The Glorious Thing by Christine Orr was first published in 1919 but was re-published by Merchiston Publishing in 2013. I must admit that I had never even heard of Christine Orr until I visited the Writers Museum in Edinburgh earlier this year. The museum is mainly dedicated to R.L. Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott but there are some mentions of other Scottish authors such as Muriel Spark and Christine Orr, there is a small display case featuring some of her books. I’m quite ashamed that I had never heard of her, she apparently wrote 18 novels, was also a poet, theatre director, became head of the BBC’s Children’s Hour in 1936 and was instrumental in founding the Edinburgh Festival. Sadly it looks like this book is the only one which has been reprinted so I don’t think it will be very easy to collect the other 17 novels. Although The Glorious Thing is described as being a war novel, it’s really mainly from the Home Front within an Edinburgh family.
David Grant is back home in Castlerig not far from Edinburgh. He had spent two years in the trenches before he received a wound to his spine which led to a time in hospital that he found even more horrific than life in the trenches. But he isn’t happy, he feels weak, has trouble walking, his nerves are shattered and he feels depressed despite the fact that there’s a job waiting for him as a junior partner in his uncle’s law firm, and he has no money worries.
While visiting an art gallery with his sister Minnie, David’s attention is drawn to a young untidy woman, it’s her laugh that attracts him and later on he meets up with her and her large family of sisters. They are all living with their uncle as their parents are dead and I had to feel sorry for the man as the sisters are a fairly argumentative lot.
This is a very good read which focuses on the changing roles of women, politics, social history, atheism (very unusual for this time I think), religion and of course romance with quite a bit of humour too. There are some darling children – was there some sort of unwritten rule that Scottish female writers of the time had to conjure up cuties?
I really hope that in the future some more of Christine Orr’s books will be published. This one was published by Edinburgh Napier University and the proceeds supported Poppyscotland and Scottish Veterans Residences.
The back blurb says: ‘This book is a revealing snapshot of ordinary Edinburgh lives during an extraordinary time.’
Company Parade by Storm Jameson was first published in 1934 but my copy is a Virago reprint from 1982.
The setting is mainly London 1919 where Hervey Russell a young ambitious author has gone to further her career. Her novel is due to be published soon but she takes a job in an advertising agency to keep body and soul together. Life is tough as she is married with a feckless husband called Penn who is in the RAF. He has had a very cushy war unlike most and doesn’t want to give up his safe life in uniform. He spends all of his wages on himself despite the fact that he and Hervey have a small son. Penn isn’t interested in either of them. Hervey has farmed their son out and left him with a woman who lives in Yorkshire, near Hervey’s mother, she’s torn by that decision but knows that she has to be in London.
Hervey’s grandmother is fabulously wealthy but a silly family rift means that Hervey has no relationship with her granny. This book is peopled by awkward characters, many of whom have been damaged physically and mentally by World War 1. I think this book, which is the first in a series was probably simmering away in the author’s mind since the end of that war.
The book was slow to get going for me but I ended up really enjoying it so I’ll be reading the rest of the series to see what happens next. Storm Jameson was so observant on human character and relationships. However it was her comments on politics and the likelihood of another war being the result of the armistice terms that seemed so prescient to me. I wonder if people really did think like that at the time, she obviously had an eye on what was going on in Germany in the 1930s. She was politically active on the left and was a friend of Vera Brittain, they had both lost brothers in the war. This book seems to be very autobiographical.
The Virago cover is a detail from ‘Room in New York’ by Edward Hopper.
Flambards in Summer by K.M.Peyton was first published in 1969 and it’s the third book in the Flambards series. You really have to read these books in order.
The second book ended in sadness. Now Christina is on her own with the death of her pilot husband Will who had joined the Royal Flying Corps to do his bit during World War 1. His elder brother who was in the army is missing presumed dead. Uncle Matthew is also dead and Flambards has been left to go to wrack and ruin. Christina is shocked by the state of the house and land, but with most of the local men away at war it’s a hard task to make improvements.
The horses have all been taken for war service and the empty stables are unbearably sad for Christina who has always lived for horses in much the same way as Will lived for flying. She sets about buying some more horses for farm work and for riding, then attempts to track down some of the people who had lived at Flambards years before to bring the place back to life and help with farming it again.
The Flambards books are aimed at children around twelve years old I suppose and they do give a good idea of how life was for those caught up in the war, whether so called peasants or gentry. This is an entertaining and informative read and as it is from my own book piles it counts towards the Reading My Own Damn Books challenge. This is the fourth book of my own that I’ve read this month but as I have bought seven books over the last three days … my book piles continue to expand. But what can I do about it? I tend to buy more unusual books rather than modern fiction, so when I see them I just have to pounce!
The 1979 TV adaptation of Flambards DVD is available. For some reason it seems never to have been on TV since then, I enjoyed watching it at the time but it might seem very old fashioned now. It’s amazing how acting styles change over the years, The Pallisers was on TV recently and I gave up on it as it seemed so stilted and stiff, but I didn’t see it when it was on originally so way back then I might have thought it was wonderful.