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An English girl living in Penn's Woods. I live in an old Dutch style colonial house, with my husband Mr Bit Brit, our son Rob, and our two cats Tinkerbell and Tuppence. E-Mail:

Thursday, December 31, 2009

My 2009 Year End Reading Summary from Christy

  • How many books read in 2009? 24
  • How many fiction? 14
  • How many non-fiction? 10
  • How many biographical or auto-biographical? 8
  • How many travel books? 2
  • Female authors? 16
  • Male authors? 8
  • Most favourite? Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple
  • Least favourite? The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, by Colleen McCullough
  • Any I simply couldn't read all the way through? The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet. I was amazed that the writer of Thornbirds could write such a dreadful book.
  • Oldest book read? The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery
  • Newest book read? Persona non Grata, by Ruth Downie
  • Longest read? The Lost, A search for six of six million, by Daniel Mendelsohn
  • Shortest read? The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery
  • How may books from the library? 18
  • Translated books? 3
  • Most read author of the year? Dorothy Whipple
  • How many by that author? 3
  • Any re-reads? No
  • Favourite character? Charlotte Gray
  • How many countries were visited, through the read page? Australia, USA, Canada, Russia, Poland, Germany, Monrovia, France, United Kingdom, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Kenya, South Africa, Botswana
  • Which books would you not have read without a recommendation? The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Someone at a Distance, Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Little Boy Lost, Facing the Lion.
  • Which author was new to me, and I want to read all that author's works? Dorothy Whipple
  • Read any books I always meant to read? The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery
  • Any books I'm annoyed I didn't read? The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
I have never kept a statistical record of the books I have read. And I don't think this was my best year for reading books. I averaged two books per month. I think I'm going to try for three books per month next year. But I read for the love of it, so what takes my fancy or comes to my attention, will be read.

I seem to especially like books fiction or biographical, that are set in the first or second world war time period, but I'm not stuck there.

I have sorely neglected our library, book reading club and every time I run into someone they say "when are you coming back?" Just life gets in the way. So will work harder to keep up and participate in that.

Reading, what a joy, what a transportation, through time and distance from ones own fireside.

Well signing off from my American fireside reading.


P.S. Found this meme on Paperback Reader

Persona Non Grata, by Ruth Downie

This will be my last book review of the year and I was going to get together a very humble little tally of the books I have read this year.

Ruth Downie has two previous books in this series, both were New York Times best sellers, Medicus and Terre Incognita.

Based around the main character, a career military doctor, Gaius Petreius Ruso, who is stationed in Roman Britain, near Hadrian's Wall and lives with his companion Tilla a tribal native of the isle. He receives a letter summoning him back to his family in the south of France.

On reaching the family home and vinyard, nobody owns up to sending the letter. All is in turmoil. The family are on the edge of bancrupty, their creditors are breathing down their necks, they could all be out on the street. Gaius's sister-in-law's brother, has drowned mysteriouly on a sea voyage.

Gaius has not told his family he will be bringing Tilla and has not told them of their relationship.

As if this isn't enough their main creditor comes to visit and drops dead of poisoning in front of Gaius.

How is his younger sister mixed up the the gladiators.

Gaius is now expected to sort out the family fortunes.

What did I think?

I was truthfully expecting more. Knowing that Ruth Downie's two previous books were New York Times best sellers. It was a good read, a not in depth read. Interesting research on Roman Life. I enjoyed it, and probably I should go back and read the two previous books.

I studied Roman Britain for my final exams, so had some background understanding of this period in history.

I felt it was an OK book that benefited from it's period setting. I will hold judgement until I read the previous two books.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

BBC Radio 4 Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

BBC Radio 4, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.

If you enjoyed reading this book, or haven't read it, but would like to listen to it, go to BBC Radio 4 on the internet and listen to the two episodes. They are only there for seven days, so make haste. I think you will enjoy it, I'm listening to it while writing this post.



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Lost Art of Gratitude, by Alexander McCall Smith

Isabel Dalhousie is a thoroughly modern woman, from a well to do background. She owns and edits from home, a philosophical journal. Has an eighteen month old boy, Charlie, who loves eating olives and lives with his father Jamie.

A chance meeting with an old acquantance Minty Auchterlonie, gets an invite for Charlie to her son's birthday party, to be held at their prestigious family house in the country outside of Edinburgh. Minty is now a high flying financier. Isabel had always thought of her as a ruthless climber, but her integrity had never been brought into question.

Minty takes Isabel into her confidence over a personal matter, but is Minty being truthful with her or is she using her. Rumors come her way of Minty being involved in a financial bank fraud, plus some other shady dealings. Being the curious Isabel that she is, she just can't say no.

Another dilemma is Professor Dove, her nemesis in the writing world. What's this whole to do about plagiarism?

Her neice Cat is dating a new boyfriend (a tightrope walker!) Isabel has Jamie, her neice's old boyfriend, Charlie's father; and the open question of marriage is still hanging.

Philosophizing, snooping and being just mum, make up this easy read series of books set in Edinburgh.

