ve reached a point where I don’t look for new contemporary writers of crime fiction. Because there are so many other things I want to read, because I have enough authors I know I can rely on, because I have picked up too many books that haven’t lived up to the promises they made, and because there are many trends in crime fiction that I don’t like at all.

The idea that I might read this book crept up on me, because I saw and heard it praised in many places for the best of reasons, and because it sounded like the kind of book I used to read a lot and suspected I would still like. It broke my defences. I saw a copy in my local bookshop, I picked it up. I liked what I saw, I was intrigued by the possibilities it presented, and so the book came home.

I’m very glad that it did.

Jane Harper is a British born journalist who lives and works in Melbourne, Australia, and she has written a first novel that would be only too credible as the story lying behind a dramatic headline: Luke Hadler has shot his wife and young child, and then turned his gun on himself at their farm near the country town of Kiewarra, some way north-west of Melbourne.

The police from Clyde, the nearest big town believed that was exactly what had happened. Australia was suffering its worst drought for many, many years and the farm, like others in the area, had been struggling financially. The case was closed, but the mother of the dead man refused point blank to believe that her son would have been capable of what the police told her that he had done.

She called her son’s  friend, Aaron Falk, who she knew was a federal police officer working in fraud and financial crime, and she asked him to come to the funeral. Aaron might not have come otherwise. He and Luke had been best friend at high school, but they had only been in touch sporadically since Aaron and his father had been hounded out of the town.

After the funeral, Mrs Hadler explained her concerns and asked him to look into the case for her.

He couldn’t say no, and though he had thought he had just heard a mother’s inability to come to terms with what had happened, when he looked at the evidence available he found that he agreed with her. Then he discovered that newly appointed local sergeant, Greg Raco, felt the same way, and they agreed to work together, unofficially.

They found facts much to suggest that Luke may have not pulled the trigger on his wife and child, or on himself. But how to prove it, and how to uncover the real story?

The telling of this story set in the present day is set against another story set in the past; a story of the events that lead to Aaron and his father leaving the town for that city some twenty years earlier. That was wonderfully effective, and the flow of information was beautifully controlled.  I wondered to what degree the two stories might be linked and I asked questions about the guilt or innocence of Luke Handler and about the reliability of Aaron Falk.

I knew what I wanted to believe; but I wasn’t sure that I could.

The town of Kiewarra was set in open country, it was surrounded by farmland, and yet it felt claustrophobic. Outsiders would always be different, no matter how long they lived there and people were quick to judge but slow to forget. Aaron found one old friend who was pleased to see him, but everyone else he knew from his days in the town wanted him gone, and some of them would go to great lengths to make their point.

The drought had increased tension in the town, and the crime and the stirring of old memories raised it to a point where surely something had to break.

The town, the people who lived there, the things that happened, were all so richly drawn; and it was horribly believable.

The story kept moving, the plot never faltered, and the author missed nothing. She held me in the moment, she held me in the place, and she had a wonderful understanding of what details were important, of what it was important to say.

I couldn’t work out the solution and I was held to the very last page, because the final act wasn’t simply a way of ending the story, it was as much part of the story as what had come before.

I love that this book was as much a story of a community in a particular time and place as crime story; and that it didn’t feel tied to present day crime writing trends, that it could have sat as well alongside the writers I wrote years ago – I’m thinking particularly of P D James and Ruth Rendell – as it would alongside more recently .

I’ve seen comparisons to Tana French, and although I don’t think this book is in that class, I can’t say that they’re wrong.

What I can say is that I have found a new writer to add to my very short list of ‘must read’ contemporary crime novelists.

The Story of Knitting Franziska

When Rowan 56  landed, a few years ago now, I saw lots of lovely knitted garments; and when I’d eliminated the unwearable and impractical, and the ones that would require more work or more finance than I felt was justified I was left with two.


The sweater on the left – Heike – came first – because I knew it would be a quick knit, because I needed some simple knitting to follow a garment with unusual cabling, and because I knew I could use yarn I had already for two of the three colours.

I love the version I knitted, I’ve worn it lots, and it has worn very well.

I knew that Franziska – the garment on the right – would be a much bigger undertaking but I loved it and began to accumulate Felted Tweed DK.

I had to tweak the colour scheme a little, because the main colour – Mineral – is much too yellow for me. I chose Gilt – a lovely light, warm brown shade instead.

I waited patiently until I could pick up a pack in a sales.

There was a knock-on effect on the contrast colours.

