Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

I’ll be gathering all the Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times blogposts here for the moment. Judith at Reader in the Wilderness has had too much going on in her life recently to be able to keep up with it, so I’m stepping in to help.

More Books

The bookshelf I’m featuring this week is home to some favourite authors. I loved The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, it’s about a large and wealthy London based family, starting from Victorian times and following their lives and family feuds beyond World War 1. These books are available free from Project Gutenberg here.

I think I’ve read all of the books on this shelf apart from Veranilda by George Gissing. This book dates from 1904 and originally belonged to Jack’s Granny and has her name in it. M. Besford. I used to write my name in books but stopped doing that decades ago. I’m now wondering if I should at least write it in pencil, as I really like to see a name and date inside a book. What do you do – inscribe or leave blank and pristine? Have you read Veranilda or anything else by George Gissing.

I remember that I really enjoyed reading The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher – before I started blogging, but I’ve never read anything else by him. Have you?

A few of my Rumer Godden books are on this shelf, some are in a bookcase upstairs, possibly they wouldn’t fit on this shelf. Elizabeth Jane Howard and Penelope Lively are favourites too, then of course there’s Mrs Gaskell. I’ve been meaning to visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s house for years. I see that it has opened up again but I might leave it until next year.

If you’re taking part in Bookshelf Travelling this week I’ll add a link to you, if I miss your post please send me a link.

A Son of the Rock (Jack)

Staircase Wit

Stainless Steel Droppings

The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

The Mousewife cover

The Mousewife by Rumer Godden was one of the books I got for Christmas, it was first published in 1951 but my copy was published in 1958. It’s such a cute wee book with just 39 pages and lots of illustrations which are by William Pene du Bois. This is ostensibly a book for children but in reality it will probably be appreciated more by adults, or maybe I should say by women.

A mouse couple live in an old house belonging to a spinster. They’re house mice and never venture beyond the walls, they think that the house is the whole world, but when the mousewife catches sight of the garden and woodland through a window she’s entranced by what she can see. The seasons come and go and she sees all the flowers and then the snow, but all her husband thinks about is cheese.

She’s a good mousewife, taking care of her husband when he over-indulges on currants and wrapping him up with tufts of carpet wool behind the fender. By this time she has a family to look after too and she’s the breadwinner so to speak and she has no time for thinking. But a boy brings the spinster homeowner a dove in a cage and the dove is pining for the great outdoors, it has lost the will to live, the peas which the dove is given for food are just what the mousewife needs to feed her growing brood and she makes friends with the dove.

This is a lovely tale with the dove and the mouse helping each other. The dove tells the mousewife about the hills, corn, stars and clouds.

It has been given to few mice to see the stars: so rare is it that the mousewife had not even heard of them, and when she saw them shining she thought at first they must be new brass buttons. Then she saw they were very far off, farther than the garden or the wood, beyond the farthest trees. “But not too far for me to see,” she said. She knew now that they were not buttons but something far and big and strange. “But not so strange to me,” she said, “for I have seen them, and I have seen them for myself,” said the mousewife.

Ladies or mousewives – please beware of neglecting your husband, as if you don’t give them your full attention, they might just bite your ear! You can see some of the illustrations here.

Breakfast With The Nikolides by Rumer Godden

Breakfast With The Nikolides

Breakfast With The Nikolides by Rumer Godden was first published in 1942 and it’s one of her several books with an Indian setting, a small agricultural town in East Bengal to be precise. Charles Pool is a farmer there and his estranged wife Louise and two daughters are just about to arrive from France as Hitler’s occupation was imminent. As soon as she gets to India Louise wishes she hadn’t panicked, but really she had no alternative place to go. Charles is a stranger to them all, not exactly welcoming and Louise is appalled by the filth and disease everywhere. It’s not a great place for someone as highly strung as she is to settle.

Like most of Godden’s India books this one seems obviously autobiographical with the young eleven year old Emily modelled on Rumer I’m sure. Emily has a terrible relationship with her mother, mainly because it’s so obvious that Louise dislikes Emily, she never has a good word to say for her and poor Emily is constantly being described as a liar generally abused by her mother. The feeling is mutual though as Emily can see through her mother’s actions. Barbara (Binnie) is the charming younger child, cheerful and light-hearted, but Charles can appreciate Emily.

The Pools put on a front for the sake of society but it’s obvious to everyone that it’s a fraught relationship, not helped by the mother being more immature than the children. She’s suspicious of all Indians too and always thinks the worst of them. Emily even disapproves of the glamorous Nikolides family.

There is some lovely descriptive writing in this book and some blurb on the back from the Observer says: Rumer Godden is a master storyteller, a genius at conveying a sense of place.

I enjoyed it anyway.

New to me books

A couple of weekends ago we went to a book charity sale in the Scottish Borders and inevitably I came back with quite a few more books for my ever groaning bookcases, in fact within the last three weeks I’ve managed to squeeze four more into the house!