As the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency has an old worldliness to it. This series has a modern theme about it. Set in Edinburgh in the world of today. I like both series by McCall Smith, and will read more of these books in each series.


Tea Time for the Traditioally Built, by Alexander McCall Smith

Mma Ramotswe and her assistant Mma Makutsi, run the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, in Botswana. Mma Ramotswe who owns the agency is married to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni a first class mechanic who runs a repair garage along with his two young apprentices and an older man. Mma Ramotswe and her husband also have two adopted children, with special needs, Motholeli and Puso, a girl and a boy repsectively.

Mma Makutsi lives alone but has a 99% score from the Botswana Secretarial College; which she is very proud of. And at present is engaged to Phuti Radiphuti, the owner of a large furniture store in town. An advantagious marriage for one who comes from a poor background.

Mma Ramotswe, Precious has an old white van which is very dear to her, it is in need of some major work, but she is afraid to ask her husband as she knows he will say there comes a time when you must let it go and buy a new one.

Mma Makutsi finds out that her fiance to be has employed non other than her old arch rival, Violet Sephotho, who could have not scored more than 50% in her final exams at Secretarial College. Will Violet succeed in catching Mma Makutsi's fiance, or will Mma Ramotswe come up with a solution to show her up for who she is.

Plus their case at the agency with an owner of a leading football team, who is convinced there is a traitor in their midst, throwing the games.

A good cup of Red Bush Tea always helps the thinking process along. There is not a case yet that Mma Precious Ramotswe has not solved.

I the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books, has delightful old values. It's like stepping back to the sixties with some modern problems thrown in. A great cozy read by the fire with a cup of tea, red bush if you like.


Mma Makutsi,

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards

Obviously I have been away from my Lit Blog for a while. I have three books to review, but will start with The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards. As soon as I read the review on the back of the book cover, I remembered seeing this as a film, although at the time did not realize that the film was based on a book.

Doctor David Henry is newly married, and very much in love with his wife, who is about to give birth to their first child. A blizzard in Kentucky, prevents them getting to the hospital, so he has to deliver his child at the nearby clinic, with the aid of a nurse.

The baby boy is delivered, a healthy boy. But following close on his heels is a second baby, unexpected, a little girl, who as soon as she is delivered Dr Henry can see that she has Down's Syndrome. What to do, in a split moment in time he makes a decision which affects the rest of their lives. He decides to have the nurse, Caroline take the newly born child to an orphanage, keeping the knowledge of her living, a secret from his wife. Caroline though is unable to leave the newborn girl there and makes a decision that affects the rest of her life, to keep the child. Paul and Phoebe twins, growing up apart, never knowing each other. One decision brings sorrow, the other happiness.

The book goes into why he made this decision, and how secrets within a family destroy it. You have to go back to Dr Henry's childhood, being brought up poor in the hills of West Virginia, with a very sick younger sister, who had a heart condition and who took much of the families energies and resources, but who also brought a lot of love. He saw himself in his son Paul and his younger sister in Phoebe, and he wanted to save Paul from what he went through, only remembering the bad things of his childhood, but forgetting the good. He could only remember as a student doctor a professor saying "A mongoloid, do you know what that means?" And he did all sorts of problems including the one he was most afraid of, a heart condition.

Caroline moves with the baby to Pittsburgh, where she gets a job, moving in with a woman Doro and her senile elderly father, as his nurse and helper. Here they thrive and are nurtured and grow.

His wife thinking the little girl is dead, holds a memorial service for her. She just cannot get over it. Even as years move on and she would like more children, he will not. She gives, he can't, he knows why he can't give and she doesn't. All know they have the facade of a family, but something is missing.

There is so much more to the story, split decisions, not going back and putting things right, secrets, and why we do what we do.

It is a very well written book and I would highly recommend it.


Friday, August 28, 2009

A London Child of the 1870s, by Molly Hughes

My book review of 'A London child of the 1870's' by M. Vivien Hughes. Is a delightful autobiographical addition to Persephone books. It is maybe not as flowing in a literary style, but does capture the essence of a child growing up in a middle class family of that time period.

Mary Vivien Thomas, born in October 1866 the youngest, with four older brothers, Tom, Dym, Charles, Barnholt and parents who in many ways are very liberal in their attitude to bringing up children. In 1870 they move to Canonbury, North London and live there for nine years. Their father works in the City, something to do with stocks. They have their ups an downs financially, but are never poor and have a couple of servants.

It's a charming review of a child's life. how did children play back then? What did they play with? Learning at home, the books she read, relatives who often visited. Her joy of life, wit and insight fullness.

The highlight of life was visiting her mother's family in Reskadinnick, Cornwall. These accounts are full of Cornish life back then, and I love the quotes from the locals. My grandfather came from Somerset and I can relate to that pattern of old speech. She mentions a manchet loaf of bread, that was not put in a tin to form, and if it was cut, must not be left on the table, a superstition. She also mentions her mother's family money coming from the tin mining business, which goes all the way back to the time of the Phoenicians who traded tin from Cornwall. Mollie mentions a trip that her aunt Tony took to Norway with her grandfather to buy Norwegian logs for pit props. Just interesting history.

