Kilvert’s Diary 1870-1879. Rev. Francis Kilvert

 A Summer of Drowning cover

I’ve been meaning to read Kilvert’s Diary by the Reverend Robert Francis Kilvert for years, so I put it on my Classics Club list to encourage me to get on with it. My copy of the book is a Penguin paperback from 1977, I hope I haven’t had it that long, but fear I might have!

The diary excerpts cover the years from 1870 to 1879, but sadly they’re just a small taster of what he wrote as his wife and later a niece destroyed a lot of his diaries.

In 1870 Kilvert was a young curate serving in a very rural community called Clyro which is in Wales close to Hay-on-Wye, so close to the English border, and his diary entries are full of the lives of his parishioners and what’s going on in the neighbourhood. He portrays them all so well, and with love, and they gave him back love in spadefuls. Most of the inhabitants are so poor and that’s something that Kilvert experiences as he travels around the parish visiting his parishioners, helping them out when he can, but not being taken in by the ones who roll around in bed and moan in agony but suddenly stop when he gives them some money!

There’s a lot of humour in his writing but also a lot of poetry in the shape of his beautiful descriptions of the surrounding countryside which he loved, and the rural traditions. It’s not all perfection though, I suppose human beings never change so there are multiple suicides, illegitimate children, murders, even child murder, fights between rival villages, ghastly relatives and broken hearts.

In fact Kilvert seems to have been very susceptible to a pretty face, especially if they were dark-haired. He writes about being in love with various women, but sadly his lack of money and prospects did not impress the father of Daisy who obviously was not at all willing for his daughter to be wife to an impecunious curate. Then suddenly it was Katherine that he was enamoured with! Poor Daisy. Very surprisingly he was completely honest about his attraction to pretty little girls, and even loved to see their little bottoms, but there’s no doubt that it was in all innocence, he longed to have a family of his own. He wasn’t bothered about bathing in the nude at the seaside, in fact he preferred that to getting manacled by his drawers as they got tangled around his ankles.

The local colour of the neighbourhood is interspersed with what was going in the world news-wise and there’s a lot about the medical problems that Kilvert is beset with, it was with real sadness that I discovered that he died at the age of 39, just one month after his marriage.

There’s an introduction by William Plomer and he does mention what happened to some of the people who appeared quite frequently in the text, which I appreciated. I really enjoyed this one on several levels, for the rural descriptions, history, social history, humour and the warm personality of Kilvert himself. I’m glad I got around to reading it at last.

At Fault by Kate Chopin

At Fault

At Fault by Kate Chopin was first published in 1890. It’s the first book that I’ve read by the author.

The setting is a large plantation in Louisiana where Therese Lafirme’s husband has died and left her to run the place on her own, with the help of many Creole servants of course. I must admit that it was a long time before I understood why Therese had urged David Hosmer to re-marry Fanny, his first wife, when Therese was obviously keen on him herself.

As soon as Hosmer re-married Fanny he regretted it, Fanny is an alcoholic and had made his life a misery previously. He takes Fanny back to Louisiana where her drinking continues and Therese realises that she has shackled the man that she loves to a pathetic and deeply damaged woman. Why did she do it?

Doh, I realised eventually that it was because she was a Roman Catholic of French descent and couldn’t marry a divorced man, it still seems bizarre that she should encourage David to re-marry his ex-wife, bringing Fanny into her own milieu.

There’s a lot of Creole dialect in this book but it’s not difficult to understand – please note that – anyone who complains about Scots dialect in books!

I believe this was Chopin’s first book and I think she must have improved with experience, but I don’t know if I would bother reading any more, unless anyone recommends a specific book by her.

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford

The Blessing was first published in 1951 but it’s set in World War II and begins in London. Grace, the daughter of Sir Conrad, is engaged to Hughie who is off fighting in Egypt. When Hughie meets Charles-Edouard de Valhubert in Cairo he stupidly asks him to ‘look up’ Grace while he’s in London. Before she knows what has happened Charles-Edouard has proposed to Grace and they are married. A baby boy, Sigismond, is the result and Grace doesn’t see her husband for seven years as he’s off fighting abroad and isn’t demobbed until 1947.

When her husband does eventually turn up he whisks them off to France to meet his family. Everything is strange to Grace but she falls in love with France and she’s completely clueless about the society which she has been thrown into. When Charles-Edouard moves them to Paris he immediately resumes his affair with Albertine an old flame of his. There’s a lot of bed-hopping going on as you would expect in France. When Grace finds out, she’s not amused, who could blame her!

I didn’t enjoy this one all that much mainly because Grace is the only likeable character in it. Her husband is an arrogant, lazy, philandering scumbag, he’s everything that gives French people a bad name.

Their son Sigismond must be one of the most ghastly, manipulative children in fiction. I’m afraid the mummy in me couldn’t stand that and I longed to give him a good skelp on his bahookie, very un-p.c. of me I know but it wouldn’t half have sorted him out! What I would have done to Charles-Edouard is unprintable!

It’s a bit of a worry really as Nancy Mitford’s books tend to be very autobiographical and she did live with a Frenchman in France for a number of years. I suspect that Gaston Palewski led her a dance. According to a very elderly lady friend of mine who has had experience of living in a Scottish village which was ‘taken by storm’ by the Polish army, a French/Polish husband would be a disaster for a woman expecting fidelity. My theory is it gives them something to confess to their priests about! For me The Blessing was the least enjoyable book of the three which I’ve recently read.

What can I say – that Presbyterianism upbringing never leaves you!

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

I read the introduction to this book after I finished reading it, I tend not to do so before then as so often they tell you the whole story, where’s the fun in that! Anyway, according to Philip Hensher’s introduction Love in a Cold Climate is the ‘masterpiece’. I can’t say that I agree with him.

It’s a continuation of The Pursuit of Love and Fanny is now married to Alfred, an Oxford don. But she becomes very much embroiled in the affairs of the Montdores who are now back from India. The beautiful Polly is making her mother’s life a misery by showing no interest in any of the young men thrown in her direction at all the debutante balls. It looks as though the 20 year old is deteremined to disappoint her parents and remain an old maid instead of setting her cap at the Prince of Wales, or at least a duke.

The Montdore estate is entailed and will be inherited by Cedric, an unknown cousin who lives in Nova Scotia and he is invited to spend some time at Montdore House.

I think Cedric is supposed to supply the humour in this book but he’s no substitute for the outrageous Uncle Matthew who makes just a few appearances in Love in a Cold Climate.

I hadn’t read this one before and for me it isn’t one which I would like to read again although I’m glad that I’ve read it now, if only so that I know that I have read it. Does that make sense?

Anyway – on with the next one – The Blessing.