I have to say that there were loads of modern paperbacks for sale but the books that came home with me were the type that most people would dodge. They’re all fairly old and this time they’re mainly for children. In truth a few of them I bought just for the book cover or illustrations – as good a reason as any I think you’ll agree.

Books Again

So I bought:

We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome.

Riders and Raiders by M.E. Atkinson (the author was recommended by a friend.)

The Golden Book of Children’s Verse – this book was published by Blackie and Son, the Glasgow based publisher who was a client of Charles Rennie Mackintosh who designed Blackie’s family home Hill House in Helensburgh, but also designed a lot of the Blackie book covers, including this one.

Granny’s Wonderful Chair by Frances Browne – it’s another Blackie book.

Two Joans at the Abbey by Elsie J. Oxenham. This seems to be an adventure tale which was first published in 1945. Chosen because of the title – well why not!

Breakfast with the Nikolides by Rumer Godden. I’ve been buying her books when I see them over the years. This is one of her Indian ones.

Mortimer’s Bread Bin by Joan Aiken, illustrated by Quentin Blake.

And lastly

Just What I Like which is another Blackie publication. It’s an annual sized book and has an inscription dated 1932 and I think the illustrations are lovely – so of their time. I suspect I’m turning into a Blackie book collector. Inadvertently of course!

Blackie

I was really surprised to see the evidence in this 1932 book that apostrophes were also misused back then. Bus’s indeed!

Book Illustration

The Dragon of Og by Rumer Godden

The Dragon of Og cover

I read The Dragon of Og by Rumer Godden ages ago but I’m so behind with some book thoughts that I’m only getting around to it now. It was published in 1981, it’s only the second or third children’s book by Godden that I’ve read and I must admit that it was the book cover that attracted me to it although I’m quite a fan of her books for adults. Pauline Baynes illustrated the book in colour and black and white and the cover. I’ve always liked her designs, she designed C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books in the 1960s.

Anyway, I was particularly delighted when I started to read this one as the setting is the Scottish Borders at a time when the castles were made of wood. The Castle of Tundergarth stands high on a hill overlooking broad meadows and forests through which flows the Water of Milk which isn’t as benign as it sounds as beneath its pools lies a deep cave where a dragon lives.

This isn’t an ordinary dragon though, he’s a lonely soul as his mother left him at the cave as a youngster and he has no friends, and no idea of what it means to be a dragon. The young wife of the new laird befriends him, but the laird isn’t pleased with that as Og the Dragon occasionally eats one of his bullocks and the laird is determined that Og must die. Matilda and the locals villager are up in arms about that. The story is based on an old legend of the Scottish Lowlands.

What amazed me about this book is that Godden writes quite a lot of the dialogue in Scots, using a fair few Scots words and ways of speech. She even uses correctly amn’t I instead of the less grammatical English aren’t I. That is a big bugbear of mine as editors often wrongly anglicise it and even directors have Scottish actots saying it the English way when they definitely shouldn’t be as they are speaking Scots.

I always thought of Rumer Godden as being one of those very English women – in the way that a woman who had grown up in the Indian Raj always was. But after a teeny bit of research I discovered that in her old age she moved to the Scottish Lowlands to be close to her daughter. She certainly soaked up all of the atmosphere of the area, she must have enjoyed living here I think.

My Christmas Books

books 1

I’m thankful to be able to say that most of the gifts I got at Christmas were either books or book related, in fact I got so many I think I’ll be doing two posts on my haul.

I went a bit Dorothy Dunnett mad and decided to collect her Niccolo series, I hope I enjoy them.

As it gets towards Christmas I just tell Jack to wrap up any books that I buy in second-hand bookshops, most of the time I forget what the books are by the time it comes to unwrapping them at Christmas so it’s still a surprise, the kind I like. I really don’t enjoy real surprises as sometimes they turn into real shocks!

The Gaudy by J.I.M. Stewart
The Young Patullo by J.I.M. Stewart
The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
Papa La-Bas by John Dickson Carr
Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
Mary Poppins in the Park by P.L. Travers
Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor

and by Dorothy Dunnett:

Niccolo Rising
The Spring of the Ram
Gemini
The Unicorn Hunt

I didn’t read the Mary Poppins books as a child and after enjoying the film Saving Mr Banks at Christmas about P.L Travers’s relationship with Walt Disney and the making of Mary Poppins I thought it was about time I rectified that and luckily I found an old copy in St Andrews.

This year I plan to concentrate on reading my own books!

Recent Book Purchases

More Old Books

These are some of the books that I’ve bought over the last few weeks. The Naomi Mitchison and Mary Stewart books will obviously be featuring in my Read Scotland 2016 Challenge. The others are all authors that I’ve enjoyed reading in the past.

1. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
2. Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
3. The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison
4. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
5. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
6. An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

At the moment I’m in a hotel room in Ypres (Wipers) – a place I never thought we would get around to visiting, but here we are. Strangely we’re in a lovely hotel with a beautiful view of bomb craters that have become a small lake. At the moment I’m about 30 yards from where the Germans used flame-throwers for the very first time, a sobering thought.