There is a lot of mention of reading of those very pious religious Victorian books to teach morals, that mostly taught fear.

With all the liberalness of the family Mollie was not taken out on trips as much as the boys were, such as the Lord Mayor's Show, a steam boat trip to Greenwich. In fact she says, "Of course I was never allowed to go there myself." And further on that page she says "Strange as it seems I was never taken to anything more exciting than a picture gallery, not even to a Pantomime at Christmas..." Mollie does not resent this, but states it as a fact. "My father's slogan was that boys should go everywhere and know everything, and that a girl should stay at home and know nothing."

One entrance that caught my eye was a visit to Bumpus Book Shop in Oxford Street, London. It seems it was a very large and well known bookshop so here is a link to Bumpus Book Shop, don't you love that name? I think we would have liked to visit Bumpus Book Shop.

All the photos below are from the first book, except for the first photo of the author.

I wrote this a couple of days ago before the above review.

I had totally not thought about this book, 'A London Child of the Seventies', as I do not have this book as a Persephone publication. I was driving home from work today and it suddenly flashed into my mind, that I had this book, in fact the trilogy. I was so excited thinking I could do a review on it when I almost missed my exit to go shopping.

I first ran across the autobiographical works of M.V. Hughes over twenty-five years ago, in the form of a paperback discard from our local library which I happened to buy. It was 'A London Girl of the Eighties'. I so loved this book that I read it over several times during that time period.

In more recent years I realized that it was part of a trilogy, 'A London Child of the Seventies' and 'A London Home in the Nineties.' So I thought let me try and find it on ebay and in my first week of looking I came across A London Family 1870 - 1900, by M. Vivien Hughes. What is so nice about this is I have the 1947 trilogy, first published 1946. Full of photos. The three books having been first published in 1934,1936,1937. I don't know if the Persephone publication has photos in, so thought that I would post some here.

I always felt that these books would make wonderful reference works if you were writing a fictional novel in that time period. You would be able to capture the period by reading these books. But of course the writings are far more than a reference book you feel you have walked those streets with Molly.

I do have one question of Persephone. Why did they choose A London Child of the Seventies? Persephone calls it A London Child of the 1870's. As opposed to, what I personally think is the most interesting of the trilogy, A London Girl of the Eighties. That opinion could be totally subjective.

In any case try and read both, the last book of the trilogy is not I feel quite as interesting.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My New Persephone Banner to Meet the Challenge

Paperback Reader , Claire and Verity of The B Files, are hosting a Persephone reading challenge all this week. With Quizzes give aways and just a coming together of Persephone book lovers.

In honour of this and because it was just plain fun, I've revamped my Lil Bit Brit Lit Blog with a new Persephone banner, made up from the lovely end papers of their books.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, by Winifred Watson

Persephone Challenge, first book, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

I'll start out by saying that it is just a delightful book. It's like a bubbling brook as it runs along, or a child skipping along, a little hop, skip and a jump. That is what the dialogue reminds me of. It flows so very freely. A bubbly, bouncy, burlesque kind of story, in the genre of the old time music hall.

Miss Pettigrew a very tired greyed out middle aged spinster , who is a nanny, seeks a job, in a very greyed out period of 20Th century history, at least for some. But not if you have money. There are two types of money, that of the rather boring suburbia families, living still within the rules of Victorian morality and then there is the entrepreneurial nouveau rich. Who have cast off restraints of society themselves, and don't hold others to such high standards either. Who accept you for what you are and do not judge you by your pedigree background.

Into this is cast Miss Pettergrew desperate for a position, never given a leading role to shine is sent by her employment agency to the apartment of a night club singer, Miss LaFosse, here it all begins. We enter into the comings and goings of gentlemen folk at Miss LaFosses's apartment.

This early paragraph sums up our entrance into the story.

"...She knew she was not a person to be relied upon. But perhaps that was because hitherto every one had perpetually taken her inadequacy for granted. How do we know what latent possibilities of achievement we possess? ..."

Miss Pettigrew's thoughts on one gentlemen, Phil.

"... I do,' she apostrophized her shocked other self determinedly, 'I don't care, I do. He's not quite ... quite delicate. But he's nice. He doesn't care whether I'm shabby and poor. I' m a lady, so he's polite in his way to me.'

The relationship between Miss LaFosse and Miss Pettigrew grows. Who would be right for Miss LaFosse to marry? Can Miss Pettigrew stave off the wolf?

Her thought about Nick.

"His glance flicked over her and Miss Pettigrew became aware at once of her age, her dowdy clothes, her clumsy figure, her wispy hair, her sallow complexion. she flushed a painful red. Her mind disliked him at once: her emotions were enslaved."

As the day goes on.

"... But these people! They opened their hearts. they admitted her. she was one of themselves. It was the amazing way they took her for granted that thrilled every nerve in her body. No surprise: they simply said 'Hello', and you were one of themselves. No worrying what your position and your family and your bank balance were. In all her lonely life Miss Pettigrew had never realized how lonely she had been until now, when for one day she was lonely no longer..."

