I used to say that I had never been able to get through a book by Dorita Fairlie Bruce. I then decided to give her a fair chance, acquired all the Dimsie books as cheaply as possible, and read the lot straight through. I did quite enjoy that read, although the book I liked best, Dimsie Carries On, is not a school story at all. So I decided to give the Springdale books another go and read The New House Captain, The Best House in the School, Captain of/at Springdale and Prefects at Springdale this month. Goodness, these are dull! So dull that DFB has to drag poor old Dimsie into them, improbably rescuing schoolgirls from their foolish pranks. Rae Merchiston deserved everything that was coming to her, in my opinion. Nor can I stand the worship of that tiresome woman, Mary Queen of Scots.
I read three books by O Douglas: Penny Plain and The Setons, which I liked and Ann and her Mother, which I didn’t. Much of what action there is in these books takes place around a cosy fireside where women knit, darn, read and talk about books. Ann’s mother, Mrs Douglas, says she likes ‘domestic fiction, gentle but not drivelling, good character drawing and a love story that ends all right’. This was probably a blueprint for the author. Like many women of her generation she had lost brothers in the First World War. I find it interesting that some women wrote about this bitterly, like Vera Brittain, whereas others proudly praise the sacrifice. O Douglas quotes Ruskin’s lines about not taking ‘the purple of his blood out of the cross on the breastplate of England.’ This is not to modern taste but must reflect a considerable body of opinion at the time. I do like the charming little Nelson editions in dustwrappers: they are very light to hold and have quite large print; just the thing for reading in bed.
An even earlier book I read was Sister, A Chronicle of Fair Haven by the prolific Evelyn Everett-Green. It’s hard to say why I enjoyed this as the solution to the mystery is obvious to the reader pretty early on and the narrator has little to recommend her. I think the book’s perfect condition and eight colour plates had a lot to do with the reading pleasure. It’s always nice to handle Persphone books and I read two this month: The Village by Marghanita Laski and Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes. Laski was a better critic and journalist than she was a novelist, I think and the Panter-Downes suffers from being short stories with some repetition. I do like her, though, especially One Fine Day, which I heartily recommend.
I can never understand how Noel Streatfeild can have written two of my all time favourite books, Ballet Shoes and Curtain Up, and then so much that I actively dislike. I read two of her books for the first time this month: Caldicott Place and Ballet Shoes for Anna and I thought they were both quite dreadful. Of other children’s fiction I read The Callender Papers, a gothic novel for children by Cynthia Voigt which I rather enjoyed. I started Alice in rapture, sort of by Phyllis Naylor, but couldn’t be bothered with it. I think this shows just how good Meg Cabot’s Princess books are: very entertaining and wonderful use of language.
Read of the month was definitely Johanna & the Prices by Virginia Pye (1951). I’ve wanted this for ages and even though I don’t usually like short stories it came well up to expectation. The only re-reads were that gem of a book High Rising by Angela Thirkell, which I suddenly just had to read again, and Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson (1949). A first edition and bargain of the month.