I kept Bilberry – the purple shade

Jaffa – the orange shade – had to go, because it was too close to Gilt. I chose Rage – a lovely, rich red that would give me the contrast that I needed instead.

Those were easy decisions; but the decision about the third colour was trickier.

The original Watery – a sea blue – might have worked, but I wasn’t convinced that it was the best choice. I had a darker shade of blue – Maritime – left over from another project, and I thought it might work better. And I saw a shade of green – Pine – that I thought might work rather well.

Unable to make a decision, I put the three possibilities in front of  The Man of the House. He voted for green, and now that I have seen the results I can say that he made the right decision for me.


I made a few small changes to the pattern.

  • I wanted my Fransiska to be not quite so oversized, so that it wouldn’t swamp me. Usually I knit the second size in Rowan patterns, but this time I deducted two pattern repeats from the smallest size.
  • Like most of those who knitted this pattern before me, I decided to knit in the round and pick up stitches to work the sleeves top down.
  • I planned a smaller neck-band. I love the cowl in the picture, but I don’t really have the neck to carry it off and I thought that something smaller and simpler would allow me to wear my finished Fransiska much more.
  • I tweaked the colour-work a little, to avoid working with three colours at the same time. I don’t rule out doing that one day, but I really didn’t think that the effect justified the complication in this pattern.

I had yarn, I had a plan, I just needed to start knitting.

The rounds were long and the bottom band was dull, but once I got into the colour-work I was happy. I hadn’t done any proper, colour-swapping, colour-work for years and I wanted to get back into it.

I tried the fashionable technique of holding one colour in each had but I didn’t like it, so I reverted back to holding the background colour over the index finger of my right hand and the dominant colour over the middle finger. It worked beautifully and I loved watching the pattern emerge.

I thought that progress would be quicker when I hit the simpler top half of the body, but it wasn’t because I didn’t have the same interest in seeing the pattern emerge.

I was anxious for a while about when I should split for the sleeves, but something that I read somewhere made me realise that it was just a question of mathematics.

  • There were 90 stitches at the top of the sleeves – 45 at the front and 45 at the back.
  • My gauge was 25 stitches and 30 rows = 10 cm, and so I needed to pick up five stitches for every 6 rows.
  • The meant that I needed to knit 54 rows after the split, and that made 18cm.

I pressed on, but I forgot something. I didn’t adjust the shoulders to take into account the fact the I had taken out two pattern repeats.It was lucky that the gap for my head to go through was big enough, and as I had been planning a smaller neck it actually worked rather well!

I really do not like knitting 2 x 2 rib, but I got through the sleeves and the neck.

And then I had to acknowledge that the hem was flipping up. I couldn’t leave it, and so I put in a lifeline, I cut the hem off, and I knitted it downwards, using the same size needles but reducing the stitch-count by 20%. Much better.

I did some steaming, paying particular attention to the colour-work band, and then I was finished.

(The colours are warmer than they look; but I got tired of waiting for good light to take a picture.)

I must confess that when I first tried my Fransiska on I wasn’t quite sure that it was me. But as I wore it more it really grew on me, and I came to love the way the heavier colour-work section at the bottom made it hang.

Maybe I could have made the sleeves a size smaller, but they are comfortable; and now I see a picture I realise that the shoulder seam needs a little more pressing

There’s always something!.

I’m calling this a success.

I’m pleased to have got back into knitting colour-work again, and I see more of it in my future.

But I’m knitting something on a rather simpler, smaller scale now.



A Book for E H Young Day: The Misses Mallett (1922)

In her first novel written after the Great War, the death of her husband, and her embarkation on a rather unconventional new life, E H Young tells the story of four Misses Mallett.

There are two sisters in late middle age, Caroline and Sophia Mallett. They live in a large, beautiful and comfortable home that had been left to them by their father, the Colonel;  together with their much younger half-sister, Rose Mallet, the child of the Colonel’s second marriage.

Caroline is delighted with their situation, and she explains to their niece:

‘The Malletts don’t marry, Henrietta. Look at us, as happy as the day is long, with all the fun and none of the trouble. We’ve been terrible flirts, Sophia and I. Rose is different, but at least she hasn’t married. The three Miss Malletts of Nelson Lodge! Now there are four of us, and you must keep up our reputation.’ 

Henrietta was the fourth Miss Mallett, the daughter of the Colonel’s disinherited son, who had come to live with her aunts after her mother’s death. She had lived a very different life, she had an independent spirit, and she wanted to make her own decisions and not be told that she must follow a particular traditions.