With the acceptance of Miss Pettigrew and her witty dialogue come a new wardrobe.

"... She had never worn real silk underclothes in her life. at once they made her feel different. She felt wicked daring, ready for anything. She left her hesitations behind with her home-made woollens."

I will intersperse here some personal thoughts. A dear friend of mine whose mother never had access to an education, told me that her mother never left home without dressing to the nines. She would say to M. I feel more confident and people sum you up, by first appearances, how you dress.

I personally had that experience some weeks ago. Feeling somewhat down and not bothering to dress even somewhat better, I went into a store, where I've shopped often and never been asked for ID to accompany my credit card, but on this day I was. My whole persona came across as down and the shop assistant thought of me accordingly.

I love this sentence.

"She breathed Ambrosial vapour."

Is a romance in the offing for Miss Pettigrew?

Well read the book. You will not be disappointed.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Page, Compliments of Your Library

The Book Page, which is supplied by my local library, is a lot of fun to browse through and see what's new book wise. This magazine comes out every month.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Persephone Book Challenge

I have four Persephone books which I can read for the book challenge next week. I don't think I will have the time to read four, but I am thinking of two, to keep it in the realms of possibility. I'm looking forward to it and reading all the other reviews by Persephone lovers.


They Were Sisters, by Dorothy Whipple

They Were Sisters, by Dorothy Whipple. This is definitely a book I want to read, and I would love to watch the movie. I've looked for it on Ebay, but have not found a copy. I think Persephone did a viewing of this movie. Just a few scenes from the movie.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

See my post in Two Sisters One Skye

See my post on Reading Matter for trip to UK
here is the link, for my posting on H.V. Morton travel books, In Search of England, In Search of Scotland and In Search of London.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Interview with Agatha Christie's grandson Mathew Pritchard

I'm a definite fan of Agatha Christie. I read her autobiography and found it most down to earth and most interesting. Except no explanation on the 11 days she was missing.

This is an interview with her grandson.

Well do take a look at all the links I think you'll enjoy this.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Writer's Favorite Recipes, by Gillian Vincent and the National Book League of Great Britain

I was wondering exactly which blog I should post this on, but in the end decided on my literary blog. As I thought literary folks might like to know of this book. I will place some of the recipes on my Lil Bit Brit Blog. Especially Sherlock Holmes housekeeper's recipe for Kedgeree. Isn't that a lovely word k-e-d-g-e-r-e-e? A corruption of the Indian word Khitchru, meaning a medley or hodge-podge.

I found this book on the library discard shelves. Lots of lovely vintage illustrations.


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Devlin Diary, a diary holds the key to a centuries old mystery, by Christi Phillips

This story is set in two time periods. Modern day 2008 academic University town, Cambridge and London of 1672, the time of King Charles II when he has been reinstated to the throne, after his exile in France.

Hannah Devlin is the daughter of a court doctor, who died under mysterious circumstances. She learned at his side, and is as good as any trained physic. But being a woman she cannot practice, only among the poor where nobody will notice her.

One day she is in a most clandestine manner brought to court to treat the King's mistress. She is his favourite and nothing must happen to her. Hannah can help, they know she can because her father could have helped and she knows all her father knew.

At court she meets, a charming courtier, Ralph Montagu and Dr. Strathern. When two members of court are murdered and appear with symbols on their bodies, which seem to tie in with her father's death, a mystery is afoot. What is the connection with her father and what do the symbols mean. Can this knowledge overthrow both King Charles and his relative by marriage, King Louis. Who of the two men will prove her counterpart.

Travel forward to Cambridge, Trinity College, Claire Donovan an American, excited to be teaching history for a few semesters. She has been invited by a colleague Andrew Kent. What will old books reveal in the library. Who will stop at nothing to publish their papers first, even stealing other peoples ideas? How does all this tie together with 1672? And a modern day murder.

It was a good read and the description of modern day University life, with all the perks and recognition that go along with being a don. Interesting enough to want to read on and not skip parts. I'm not quite sure what is up with both the heroines having Irish names, just a choice of the author I guess.

I have lived quite near to Cambridge and will be there again in a month visiting, so was able to relate to the town, but the cloistered community of Cambridge academia is another world.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Libraries of the World

In honour of the Persephone Challenge Read in August and my upcoming trip to the UK. I will be featuring Libraries of the United Kingdom. Starting off with the British Museum Reading Room. See my side bar.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Spy Game, by Georgina Harding.

On a foggy cold morning in 1961, Anna's mother drives off in the family car and that is the last she sees of her. The siblings, her older brother Peter and her are told that she died in a car accident. The same morning a spy case breaks, the case of the Krogers. Who seem to be ordinary people, living in suburbia, but this is at the height of the Cold War, and the Krogers are spying for Russia.

Peter becomes obsessed with spies and codes; their mother was from the eastern part of Germany, what if she was not who she seemed to be? She was a refugee, what if she were a sleeper or even an active spy too?

