As the shadows gather outside, it’s the season in which we’re reminded of our own mortality, yet preserve and protect ourselves ready to see us through wintry days, the time for seeking comfort. Season of lists and mellow fruitfulness… With apologies to Keats, it’s time, here in the northern hemisphere, to line up some autumn reading. Comfort reading.
I have a particular penchant, it seems, for a certain type of British ‘lady writer’. One born in the late 18th or early 1900s, and who then strode through the twentieth century on her own terms, gathering experiences, making her mark on paper, not afraid to buck conventions, perhaps marrying though possibly not, but self-sufficient always.
I have already mentioned on this blog my appreciation for Monica Dickens (here). Daphne Du Maurier I could adore; Rosamond Lehmann yes, most definitely. Finding or re-discovering these books is like finding a little bit of treasure, or unearthing a loved but half-forgotten item that’s been stuffed into the attic a while. I not only gobble their fiction but also seek out memoir biography, insights into the wide fascinating canvas of the previous century (admittedly more rewarding if one was comfortable financially, as these women were).
Currently, I am a rediscovering an author I haven’t read since childhood, Noel Streatfeild (1895 –11 September 1986). She is best known for her children’s classic Ballet Shoes (and a series of books re-marketed as the ‘Shoes’ series). Alongside that book, I read, that I can recollect, White Boots, Thursday’s Child, and the ‘Gemma’ series. These had common themes. Like many children’s books, the young heroes were enviably free of their parents and forced into independence (enviable even when this was due to misfortune, such as illness, divorce, or even being orphaned!) Then the glamourous themes of the stage, theatre, dance, even film (Streatfeild herself had ten years’ stage acting experience to call upon).
Streatfeild was enormously prolific as a writer, producing over eighty books for children and for adults, in addition to three volumes of autobiography and some of memoir besides.
It’s a pleasure to see that her adult fiction has many of the same cosy and domestic motifs, the same circumstances of genteel poverty, as the works for children. Dinner parties are planned, socks darned and hems lengthened, fires are poked into flame to toast crumpets, and parents fret about insufficient funds to afford school fees or a tutor – presumably the idea of sending the offspring to the local school would have been insupportable. Families hunker down and live out the relative deprivations of wars, depression, and shortages, making the best of what they have. Much of this presumably stems from Miss Streatfeild’s own vicarage up-bringing.
All of this homely detail and keeping of wolves from the door makes these stories the ideal cold-weather read. And fit with my own current mood for nesting and hibernation. As the season cools and darkens, the stove will get lit and perhaps, maybe, I’ll even toast and butter an English muffin in Miss Streatfeild’s honour.
The title of this post, by the way, is from Ballet Shoes – when suggesting that an unexpected windfall which arrived in the post was coincidence rather than kismet, Posy responds to her sisters: “It might have been [fairy powers] all the same; you never can tell what’s magic.” Which sort of brings us back to rediscovering authors and old books that provide unexpected riches.
Do you have a favourite seasonal read or author, whether it’s autumn / fall or any other time of year?
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