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January 2019



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woman's magazine

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.


I love Sally's Family too, and very frustratingly I have mislaid my copy and am reluctant to pay the current cost of replacing it. I keep hoping GGB will do it.
Oh, rotten luck. I wonder that, too. One baulks at paying so much for a Seagull edition of anything. I also wonder if the original Oxford edition was illustrated. The illustrations in TGAFR are dreadful!
I have been hoping GGB will do Sally's Family - I have enjoyed the other Courtney reprints which are the only ones of hers I have read.
I was slightly disappointed by The Sugar & Spice, having looked for it for ages - I din't like it as much as the Courtneys.

I will look out for the other 2 you mention - Jam Tomorrow has been recommended by several people.
I'm sure you'd like Sally's Family, it's got everything. Rose Cottage is fun but it's about a summer adventure rather than having to manage long term. Jam Tomorrow is a very elusive title, unfortunately.


Gwendoline Courtney

The only Gwendoline Gourtney novel I've read is The Grenville Garrison and I now have a without dust-wrap copy. My comfort reading is actually an American novel, Look to the New Moon by Frances Fullerton Neilson. This was in our school library and I loved it so much I persuaded my parents to buy it for me. It's teen fiction as written in 1953, and is about a young girl from Georgia spending the summer with her wealthy cousin in Maine, a country mouse meets town mouse, really. And a romantic novel to boot, too.
Also Enid Blyton's Six Cousins Again and Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm. And Jane Becomes a Nurse by Yvonne Trewin (hersenf a nurse) - oh, how nursing has changed since those days of starched caps and capes! Summer reading must also include Rosamunde Pilcher's 2nd novel, written in 1957, called simply April and not Snow in April which was published in the 1970s. I've yet to see this title appear on Abe, but I know it exists as I have a copy and Mrs Pilcher kindly signed it for me several years ago.
Margaret P

Re: Gwendoline Courtney

I think The Grenville Garrison is the only one I *haven't* read! I like the sound of Look to the New Moon. I have a copy of Jean Becomes a Nurse. When I get all the books unpacked I'm thinking of organising a section just for Seagull and Children's Press books, as they were the ones I read when I was young and 'girls' books' like that just don't exist any more.