There’s been so much talk about this book in Another Place that I was thankful I could lay my hands right on a copy and read it again. It’s a superb comfort read. From internal evidence, the book is set in 1956. American Mary Lee Wade, her parents and younger brother, go to Somerset as paying guests with the Randalls, whose family have occupied a beautiful Elizabethan house for centuries. Here’s the description of the house as Mary Lee first sees it:
'her first impression: that human hands had had nothing to do with building that house. It had grown there, like the ivy and Virginia creeper that covered so much of its walls, and seemed to hold it low on the ground for there was only one step up to the arched doorway. Afternoon sun glinted in small-paned stone-shafted windows and warmed the whole house to a rosy glow.’
The Randalls are one of those upper class families down on their luck, with father killed in the war and granny, mother, the children and various workers running the farm. They remain cheerful and charming and the American visitors are soon more like friends than PGs. The book opens in an English spring and proceeds through an idyllic summer of riding and farm pursuits to autumn, when Mary Lee regretfully has to leave Somerhaze and Gillian, daughter of the house, who has become such a good friend. Another writer might have made this a story of misunderstandings and conflicts but in this world everyone has perfect manners and nothing but kind feelings towards each other. As it says on the dustwrapper blurb, it is 'a happy book full of humour and charm, and British girls will enjoy seeing themselves and their country through the eyes of an American teenager.’ This may sound sugary but it really isn’t; what’s wrong with nice every now and then? There’s quite a lot about ponies in it but nothing too technical and everyone likes reading, too.
I think it was first published in 1958, then in the UK in Collins’ Seagull series in 1960. That edition has a nice colour frontispiece. It was reprinted again in the more downmarket Children’s Press in 1968; no frontis. but still illustrated. (The artist isn't credited but I think the illustrations may be by the author.) I’ve seen an even later, laminated edition as well. How nice to be recommending a book that is widely and cheaply available! I think we all owe Collins a debt for the many lovely books they kept in print for us. American friends, I checked Amazon.com and found some copies of Somerhaze Farm, the US title and some UK editions there and on eBay. I prefer the UK cover, I think. Decie Merwin seems to have been one of those 'one book' authors. She did write others but this is the one everyone loves.
Music note: the Purcell link is to Spotify. If you’re already on it, you can hear the music or see what I’m listening to. Neat.