Peter weaves fact and fantasy, their childhood circles around this. But as adults, what do they now believe. Can Anna find out the truth of her mother's family history and place of birth? Does it have anything to do with Russian spies, or is there just as much another mystery to be uncovered.

I related to their childhood in the sixties, with all the period detail.

This is the first book I have read by Georgina Harding and I liked her style of writing a lot. So I will definitely seek out her other books.

  • Tranquebar: A Season in South India
  • In Another Europe
  • The Solitude of Thomas Cave

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Journal of Helene Berr

Helene Berr kept a journal from April 1942 to February 1944. She is a recent graduate of the Sorbonne, with a love for English literature and plays the violin, she calls her 'selfish magic'; which helps her to escape the everyday oppressiveness of living under a Nazi Vichy government.

The time covered is the same as Anne Frank's Diary. But while Anne was hiding in rooms in Amsterdam, Helene was a student at the Sorbonne, however their fate was the same eventual incarceration at Bergen-Belsen, both being there at the same time and dying in 1945, only weeks before liberation.

Her father is a director of a chemical company and a decorated WWI veteran., her background is one of privilege. Will their fate be the same as poor Jewish refugees?

She writes of everyday things, friendships and loves, the ups and downs of youth. She thinks she loves Gerard, until she meets Jean Morawiecki, a fellow student.

Early on the petty anti-Semitic laws are upsetting and bothersome, but as time goes by the signs become more and more clear that this is a noose, becoming tighter and tighter.

She writes in reference to the wearing of the star. A friend Vivi Lafon says '"I can't stand seeing people with that on." I realize that: it offends other people. But if only they knew what a crucifixion it is for me. I suffered there, in the sunlit Sorbonne courtyard, among my comrades. I suddenly felt I was no longer myself, that everything had changed, that I had become a foreigner, as if I were in the grip of a nightmare. I could see familiar faces all around me, but I could feel their awkwardness and bafflement. It was as if my forehead had been seared with a branding iron.'

She writes of inertia and even covert duplicity of French Catholics around her. 'And she was right Catholics no longer have the freedom to follow their conscience, they do what their priests tell them to do. And the latter are weak cowardly and often unintelligent. If there had been a mass uprising of Christians against these persecutions, would it not have won the day? I am sure it would have. But the Christians would have had to protest against the war in the first place, and they weren't able to do that. Is the Pope worthy of God's mandate on earth if he is an impotent bystander to the most flagrant violations of Christ's laws?

Do Catholics deserve the name of Christians when, if they applied Christ's teaching, religious difference, or even racial difference would not exist?'

She often quotes from Keats, reads Winnie-the-Pooh and recites Rudyard Kipling's 'Rikki, Tikki, Tavi.'

Helene was indeed a gifted writer. This book, I have read, has been immensely popular in Europe, and I think, stands on par with 'The Diary of Anne Frank.'


Friday, July 24, 2009

Little Boy Lost, by Marghanita Laski

I finished this book well over a week ago, so If I don't write a review of this book soon I will loose the flavour of it.

The style of writing is excellent, and one wants to read on, her word pictures are beautiful.

Hilary Wainwright is a poet and intellectual. He was married to a French girl, Lisa. They have a baby boy, who he sees one time before leaving for England in 1940, WWII. She dies during the war and now after the war he comes back to look for his son.

The questions asked are. Will he be able to find his son? How will he know it is his son? And does he even want his son? These questions are the basis of the story, and turn the ending into a cliff hanger.

Haunting pictures of post war France are drawn, people are coming to grips with their involvement during Nazi occupation.

What was Hilary Wainwright doing during the war? And his ambiguous relationship with his mother.

Why did he take so long in coming back to France to look for his son?

Hilary's relationship with Pierre, the Frenchman who found this child and takes him on an unfolding journey to look for his son.

Some quotes from the book.

The residence of Madame Quilleboeuf.

"'What an extraordinary place,' said Hilary, standing in the entrance and staring at the grass growing between the cobblestones. 'This isn't Paris - it's some shabby village away from all the routes natioanales.' He added with a kind of delight, 'It's a splendidly romantic place to begin a search from."

"But at the sight of Pierre her great hooked nose and nutcracker chin came together in a wide smile and in a hoarse voice she said, 'So you have come back with your friend, monsieur. Enter!' "

Hilary's description of Monsieur Mercatel. "He looks like an Englishman, was Hilary's first thought, but he did not. He might have been a native of any country, this small thin grey-haired gentleman, kindly mouth, mild blue eyes, the cultured European of true goodness, but of no importance what so ever."

The following quote so sums up Hilary and his relationship with Pierre and what type of men they both are.

"And this led him to think about Pierre who had said that under the Occupation people had done what they must, and that what this was had been settled long before. He thought, Pierre is a better man than I. He has the liberal virtues that I profess and personally lack. I am an intolerant perfectionist; Pierre refrains from judging anyone but himself. And yet I am a liberal intellectual, and Pierre is devoting himself to the furtherance of illiberal perfection. But Pierre can be tolerant of me, but I can't be tolerant of him."