We’ve already visited the Menin Gate and witnessed The Last Post ceremony which takes place at 8 pm every night. It was very well attended.

Photos will be forthcoming at a later date.

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita cover

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden was first published in 1963 and I have to admit that although I really enjoyed this book it does seem very dated now. In fact I suspect that the book seems quite unbelievable to younger readers.

The story begins with two children who have made their way to Italy on their own. Their parents are newly divorced and the father who is a Queen’s Messenger – some sort of diplomat I think – has got custody of the three children who are aged between almost 12 and 16. The 16 year old girl is off on holiday in France when her younger siblings decide to track their mother down to take her back to the family home and their father, they just can’t accept that she won’t be living with them any more.

The mother (Fanny) was quite an ordinary woman, not the sort to wear make-up, perfume or fancy clothes and she was seen by her so-called friends in the village as rather drab and uninteresting. When some film-makers appear in the village to make a film it’s Fanny that the director is drawn to and given that Fanny’s children are away at boarding school and her husband is often away from home for work purposes, it’s inevitable that she’s very flattered by his attention, which of course leads to the divorce and the children’s attempts to get her back.

It’s a piece of social history now as the mother almost always gets custody of the children in divorce cases but back in the 1960s a woman who chose to leave her husband for her lover was deemed to be an unfit person to bring up children – how times have changed!

Quite a few women around the internet seem to be quite angry about this book probably because they just can’t get their heads around the fact that the mother doesn’t get custody, but she did abandon them and her unobjectionable husband for a bloke she hardly knew.

This is a good read but not my favourite by Rumer Godden.

Edinburgh Botanics and books

On Thursday we had a family dinner date in Edinburgh so as it was a lovely bright day we decided to go early and have a walk through the Botanic Gardens. As you can see the crocuses were enjoying the sun.

Crocuses

Then it was on to the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll realise that Stockbridge is usually a dangerous destination for me, due to the secondhand bookshops in the vicinity. Mind you it was only about three weeks since we had been there so I did think (half hope) it might be a case of slim pickings book wise, but I was wrong!

Books Again

China Court by Rumer Godden
The Princess Sophia by E.F. Benson
The Three Hostages by John Buchan
The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy
Harding’s Luck by E. Nesbit
The Herb of Grace by Elizabeth Goudge

I know I read China Court way back in the 1970s but I’ll read it again and I seem to be collecting the Goddens that I read when I was a teenager but then I borrowed them from the library.

I have a horrible feeling that I gave my Nesbit books away before we moved house, when I was trying to de-clutter. But they might still be in a box in the garage, I live in hope, I definitely haven’t read Harding’s Luck anyway. The House of Arden comes before it so I think I’ll have to read that one first, I might just put that one on my Kindle.

I don’t think I’ve read anything by Goudge before but I know she is well loved by some people.

The Princess Sophia was written in 1900, long before Benson wrote his Mapp and Lucia books that I love.

I seem to be collecting John Buchan books although it’s a good long time since I actually read any.

I read a lot of Thomas Hardy books as a teenager and I loved them although they are often quite grim, especially the endings. The Hand of Ethelberta is apparently a comedy in chapters – could be interesting, but then again, might not be. Anyway it’s one of those wee books with thin paper and gold topped pages, like most of my other Hardy books, so it’ll fit in well – after I’ve had a bit of a shuffle around of that bookcase!

Have you read any of these books?

Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden

Two Under the Indian Sun cover

Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden was first published in 1966. It was a surprise to discover that Jon Godden is actually a girl. The Godden sisters had originally been living in colonial India with their parents, the father was working for a shipping company. The prologue says that the book isn’t so much an autobiography as an evocation of a time that is gone.The girls had been living in India when they were very young but had been shipped back to England for their education. When World War 1 broke out it was decided they would be better off being back in India, to avoid the zeppelins in London.

Jon and Rumer were thrilled to bits to get back to India as being farmed out to aunts in England had been an unhappy experience for them. The part of India they lived in is now part of Bangladesh and at that time the community was a very mixed one with a multitude of religions and castes. The girls were involved in all the religious celebrations but as their mother was terrified that they would get ill from contaminated food they never got to try Indian food, that must have been terrible, being able to smell it but not eat it. In fact they really led a very narrow life, not being able to play with many other children, the Anglo-Indian children next-door neighbours were off limits to them, except on Christmas Day when they were allowed to speak to them and of course as far as the Indians were concerned the Godden children were untouchables. There were two younger sisters by the time Jon and Rumer got back to India.

Life in India was very comfortable for them though, they had a far higher standard of living than they would have had back in England. In fact when they had to go back to England they had to travel third class on trains, whereas in India it had been first class travel for them.

This is a good read and as I had no idea that Jon Godden had also been a writer I’ll now have to track down some of her books. India was obviously a huge influence on the sisters, so I suspect that all of the books will have an Indian setting.

Have any of you read anything by Jon Godden?