She would learn that things were not quite as simple and straightforward as Caroline suggested.

Sophia had a great love in her past, and she cherished her memories of him

Rose had been beloved by a local landowner, Francis Sales, but she had rejected his proposals because she wasn’t sure that she loved him enough. She wondered if she had made the right decision when he went away, and when he returned with a bride who was quite unlike her; but she knew that she had to live with her decision.

And then there was a particularly cruel twist of fate.

Henrietta and Rose learned each other’s stories, but they were of different generations, they had different backgrounds and different outlooks, they didn’t talk about the things that were most important to them and so they didn’t understand what the other was feeling and what the other would do.

E H Young drew and delineated four the Misses Mallett quite beautifully. Caroline was warm and vibrant, Sophia was delicate and empathic, Rose was reserved and controlled, Henrietta was modern and independent; and as she portrayed their lives and their relationships she showed the advantages and disadvantages of being an unmarried woman between the wars.

By contrast, the men in the story were all flawed: Henrietta’s father, Reginald Mallet, was charming but he was utterly self-centred. Francis Sales was completely lacking in self knowledge and in understanding of the women he said he loved. Charles Batty, the son of Caroline’s dearest friend, was eccentric, and today it would probably be said that he was somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but he was true to himself and he would be a reliable friend to the younger Misses Mallett.

They were all interesting and believable characters; but it was the women who were strong and who set the course of the story.

That story was simple, but there were deep waters swirling below the calm surface. There was danger that Henrietta could be led astray, that Rose’s control could snap, that the good name of the Malletts’ could be tainted by scandal …

The playing out and the resolution of the story is a little predictable, and maybe a little unsatisfactory in that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted for characters I had come to know vey well; but I believed that it could have happened, I understand why it could have happened, and I loved my journey through this book.

I loved spending time with each of the Misses Mallett, and I loved spending time in their world.

E H Young wrote so well. She could capture so much in a single sentence, and she could sustain a point over much longer passages.

The depictions of the family home and the other homes that are part of the story are so perfect, every detail is so well drawn, that I was transported there. The descriptions of the countryside, the woods, and the fields, are so evocative that I wished that I could be there, riding with Rose or walking with Henrietta.

It was lovely, but there times when it was a almost too much and I would have liked to get back to the story a little more quickly.

I can’t say that this is E H Young’s strongest book; the later books that I have read are more subtle and more sophisticated, and I am inclined to think that she grew as a writer over the years.

I can say that this is a lovely period piece, that it is a wonderfully engaging human drama, and that it has made me eager to fill in the gaps in my reading of its author’s backlist.

Not all stories are mine to tell …..

…. and so all I can say is that a few weeks ago life dealt me a blow that I thought I might never recover from.


I did, and my little family is still here, but since then events seem to be conspiring against me.

A leaky porch, absent colleagues, a collapsing curtain rail ….

Nothing that can’t be dealt with, but why did it all have to happen right now?!

I have started reading again, I have started writing again.

E.H Young Day will be happening next week.

But regaining my balance – adjusting to the new ‘normal’ – may take a little longer ….

A Book for Dorothy Whipple Day: Because of the Lockwoods (1949)

Of all of the authors I thought about when I was compiling my Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors, I think that Dorothy Whipple is the one whose long neglect is most inexplicable and the one I would be most confident in putting in the hands of a devoted reader who doesn’t know how wonderful books from the recent past can be.

She wrote such absorbing and compelling novels, filled with beautiful writing, with characters who live and breathe and happenings that ring so very true. Her books are so alive that it impossible to put one down without spending a great deal of time thinking about what had happened and what might be happening in the world that she brought to life after her story ended.

In this book, she tells the story of the Hunters and the Lockwoods, who are neighbours in a Northern mill town. They had been peers, with children of similar ages, but that changed after the sudden death of Richard Hunter. His practice as an architect had suffered during the war, he had hoped that  business would improve when peace came, but he didn’t live long enough to find out; and so Mrs Hunter and her three children must adapt to much humbler circumstances, and the relationship between the two families must change.

The situation would always be difficult and it was exacerbated by the characters of the two women, who were friends but not close enough to be anything other than Mrs Lockwood and Mrs Hunter to each other; the former inclined to be grand and gracious and the latter inclined to be accepting and appreciative …

Mrs Lockwood asked her husband, a solicitor, to help Mrs Hunter to deal with her late husband’s papers. He was reluctant to get involved, and utterly graceless, but after relying on her husband to deal with everything and having no idea what to do, Mrs Hunter was so grateful for his advice, and accepted it all without a moment’s hesitation.