The mother superior talking to Hilary at the orphanage.

"She smiled, 'Ah, you feel it too,' she said, 'and I wonder whether you share the other rather strange feeling I had about this boy - that here was a child that would give one great happiness to help?' She peered intently at him, shading her eyes with a frail yellow hand on which the mauve veins stood out in swollen relief. But Hilary's face showed none of the sudden comprehension and hope he felt at her words, and she let her hand fall into her lap and added gently, 'And have you any idea whether he is your son, Mr. Wainwright?'"

"Monsieur Mercatel said. 'I have been wanting to tell you, monsieur, speaking as his schoolmaster, what I think of the boy. Whether he is your son or not, of course I cannot say. What I can say, is that he is certainly the son of someone like you.'"

"Hilary said vehemently, 'I couldn't bear to take the wrong child and then perhaps find my own later on.'

'But you will not.' said the nun, 'that is as nearly certain as anything can be. If this child is not yours, then you will never find your son.'"

"'Why? asked Hilary sharply, 'Why are you so anxious that I should take him?' She looked at him steadily for a moment and then said, 'There are many reasons. One is that I am deeply sorry for you. You seem to me to be lost and in need of comfort. I would not wish to withhold that comfort from you.'"

Hilary thinking while with the woman who he picked up.

"The chatter flared around him while he thought of the queer change Parisian women undergo between the delicate faun-like beauty of their youth and the predatory brassiness of their middle age and how seldom it was that one saw, as he could see in Nelly, the brief stage of transition between the two."

"Hilary said nothing. He stood there watching the child, feeling only hate for the creature who had put him in this predicament, through whose intervention he had made a fool of himself. The little coward, he was saying, the little coward."

"You see, Pleaded Hilary, I am incapable of giving. I dare not give and so I'm running away. I've finished with ordeals. I am fleeing to the anaesthesia of immediate comfort and absolute non-obligation."

I had two more quotes but I think that will give away the ending. The beauty of the well written word shines through.

Did I totally understand Hilary? No, as a mother I found him very hard to connect with. Academically I understood where he was coming from, but it did not endear him to me.

Did I enjoy reading the book and would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Resistance, A woman's journal of struggle and defiance in occupied France, by Agnes Humbert

Before I start this book review of Resistance, remind me if I ever write a book about WWII, I must remember not to title it Resistance. Have you ever tried to find a book on Amazon just using the title Resistance, almost impossible to come up with the right book quickly.

Having said that, and this being my second book review of a book entitled Resistance, the other one was fictional, this is an autobiography of Agnes Humbert's second world war years in France. In the French it was entitled, Notre

She worked at the Musee de l'
Homme. As the occupation started, Agnes and some fellow co-workers and others, started the fledgling Resistance movement. She kept a diary, which forms the beginning of the book. After being arrested by the Germans, it is her remembered account of what happened to her. Where she kept that diary hidden we do not know, but it would have been devastating if it had ever fallen into German hands.

Agnes Humbert's account is interesting, she was arrested early on and at that time the German's were not sending imprisoned resistance workers to the concentration camps, but rather to work in the factories in Germany, not that they weren't treated terribly, but at least there wasn't a gas chamber at the end.

The details of her imprisonment in France before her trial and ones she got to know there, although in a solitary cell, were interesting. Many of the ones she was in prison with were executed. At this time the SS had not perfected their
interrogation skills. She writes while in the French prison>

"I think back to all the happy times in my life. Just the happy times. The rest you have to forget, especially in here you must forget, or else you get wrinkles. Wrinkles on your face are bad enough; in your heart they are even worse. ..."

Her detailed account of working in a Viscose factory in Germany, making synthetic silk fabric, which uses acid in the process. They had no protective clothing such as gloves, boots or aprons and
inhaled the fumes all the time, their clothes already in tatters, became even worse with every spot of acid which spat on them.

Her strength of character and
descriptions of fellow prisoners, which ran the gamut, from German woman, there for stealing, murder and prostitution, to the political prisoners. She formed several friendships, which were mutually sustaining in the terrible places she was at.

After being liberated she worked alongside the Americans and two close friends, in a small German town, documenting details of ones who were SS and involved in war crimes. One American she worked very closely with, but others she found to be too trusting of any German who could speak English.

There were many groups who were gradually coming back to the village after being liberated from the concentration camps, this is what she writes about one of them.

"I have been in contact with a sect that seems to be quite widespread in Germany, known as Bibelforscher, or Jehovah's Witnesses. Those whom I have met conduct themselves with outstanding dignity. Today our investigations led us to the home of Herr Mengel, recently freed from the concentration camp where he had been held since 1937. While the Bibelforscher are greatly to be respected, they have never been of the slightest practical help to us. Infinitely discreet, they refuse to denounce their persecutors, trusting in God to avenge them. I have tried in vain to suggest discreetly that perhaps we have been sent by God to help them, but they obstinately refuse to view us as archangels in disguise, and keep their lips firmly sealed."

Eventually she was repatriated to France and met up with her adult son.

