Sunday, 25 July 2010

Jam and books

Two firsts for me this week. The first was making jam (as opposed to lemon curd, which I'm very good at) and the second was making scones - I usually buy them. Reading vintage novels for girls does tend to make you think of food more as someone is always preparing a picnic or a feast with iced cakes and fizz. I wanted to try making jam, but a tangy (not overly sweet) jam. Strawberry and gooseberry sounded ideal and does indeed taste delicious. Next time, though, I may cut the fruit a little smaller, just to make eating (and balancing the jam on the toast) easier.

I can even find you a novel about jam-making. Madge Smith, who wrote under many similar names, wrote a gentle little tale in the Gwendoline Courtney vein of preserving an English heritage and building one's own family in the 1940s and 1950s. Jam Today is a comforting sort of summery book where two girls leave school to set up a jam factory in their decaying country home. Our practical tomboy heroine rejects the offer of a place at a smart finishing school to remain in Devon and develop a jam-making business in the hope that she can keep the family home (far too dilapidated to be stately) and land (a useful 20 acres). Assuming she can earn an income from the estate, she can revitalise her home and family. Her mother, a faded beauty and keen on smart society, is disappointed and aghast that her daughter should wish to run her own life along modern lines. It's the usual 'let's run the show right here' type with the girl (at least) finishing her domestic science course at school before striking out in the brave post-war world to combine tradition and entrepreneurship. Without the jam-making and business-building, we see the standard reliance on established values of friendship, honesty, trust in headmistresses, godparents and doctors and a love of folk-dancing.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

How to search for new books

Sunday afternoon: time to write up and conclude.

I am experimenting at the moment as I seem to have run out of of girl's own books by favourite authors. They all stop writing eventually. Just temporarily, I don't want to reread, but expand my collection (horizons?) a little. So, I'd noticed that girl's own books tend to be published by the same publishers and illustrated by the same artists. A little lateral thinking (and quite a bit of 'keyword' searching on ABE) yields treasures to borrow from the reading room or purchase from a friendly book dealer.

My recommendation thus far is to try typing Ruth Gervis or the favoured illustrator of your choice in the ABE keywords search field and see what you can see. I then removed 'Enid Blyton' and got on very well. You can do much the same in the British Library's catalogue, though I like the chance to see stock pictures on ABE.

We Never Thought of That! was purchased solely for the promise of illustrations of 1950s France by Ruth Gervis. That's all I can really recommend the book for, though I'm keeping it because it does look beautiful on the shelf. I don't know anything about P.M. Lovell (a one book type according to the BL Catalogue, though it's possible that she is also the Phyllis Lovell who wrote domestic science manuals), but it seems to me that the story could and should have had a better treatment. Imagine, you send your children to France for the summer in the hope that youngest daughter will learn enough French to impress in her boarding school entrance examination that autumn. As you've begun on the cross-Channel ferry without parents, you then introduce two more worldly teenagers to widen the horizons of your sheltered characters. In no time at all, your children have decided to extend their stay abroad, rent a house and reopen a conveniently abandoned cafe achieving some local success by serving omlettes, scones, English tea and girls that sing folk songs. It's rather a pity that Gwendoline Courtney (see GGBP) or Noel Streatfeild didn't actually write this; Lovell's cast just don't come to life in the same way that a Courtney family does in The Girls of Friars Rise or even a Streatfeild family does, say in Wintle's Wonders or The Painted Garden. That said, I didn't need to endure (or turn pages rapidly) when a small girl (a very Courtney type) is either saying/doing something shocking (in ankle socks, not stockings, sorry), downright irritating or leaving muddy prints all over the narrative. There's a superior (though show-off handsome) type of young man that Brent-Dyer is so fond of and plenty of nice domesticated girls being competent, but it just doesn't rise terribly high or high enough to complement Gervis's wonderful illustrations. It was an enjoyable muddle and a good light read of an innocent summer holiday where you don't learn much French.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Fabulosity - books and parties

I am waiting rather impatiently for my new (but old) copy of The Secret Garden as I'm keen to reread it after stumbling across a generous blog telling the story (with pictures and conversation) of a Secret Garden party. Willow Bird Baking provided a generous and amazing party for her sister (see photos here). I went to my bookshelves to look things up, then realised that I had 'pruned' certain titles when I was desperate for more shelf space. Then again, my childhood copy of The Secret Garden was a fairly dull paperback. Knowing that ABE would provide, I had a quick glance through the title listings, then started searching by illustrator. Hopefully, I'll soon have a hardback reprint (with DW) as I like books with age and character, illustrated by E.H. Shepard. Until it does arrive, I'm reading blogs on parties with a certain amount of awe at the creativity and beauty. Eat Drink Chic has the best ice cream party I've ever seen and a link to a wonderful place to find fonts for labels and invitations.

At least I can go and re-read The Painted Garden while waiting for the postman, not that he'll arrive until Monday now. Noel Streatfeild's tale of making a Hollywood film of The Secret Garden (with the hardback text) showing 1950s Los Angeles will satisfy my need for Frances Hodgson Burnett. Also, The Painted Garden does do food and parties terribly well, not quite Ratty's garbled listing of an endless hamper, but plenty that any child enduring rationing could envy. The American breakfasts full of fruit are especially mouthwatering. Then again, as it's already past noon on Sunday, it's really time for brunch.

P.S. "Fabulosity" is a real word, especially when you spell it correctly. I first found it in Rumer Godden's The Peacock Spring and find it very useful for superlative situations.