callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,
callmemadam
callmemadam

Comfort Reading: Gwendoline Courtney

A miserable Sunday on the sofa requires comfort reading and I picked Sally’s Family by Gwendoline Courtney. I’d never heard of the author until a few years ago and this book quickly became a favourite. It was first published in 1946 so is very much a post-war book, with housing shortages and rationing. The six motherless Hamilton children have been scattered during the war, each billeted on a very different family; Sally, the eldest, has been in the ATS. Sadly, their father has been killed in the war but before he died he told his friend Charles Selwood of his chief wish: that his children should once again live together as a family and that all should have a good education.

Major Selwood owes his life to Hamilton so he offers a house at low rent to Sally, who arranges for all the children to join her there. Ingleholm turns out to be filthy and ill-furnished. The next-in-age sister, Kitty, has been spoiled by her foster parents and seems unwilling to do any work; the younger ones are fun but a worry because their school fees have to be paid. Sally sometimes despairs of the project but with the help of Charles and his housekeeper succeeds in getting the others to work together to make a cosy home and tame the wild garden. The descriptions of how each room in turn is made comfortable are lovely. As so often in fiction, I find I enjoy the struggling parts of the book best and at the end feel sorry that the family will eventually split up again as each character finds a future.

No picture of this book as my copy is a Seagull edition with no spine and brown pages; I’d like a better one but am not prepared to pay what people are asking. Gwendoline Courtney (1911-1996) wrote thirteen books for girls and until Girls Gone By started republishing, some titles were very hard to find. Some of the reprinted books are out of print again already. As I've said, Sally was reprinted in a Collins Seagull edition as was The Farm on the Downs (first published as Long Barrow). There was a Children’s Press edition of Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre (first published as Stepmother and in the States as Those Verney Girls). In theory these reprinted titles should be easy to find but they are actually quite scarce.

After finishing Sally I turned to The Girls of Friar’s Rise. The six Nairne sisters are already well trained in housekeeping skills and have a happy family life. The story comes about because their parents have to go abroad for three months, leaving the girls to manage alone in their isolated Devon home. When the neighbouring tiny cottage is taken by a convalescent young man the girls leap in to help him, scrubbing brushes at the ready. The storyline is not as strong as in Sally; it’s really about Esther, the eldest, trying to cope by thinking ‘what mother would do’ and everyone else mucking in to cope with the crises. The characters are less well defined in this book, I think, and I don’t like it so much. Next off the shelf will be At School with the Stanhopes which is far more of a home than a school story. I like it very much and think it the best of the republished titles. I don’t rate A Coronet for Cathy as highly as many other people do; The Chiltons is very ordinary and there are many better wartime spy fiction stories than the two Denehurst books. My conclusion is that Collins picked the right books to reprint and that there’s good reason the others were neglected.

Sally’s Family will always be my favourite Courtney and probably in my top ten of girls’ stories. Other comfort books with a similar housekeeping theme are: The Sugar and Spice, Mollie Chappell, The Key of Rose Cottage, Margaret Baker and Jam Tomorrow by Monica Redlich. I love them all. Now to see if the removals boxes will yield them up, together with The Farm on the Downs and Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre.
Tags: comfort reading, girlsown books, gwendoline courtney, margaret baker, mollie chappell, monica redlich
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