She had finished the book by 1946. So unlike many first hand accounts of the war written quite a few years after it, her memories were fresh and recorded very soon after the war ended.

Her resolve comes through, she was in her forties when all this happened to her, so not in the throws of youth. The idealism with small achievements met with such dreadful sentences. She writes.

"How bizarre it all is! Here we are, most of us the wrong side of forty, careering along like students all fired up with passion and fervour, in the wake of a leader of whom we know absolutely nothing, of whom none of us has ever seen a photograph. In the whole course of human history, has there ever been anything like it? Thousand upon thousands of people, fired by blind faith, following an unknown figure. Perhaps this strange anonymity is even an asset: the mystery of the unknown."

You do get the feeling that she thought it was all a great adventure, almost in the way the boys of WWI went to war. Actually her mother was British, Mabel Annie Wells Rourke, (1869-1943), who was part of the large expatriate community in Dieppe. She was very close to her mum and it grieved her terribly that she was not with her mum at the end.

Agnes Humbert's account is an historically important one. It details the fledgling beginnings of the French Resistance, and their thoughts, feelings and idealism.

I enjoyed reading it.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple

As you can see I'm on a run with Dorothy Whipple. Now I'm wondering whether I should save a couple of books to take on holiday, because I know she is always a good read. Greenbanks, the name of the house, starts in 1908, the copy write of the book I read was 1932. And concludes no later than the mid 1920's.

It is set in the town of Elton in the Midlands. This is the story of the Ashton family, Robert and Louisa, the parents in their forties, and their children. Rose and Thomas , who are both married, and do not feature much in the story. Letty is married to Ambrose Harding, they have Dick, a set of twin boys and Rachel, who live close by. Laura who lives at home and is dating and Jim and Charles who live at home, all are young adults.

Robert has aged well and has always been a philanderer. Louise knowing this, but keeping the peace and family together. Loise is the central character around which all the others orbit. Suddenly a big change comes when Robert and his lady friend are thrown out of a trap and he is killed. Ambrose takes over looking after Louise investments, Jim and Thomas decide that Jim will take over and run the family business, a wood yard and Charles, who all the brothers feel is a waster, but is most beloved of Louise, has been persuaded to try his chances in South Africa.

Jim who is very much influenced by his fiance, eventually leaves home and marries her, much to his mother's relief, he always found fault with everything. At this time with the loss of Charles, Louisa decides to ask a lady Kate Barlow to come and live with her. Kate was befriended by Louise many years ago when she was just coming out, unfortunately she fell in love with Philip Symonds a married man and become pregnant with a boy, who she gave up for adoption. Kate left town and has been living as a companion, so Louise decides that maybe she can show her kindness by inviting Kate to live with her. Kate proves to be a prickly, frozen individual, so it does not turn out as Louise would have wished.

Laura has been dating Cecil Bradfield and taking little Rachel along as a chaperon, it seems they are quite in love. Laura though who has always been prone to be selfish and prideful, has a tiff with Cyril; which leads to a separation, that is not repaired. So in a silly mood of pettishness she decides to visit her sister Rose down south and meets George, a rather over weight but rich man and she marries him. Letty visits with Laura and basks in all the things money can buy as Ambrose is a penny pincher.

In reference to being married Laura says to Letty, "Oh, Letty said Laura, wiping her eyes. "You've got it boiled down to that, have you?" Letty still looked blank. "What's the matter?" she said. "Nothing .....nothing! Have some more keep - I mean cake. Let's plaster our souls with chocolate cake, darling. It will perhaps hold them together as well as anything else ..."

Rachel is a comfort to her grandmother, and is growing up..Ambrose feels that "He looked forward with pleasure to forming Rachel according to his influence."

Letty visits her aunt Alice regularly, hoping that some day she will inherit, and have some money of her own. "It's not really me, having the children and living with Ambrose,' she would think in bewilderment. 'This isn't my life really; it will all be different soon. I shall begin to live as I want to soon."

Charles who although set up quite well by his family money wise, decides to come back from South Africa, as he has a billiard room invention he wants to work on. His mother hears him playing the piano as she walks up the street home, she knows it's Charles and is delighted. The Invention does not pan out and his brothers ever glad to get rid of him find a job in the Far East for him. He isn't there too long when WWI breaks out and he comes home again, only to join up, the others being far to busy making money off the war to join up.

War brings changes in Elton. "The spoon of war stirred the contents of the provincial pan very thoroughly and Mrs. Spence called at Greenbanks one Saturday afternoon to ask Kate Barlow to join the Bandage Class." Ambrose with his solid good looks and southern diction, that fell pleasantly on Lancashire ears, helps in a figurehead position with the War Relief , Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. "I don't care what you do it for,' said the woman. 'But I'd like to know what yer mean by being late with my money, 'And it over. I'm waiting to go out.' 'Savages.' muttered Ambrose .... I love this comparison.

