Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Vintage Reading - St Simon Square

I found a lovely, gentle family story in the Gwendoline Courtney and Mollie Chappell style in the British Library last month and can't recommend it highly enough. I wish I knew more about the author, but St Simon Square (1952) appears to have been Frances Hamilton's only book, and a quick check on ABE shows that it had at least one reprint. Recent reading patterns show that I seem to be developing a preference for vintage family stories and I enjoyed this one of trainee librarians, dress designers, social workers and farmers. Reading it again before posting about it, it struck me that Frances Hamilton had thrown every 'type' into her text, but it worked incredibly well. The three Parker sisters dominate - the youngest brother Tim hares off to the nearby family farm at every opportunity and so is neatly sent into the margins. A widowed hardworking and generous mother comes straight out of the Marmee mould and showers her children and their friends with kindness whenever deadlines allow this respected journalist out of her office to show the importance of maternal understanding. What of her daughters? Casey - trainee librarian - is prim and almost learns to let herself go before her jealousy eats her up. I might even say consumes her, but that's too dramatic for a woman who makes a virtue out of restraint. Fran, the second sister, is allowed most of the story in her last year at school and the realisation that you need to work for the job you yearn for, academic drudgery as means to an end to be a workroom assistant in the local atelier. Finally, there's Thea, who is little more than the confident youngest, though she has a certain charm. Added to this, there's Clare, the South African exile suddenly sent to live amongst strangers and call a new place home. She's the embryonic social worker whose awakening consciousness of providing a haven for the deprived local youth is a parallel development to making her home in England even while dreaming of blue African skies.

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