She didn’t know that Mr Lockwood had taken advantage of her ignorance, and let her believe that her husband repaid a loan that he had granted after seeing that his receipt was missing. The way he suggested he should recoup the loan cost her a great deal, and his advice, which was inadequate but authoritative, would cost her a great deal more over the years.

Mrs Lockwood continued her to visit Mrs Hunter, even after she moved to a less desirable part of town. She enjoyed having someone who was always ready to listen to stories of her family and what they had been doing, who she could make presents of clothing that she had been seen in enough times, and somebody who would always be grateful for an invitation. Mrs Lockwood thought that she was being kind, and Mrs hunter was grateful.

Thea, the youngest of Mrs Hunter’s three children, came to bitterly resent the family that she saw was patronising hers, the family that had so many things she would have loved and took them for granted.

Her feelings grew stronger when  Mr Lockwood arranged for her older siblings, Martin and Molly, to leave school at the earliest opportunity and take uncongenial jobs because he didn’t want the trouble of helping to find a way for them to follow the career paths that they wanted. She wanted to make sure that the same thing wouldn’t happen to her, but she didn’t know how.

When Thea found out that the Lockwood girls were going to school in France for a year she was desperate to find a way to go to. It seemed impossible, but a teacher who saw that she had a great deal of potential found a way for her to go to the same school and work for her keep. The Lockwoods were horrified that she didn’t know her place, that she should think that she could have the same advantages as their daughters; but she took to the new school and life in France in a way that they never would.

Thea’s sojourn in France ended in tears, but an unexpected find in the lining of her father’s old bag and the generosity of spirit of a new neighbour would be a catalyst for change for the Hunters and that Lockwoods …

Endpapers of the Persephone Books edition of ‘Because of the Lockwoods’

I felt so much as I read about them.

I was angry at the Lockwoods completely unjustified sense of superiority, but at the same time I could see that they were oblivious and that they really did think that they were doing the right thing.

I was moved when Mrs Hunter was shattered by the loss of her husband and unable to face the future, but there were times when I thought that she really could have, should have, done a little more to help herself and her children.

Thea was a joy to read about. I loved her spirit and her ambition for herself and her family. I worried when she made  mistakes, when she wouldn’t listen to anyone, but I appreciated that her heart was in the right place and that she would learn.

I appreciated the intelligence of the writing, the very real complexity of the characters and the relationships, and the wonderful emotional understanding of everything she wrote about that Dorothy Whipple had.

There is so much more than I have written about, but I can only – I should only – say so much.

I loved what the author had to say.

She said that families who looked in on themselves – and both the Lockwoods and the Hunters were guilty of this – would not thrive and grow as families who looked out to the world could and would.

She spoke of social injustice and of how society was changing after the war.

And she wove this into her story quite beautifully, so that you could think about how cleverly she wrote or you could simply enjoy the drama, the romance, the suspense ….

Mr Lockwood’s misdeeds hang over this story, until it comes to a dark and dramatic conclusion.

I loved all of the book but I think I loved the final act most of all, because it was so profound and so emotional.

The ending was sudden, I was left wondering what happened next. I would have loved to have been told, but I think I know, and sometimes it is nice to be able to speculate …


A Walk Around the Winter Exhibition at the Virago Art Gallery

I’ve always loved putting together collections of Virago cover art and I thought that it was time to put together another, to celebrate the coldest season of the year.

There are lovely wintery images to be found in green frames.

The covers are lovely, but the paintings really come alive when they are released from those frames. Sometimes just a detail has been chosen, or the painting has been cropped because it wasn’t book-shaped. 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 art-work.


