I’ve been rereading Jam Tomorrow by Monica Redlich. It was first published in 1937 and the copy shown here is the Puffin edition of 1947; it’s ‘Warmly recommended for girls of 10-14.’ The central character is sixteen year old Jean Bascombe and the story opens with her return train journey from school, spotting all the familiar landmarks, welcomed by her brothers, delighted to be home for the summer holidays. Home is an old rectory in a village being encroached on by road, rail and town. Jean takes home for granted but it’s far from normal. Her widowed father is one of those (to my mind) supremely selfish, vague clergymen who spend most of their time in the study and seem happy as long as meals are on the table at regular hours. The live-in help, instead of being a hardworking, motherly type, is lazy and rude. The children are on bad terms with most of their neighbours, who consider them wild and mad. Money is an ever present worry, in spite of the maid, gardener, car and school fees, as the modern reader will note rather tartly.
In spite of their problems the Bascombes are happy and have a lot of fun with books, music, tennis and outdoor pursuits with the neighbouring (and very rich) Hoods. Roland, the elder brother, is very musical and hoped to go to Cambridge; lack of money means he has to go to a commercial college instead, which makes him bitter. Younger David is a rather precocious but still engaging ten year old. Within a week of Jean’s return everything has changed. Her father drops the bombshell that two previously unknown Canadian girl cousins, now orphans, have been invited to live with them. The children not surprisingly hate the thought of this but Rory and Anne turn out to be delightful. Then the maid storms out after a row and Jean decides not to tell her father. The girls cope and then propose that Jean should leave school for good and the family do without help but manage everything themselves.
At first, of course, there are many trials (‘it’s all meals!’) but they come to enjoy it and the descriptions are fun. Then they have to cope with floods which fill the ground floor, followed by the illness of just about everybody. This ill wind brings about a surprise discovery which improves their fortunes. There’s also a romance. Jean is an interesting character. Neither clever nor beautiful, socially nervous (before a dance at the Hoods' she wishes she were going to bed at half past nine with a book), she is lively, fun and not prone to introspection.
The only other book by Monica Redlich I’ve ever seen is the non fiction Danish Delight. Jam Tomorrow is hard to find and I think it deserves a reprint. The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham (another housekeeping book) has been reprinted by Persephone Books and I like the Redlich better.