With all forms of recreational typing, knitting, sewing and crochet off limits while my wrist and elbow started to heal, I’ve had plenty of time for catching up on some reading this month, and so I have not one, or even two, but three books that I’ve read for me this month, which must be some sort of record.
but first, one for the little ones:
One for them: The Jolley-Rogers and the Monster Gold
“Matilda lived in Dull-on-Sea …”, and with that we were hooked on the Pirates Next Door, Jonny Duddle’s first picture book featuring the Jolly Rogers. It was a tiny Elma’s favourite read (I can’t believe how much she’s grown since those days of being a teeny tiny pirate in a laundry basket), and well loved by all of us.
So when we spotted a sequel in the bookshop we knew it was coming home with us. And what I really love is that the format has ‘aged up’; the toddlers who loved that picture book are hitting primary school and learning to read and so The Jolley-Rogers and the Monster’s Gold has grown up with them. It’s a book that Kitty could definitely read with help, and still a great story for reading aloud; something that she’ll listen to now to fall in love with the story and then in the future pick up herself on a rainy afternoon, a perfect early addition to her ‘proper’ library.
One for me: The Lady’s Maid, Rosina Harrison
Eighty-five years before the Spice Girls re-invented girl power, Nancy Astor took charge of some literal girl power, becoming the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons, and in the process smashing beautifully through a glass ceiling. She was charismatic, generous to a fault, viciously tempered and on occasion quite spectacularly rude and while my views differ too much for her to be one of my heroes exactly, I love her confidence that there was nothing she couldn’t do just because she was a woman.
She was the subject of my school project when I was eleven, and as with all people who’s names you have carefully inscribed in mock calligraphy at the top of pages of careful handwriting, my interest as always been piqued by any mention of her.
The Lady’s Maid was republished when Kitty was a baby, possibly cashing in on a bit of Downton Abbey fever; it’s the memoirs of Rosina Harrison who served as Lady Astor’s lady’s maid for most of her life. It’s fascinating as an insight into the organisation of a very big household at that time and even more so as it explores the relationship between the two women. They would never have described themselves as friends and yet they were probably much closer, and were certainly very well matched, to the point that family members used to sneak nearer to listen to them having some humdinger rows.
When I bought it I read it cover to cover through the night feeds over a couple of days and I was prompted into re-reading it this month by a bit of a Dowton Abbey binge watching of my own in the first few days post car prang when everything hurt, and that also led me to my second book for the month.
Up and Down Stairs is a history of the big country house servants from Tudor times to their near extinction in the modern day. Rose Harrison is quoted extensively on the section on the 20th century, along with a number of her fellow servants, and while it’s certainly interesting to see just how much nicer the residents of Downton are to their servants than their supposed contemporaries, I found myself most caught up in watching the way that the role of a servant evolved from it being a mark of status to have a visibly large household, to the Edwardians’ preference that their small army of staff be not seen and not heard.
And finally, and continuing with the vaguely Downton theme, another of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s pieces of adult fiction, The Making of a Marchioness. This is beautifully written comfort fiction; Emily Fox-Seton, a young lady of 34 with no family and very limited income, earns her living by running errands for the aristocracy. She is sweet and good natured and unknowingly lovely, and the perfect Cinderella to be swept off her feet by if not a prince, then at least a marquis (given the title, I’m certain this isn’t too much of a spoiler). But where Cinderella ends after the big society wedding, Emily has to settle into her new life, and deal with her husband’s deeply unpleasant heir presumptive. Yes it’s a classic Frances Hodgson Burnett plot point, but it’s beautifully done, and you know it’s a story where you’re going to enjoy the ending.
This month’s year in books I’ve been horribly disorganised so it’s just me for now but do go and check out Claire’s beautiful beautiful pictures of her time in Norway and Katie has a very excellent excuse for not having been reading or blogging so much of late so do go and say hi!