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Madame de Chauffe by John Callcott Horsely


Salem Chapel by Mrs Oliphant (#228)

“Arthur Vincent, “fresh from Homerton, in the bloom of hope and intellectualism”, arrives in Carlingford to take up the reins as Dissenting minister of Salem Chapel. A mixture of hope and ignorance prompts him to imagine that he will take his place amongst the cream of Carlingford society. But a six-o’clock tea at the home of Mr. Tozer the butterman, senior deacon of the Chapel, throws cold water on the young man’s aspirations. For there he meets Mrs. Tozer and her daughter Phoebe, “pink, plump and full of dimples”, and his congregation of greengrocers, dealers in cheese and bacon, milkmen, dressmakers and teachers of day-schools. To add to his problems he falls head-over-heels in love with “a beautiful, dazzling creature”, Lady Western, only to find himself caught up in a crime most horrible to contemplate…”

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Portrait of the Reverend Robert Walker Skating by Sir Henry Raeburn


The Flint Anchor by Sylvia Townsend Warner (#435)

“John Barnard, leading merchant at a Norfolk port, is a pillar of nineteenth-century rectitude. Though stern and aloof with his indolent, tippling wife and watchful children, he is undermined by helpless love for his pretty, cold-hearted daughter Mary. The Flint Anchor subverts the rules of the historical novel and shows how family history is made – which stories can be trusted, whose voices hold influence and whose are forgotten. Wit, charm and intelligence illuminate several decades of family life and the events of small town society in this tragi-comedy of manners, the last of the author’s seven novels.”

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Froanna – Portrait of the Artist’s Wife by P Wyndham Lewis


I’m Not Complaining by Ruth Adam (#124)

“Madge Brigson is a teacher in a Nottinghamshire elementary school in England in the 1930s. Here, with her colleagues – the beautiful, “promiscuous” Jenny, the ardent communist Freda, and the kind, spinsterish Miss Jones – she battles with the trials and tribulations of their special world: abusive parents, eternal malnutrition, inspectors’ visits, staff quarrels and love affairs. To all this Madge presents an uncompromisingly intelligent and commonsensical face: laughter is never far away as she copes with her pupils, the harsh circumstances of life in the Depression, and her own love affair. For Madge is a true heroine: determined, perceptive, warm-hearted; she deals with life, and love, unflinchingly, and gets the most out of the best – and worst – of it.”

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Costumes pour un ensemble by Bernard Boutet de Monvel


The Little Ottleys by Ruth Adam (#98)

“The heroine of the three novels collected here–Love’s Shadow, Tenterhooks, and Love at Second Sight–is the delightful Edith Ottley. As we follow Edith’s fortunes we enter the enchanting world of Edwardian London. We will be bewitched by the courtships, jealousies, and love affairs of Edith’s coterie–and indeed of Edith herself–and unfailingly amused by her husband, Bruce, one of the most tremendous–if attractive–bores in literature.”

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The Angel, Cookham Churchyard by Stanley Spencer


The World, My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay (#104)

“It is 1946, and the people of France and England are facing the aftermath of the Second World War. Barbara Deniston, seventeen, has grown up in the sunshine of Provence with her voluptuous, indolent but intelligent mother, allowed to run wild with the Maquis, experiencing collaboration, betrayal – and death. Banished by her mother to England, Barbara is thrown into the ordered formality of English life with her distinguished father and conventional stepmother. Confused and unhappy, she discovers one day the wrecked and flowering wastes around St. Paul’s. Here, in the bombed heart of London, she finds an echo of the wilderness of Provence and is forced to confront the wilderness within herself.”

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The Artist’s Wife Mornington Crescent by Spencer Gore


Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby (#192)

“Caroline Denton-Smyth is an eccentric, remarkable for her vivid costumes trailing feathers, fancy beads and jingling lorgnettes. Sitting alone in her West Kensington bedsitter, she dreams of the Christian Cinema Company – her vehicle for reform. For Caroline sees herself as a pioneer, one who must risk everything in the “Cause of Right”. Her Board of Directors are a motley crew; Basil St. Denis, upper crust but impecunious; Joseph Isenbaum, aspiring to Society and Eton for his son; Eleanor de la Roux, Caroline’s independent, left-wing cousin from South Africa; Hugh Macafee, a curt Scottish film technician; young Father Mortimer, scarred from the First World War; and Clifton Johnson, seedy American scenario writer on the make.”

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At Home, a Portrait by Walter Crane


Marcella by Mrs Humphrey Ward (#155)

“Marcella Boyce, a Pre-Raphaelite beauty of the 1880s, is passionately in love with the ideals of socialism. A 21-year-old art student, she lives in a Kensington boarding house until her father inherits the family estate, Mellor Park, in the Midlands. Leaving her studies, her philanthropic work in the East End, and the company of her Bohemian friends, she embarks on her new life at Mellor Park, determined to alleviate the poverty she sees around her. Then Aldous Raeburn, Tory candidate and heir to Lord Maxwell’s estate, falls in love with Marcella. But Marcella is torn between her longing to become mistress of Maxwell Court and her burning idealism. Before she can reconcile the two, Marcella must learn – through bitter experience – the real barriers that divide one human from another.”