By the gate, under the laurel bushes there were snowdrops like little congregations of White Nuns at prayer....' It is March and news is received at Greenbanks that Charles has been killed in action. Laura comes home for the funeral, bumps into Cecil on leave and all is reconciled between them, leaving George out in the cold. Laura in her usual way leaves it to her mother to break the news to George. As she takes off with Cecil to seize happiness. He goes back to the front and she becomes a nurse and gets assigned to France.

Time moves on, the war ends. Cecil and Laura move to Kenya to live. 'But in spite of the fact that she did not come home, it got about that she had gone away with Cecil Bradfield. There was not the sensation in Elton that there would once have been. The war had blown most peoples ideas sky-high, and the pieces had not yet come down. When they did come down they would never fit together again as they had before the war.'

Rachel is now seventeen. She has passed all her exams with flying colours and has been offered a scholarship to Oxford. Her father will not think of letting her go, to be a blue stocking. It's interesting he says that as
Vera Britain in her autobiography writes that her father said the same thing. Girls of that time were just not expected to go to college, just marry well. Rachel does not hold back in telling her father a few home truths, about how he has always spoiled everything through out their lives and that is why all the boys left, Dick to work with his uncle in the engineering firm and the twins to South Africa.
Dorothy Whipple writes, 'Children make parents as wretched as parents make children; but children do not really believe that. They can't understand how it is that those whom they take for tyrants can be hurt by the victims of the tyranny.'

Rachel mopes around for a year and even her father has to admit, that maybe he made the wrong choice, and allows her to attend Liverpool University three days a week. Laura writes, can her mother intercede with George as she is expecting a baby and she must have a divorce.

Again Laura leaves it to others to sort things out for her. Letty and Louise go to visit George and this time he is only to happy to comply, maybe he'll be landed with a wife and baby this would upset him and his finances.

Who turns up one day at Greenbanks, John Barlow, Kate's son and guess who he falls in love with? Letty's aunt dies, will she stay with Ambrose?

Well of course I have sketched out the bare bones and one must read the book to feel the ambiance of Dorothy Whipple's writing. Now should I move on to the Lockwood's or take it back to the library and save it for another time.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Librairies of the World

Over a period of time, in the side bar, I'm going to add pictures of different libraries throughout the world.

I've started in Portugal. Why Portugal, because I fell in love with Lisbon when we were there last year.

These libraries are amazing.


The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple

Is set on the cusp of WWII. The Priory around which the story revolves is the stately home of Major
Marwood and has been in the family for generations, along with surrounding farms and farmland, which are gradually being sold off to keep the Major happy in his expensive hobby of cricket.

His daughters Christine and Penelope are entering into womanhood, still occupy the upstairs nursery, having the whole floor to themselves and liking it that way; their mother died when they were young, and they've pretty much been left to their own devices.

Into this comes Major Marwood's idea, that he maybe should remarry, someone who will take over the household and possibly guide his girls. So with the least effort he proposes to Anthea. Isn't he shocked when Anthea declares that she is pregnant with twins. But in his usual style he carries on with arranging for the annual summer cricket tournament. Aided by his trusted retainer, Thompson.

Anthea decides she needs a nurse and implores Nurse Pym, to aid her through the pregnancy. They become so attached that this becomes a permanent arrangement.

Thompson, who is a bit of a lad, but most handsome, and good at heart has got himself entangled with Bertha, who on seeing that she is about to be ditched for the young housemaid Bessy, who he really is in love with, says she's pregnant and he had best do the right thing by her; which he does. Only to find out it was a lie.

Bessy wants to leave but Anthea with the pregnancy wants her to stay and persuades her to do so. "In the end, she persuaded Bessy to stay. She meant to be kind."

The Major has invited an excellent player to join his team for the summer, Nicholas Ashwell, who comes from a wealthy industrial family, his father is Sir James a little blustery, and his mother Sarah, good people.

Christine and Nicholas fall in love and marry, but not all is rosy as young Mr. Ashwell, has never found his own path and made is own way in life. They have a child, a little girl, Angela. After things revealed Christine leaves him, taking Angela, and goes to live with her sister, who has also married, but not for love, to the ever faithful Paul.

What transpires to both of them in the mean time, makes them grow up and see things so much more clearly.

Saunby Priory is to be put up for sale. Christine is the one who truly loves the house. Sir James is the means by which all is fulfilled and brought to a happy conclusion for all.

In 'Somewhere at a Distance' money is the ruination of the family. In 'The Priory', money makes all things possible, an interesting contrast.

I found the beginning a tad slow and it took me a while to become in tune with the characters. By the time I got to the end I was enthralled by her wonderful fleshing out of characters.

This book was written and published in 1939, it brings out how the people of Britain and indeed Europe, were so hopeful that the Prime Minister would bring about peace with Hitler and Mussolini, and for a moment they were ecstatic in thinking that it had been achieved. Dorothy Whipple writes.

"Life had been given back to them and they were delirious with the gift. The immense wave of hope and goodwill that was sweeping over the world engulfed Red Lodge too. This was the time when miracles could have been accomplished, when if they could have come at each other, the peoples of Europe would have fallen on one another's necks like brothers and wrung one anothers hands with promises of peace."