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Canal Romance

Stuck In A Book has posted today about Maidens’ Trip by Emma Smith, an account of women’s canal work in wartime. It reminded me how important canals with their longboats, narrowboats, barges, whatever, were in children’s fiction in the first half of the twentieth century. I suppose the very earliest reference of this type is Toad and the washerwoman in The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame also presciently included a canary coloured cart; caravans were to feature greatly in children’s fiction. David Severn’s The Cruise of the Maiden Castle (1948) is his second book about the Warner family and is full of detailed and lyrical descriptions of working a boat through the English countryside. It is beautifully illustrated with woodcuts by Joan Kiddell-Monroe and is very romantic writing. There’s nothing romantic about the barge in Two Fair Plaits by Malcolm Saville (also 1948), a ‘Jillies’ adventure about a kidnapped child. This is a wonderfully atmospheric book about London, the Thames and docklands in the late 1940s, for those who like that sort of thing, which I certainly do. A year earlier he had written about the traditional, jolly canal life in The Riddle of the Painted Box, one of the Mary & Michael stories. Barbara Willard wrote three books about the Pennithornes and the second features a canal holiday. Snail and the Pennithornes Next Time was published in 1958; was this the last hurrah of the canal adventure, or can someone think of a later one? The canals were allowed to decline and then whammo, along came the heritage industry and there’s a lot of interest in them again. Katie Fforde is a fan and The Rose Revived is about life afloat. The romance of the canals lives on!
Tags: barbara willard, canals, children's books, david severn, katie fforde, kenneth grahame, london, malcolm saville
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