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That’s the last painting in this collection, but spring is not too far away and it will be bringing another seasonal art show.

Between now and then, please  tell me if you have any particular favourite cover artwork, or any suggestions for future exhibitions …

Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson (2017)

When I first caught sight of  ‘Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars’ I saw so much promise, and when I started to read I found much more than I had expected.  I found a mystery, a travelogue, a historical drama, and captivating human stories; and I found a colourful portrait mid-sixties London, that cleverly captured both the light and the shade of that particular time and place.

Anna Treadway was working-class and serious-minded; and she saw London as the centre of the universe, a place where it didn’t matter what her background and her history, where she could be accepted for what was and get on with living her life.

She loved the home she found in the big city, and the author made it easy for me to understand why, and she painted wonderful pictures of Anna’s London:

“Anna Treadway lived on Neal Street in a tiny two-bed flat above a Turkish café. She went to bed each night smelling cumin, lamb and lemons, listening to the jazz refrain from Ottmar’s radio below. She woke to the rumble and cry of the marketmen surging below her window and to the sharp, pungent smell of vegetables beginning to decay.

When she went to buy fruit at seven o’clock it took her past the Punjab India restaurant. Past the emerald green face of Ellen Keeley the barrow maker. Past the dirty oxblood tiles of the tube station where Neal Street ended and James Street began. Past Floral Street where the market boys drank their wages away and down, down, down to the Garden. Covent Garden: once the convent garden. Now so full of sin and earth and humanity. Still a garden really, after all these years.”

Though she hadn’t been drawn to the bright lights, Anna had found work in the theatre. She was dresser a rising star, the glamorous American actress Iolanthe Green, a rising star. A friendship grows between the two, very different young women.

Until the Monday when Lanny didn’t appear.

There could have been a simple answer but there wasn’t.

The next day all of the newspapers were abuzz with the  mystery of the missing star. Theories were propounded. Concerns were raised. But it wasn’t long before there was no more news, the story slipped out of the headlines, and Anna began to worry that her friend had been forgotten.

One newspaper had asked asks why so much attention was being paid to one wealthy actress when in the past week alone seventy ordinary people have gone missing without any great fanfare at all. The police inspector in charge of the case agreed. He had more than enough work to do, why should he worry about an actress who had no ties, who had quite possibly decided to move on of her own accord?

Unimpressed with the efforts of the police, Anna sets out to discover what had happened to her friend. Detective Sergeant Barnaby Hayes, the one officer left on the case, warned her off.  He was Irish, but he had made the decision to his name from Brennan to Barnaby so that he could fit into his new job and his new life in London; and he hoped that discovering whether Iolanthe has disappeared of her own accord, or whether something has happened to her, would impress his colleagues and his superiors.

Anna took no notice of his warning, she went on looking for Lanny, and she met a young man who was happy to help her. Aloysius was an accountant, a quiet and gentle man, an ardent Anglophile; and he was still coming to terms with the knowledge that his degree from the University of the West Indies wouldn’t gain him entry to exclusive gentlemen’s clubs or the city’s best restaurants, that the England he lived in had little in common with the England he had read about in books.

The mystery is cleverly constructed, and it spins around rich human stories.

Barnaby, his wife Orla and their daughter, Gracie had very different feeling about life in the big city. Turkish café owner Ottamar worked hard for his family and worried about his daughter, Samira, who was growing up and away from him. Anna’s landlord Leonard was gay in a world where that wasn’t legal. Aloysius faced appalling racism and police brutality, and yet he continued to be polite and respectful.

I was very taken with them all.

I saw that they were all outsiders, they had all come to London from somewhere else; and that some of them were carrying secrets, some of them were running away from something, and that some of them were chasing dreams and ambitions. Their different stories and characters developed nicely, they had things to say, as the mystery unravelled.

I came to realise why finding Lanny was so very important to Anna.

My only real issues were that Lanny’s backstory was muddled and left loose ends, and that while the final act of worked emotionally it was little contrived.

The time and place are very well evoked, and though some of the language and many of the attitudes shocked me I couldn’t doubt that they were authentic.

I loved the human drama, I was intrigued by the mystery; and I have to say that this is a very accomplished first novel and that I am very interested to read whatever Miranda Emmerson writes next.