Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A deeply buried treasure: CAROLA OMAN, Somewhere in England (1943)

I'm going to get round to writing about some of the wonderful fallout from my recent hopeless wish list post very soon (can fallout properly be described as wonderful? well this kind is!), but I must tell you first about this recent treasure that I've neglected for a few weeks.

"At any rate," ended Philippa-Dawn, staring up at the garland of silver monsters gently swaying above them in the evening sky, "at any rate, it'll be a change of Balloons."

If you've read my Furrowed Middlebrow Dozen post from December, you already well know that my first taste of Carola Oman—the early-wartime Nothing to Report—was one of my favorite reads of 2018. After falling in love with that book, I was madly trying to find information on Carola Oman's other fiction. Apparently to no avail, since most sources confidently assert that Oman was an author of historical fiction and, later, historical non-fiction, with nary a mention of any other fiction at all.

I have nothing in particular against historical fiction, by the way, though I never seem to get round to it very often. But it's difficult to imagine Oman's delightful sense of humor being given free reign in, for example, The Best of His Family (1933), described as being about "Shakespeare and his times," or Over the Water (1935), "a novel of Scotland at the time of Prince Charlie's ill-fated rising." They might be absolutely riveting, but they can hardly be overflowing with guffaws, nor can they be packed with WWII-era detail. What I really wanted was another Nothing to Report.

I identified most of Oman's other novels and confirmed that they were, with the exception of a vanishingly rare 1930 title Fair Stood the Wind (more on that one soon, I hope), historical in subject. I even perused the titles of her non-fiction, just in case. Most, such as Britain Against Napoleon (1942), or Lord Nelson (1954), were self-explanatory. But what of Somewhere in England, published promisingly in 1943 and listed among her "other" works? I couldn't find a single detail about it, there were few copies for sale (as luck would have it, there are four available as of this writing, more than when I was searching), and no library would lend it. Spontaneously, and as much out of frustration at the lack of information as out of real hope that it would be a treasure, I spent $40 for it, just on the off chance…

As it turns out, I might well have shelled out even more, and done so happily. When the book arrived, I was immediately enticed by its low-budget but promising wartime dustjacket. Then, a glance at the back cover with its brief synopsis. One line jumped out at me: "Those who have read Nothing to Report will find themselves among familiar faces."

My unfailing instincts (or pure dumb luck, probably, but I prefer to assume the former) had led me to a sequel!

The first section of the novel (it is indeed a novel, not an "other") focuses on a new character—young, perky Philippa-Dawn Johnson, who is preparing to launch her nursing career at Woodside, the country home now overseen as a hospital by none other than the redoubtable Mary, whom we grew to know and love in Nothing to Report. Philippa-Dawn has decided to turn over a new leaf in her new locale, and among the changes she makes is that she will eschew her full name and become the rather snappier Pippa.

On her journey, Pippa wryly notes her first sight of London's bomb damage:

The train began to run into London suburbs, and Pippa noticed that the results of bomb damage fell into four classes. There was the type that reminded one of a child of six, lacking front teeth, there was the doll's house, with the face open, the one-slice-out-or-a-cake variety and the spilt box of matches. She soon got accustomed to the sight of twisted, rusting girders and mounds of honey-coloured rubble, but she could not see properly without sitting right forward and goggling, and as nobody else in the carriage took the faintest interest in the view, she deemed it most dignified to follow their example.

Once arrived in Westbury, Pippa is invited to tea with Mrs Bates, whom we remember as nearly debilitated by rheumatism before the war but who is now practically cured "thanks to Hitler or Lord Woolton," and is proudly shown her hostess's very own bomb crater:

After the good tea which Mrs. Bates had promised, Pippa was taken out into the cold blast to her hostess's bomb crater. It was not a very interesting sight, and if Pippa had not been told that it had been created by high explosive, she would have guessed it to have been the work of a gang of amateur navvies ordered to make a wild garden against time. It was, in size and shape, very like the smaller of the two village ponds on the Green visible from Mrs. Bates's front windows, and the resemblance was increased by the fact that Mrs. Bates had taken to keeping ducks upon its waters.

Pippa also encounters numerous other familiar faces from Nothing to Report (and here, as in the earlier book, a list of main characters might be a useful compendium). Among them is the Dowager Lady Merle, who is "the living image of Elizabeth Tudor in later life". The frivolous Lady Rollo, whose laziness and lack of any sense of responsibility for the war effort was already irritating Mary by the end of the last novel, has retreated back to India, but has left behind her daughter Elizabeth and daughter-in-law, Lalage, who are also nursing at Woodside. But most exciting to Pippa is the fact that the redoubtable historical novelist (and wry self-portrait of Oman herself?), Miss Rosanna Masquerier, is also close by, doing her war work and encountering bombs with her usual flair:

She had never consciously pictured Rosanna Masquerier; all the same it had been a bit of a shock to realize that the authoress of Polish Rose, etc., was a small and rather skinny spinster lady, in horn-rimmed spectacles, with unruly black curls under her organdi uniform veil, and what is poetically described as silver strands amongst the black.

Pippa is a charming enough character through whose fresh eyes to see Westbury, but I was nevertheless pleased, in part two of the novel, to be back firmly with Mary—a bit firmer and more no-nonsense with her wartime responsibilities, but still as capable and kind-hearted as ever. I don't want to say too much about her, because it could give away some of the plot of the first novel, but it's through her eyes that we get my favorite glimpse of Miss Masquerier:

Miss Masquerier's old Florence, known before the War as "my invaluable and devoted old retainer," and more recently simply as "my old retainer"

Mary had more than a suspicion that nowadays Miss Masquerier, who could be so sarcastic on paper about the Bourbons, went in fear of her once devoted and invaluable retainer. Florence, like many of her type, had not taken at all kindly to the idea of a Second German War. Indeed, Miss Masquerier herself had recounted in serio-comic vein that, the other day, after an unusually trying experience of ordering meals for the odd hours entailed by her hospital duties, she had said, "But surely, Florence, you can't imagine that Mrs. Hungerford and I invented this War for our own enjoyment?" to which Florence in the most lofty and knowing manner, had replied, "Well, as to that, Madam, this is a free country still, and everyone is at liberty to form their own opinions."

As delightful as this novel is, I have to confess that Somewhere in England is a bit looser in structure, a bit more rough around the edges, than Nothing to Report. Sometimes the array of characters does become a tad confusing. Yet I suspect that one reason for the book's flaws is that Oman was herself by this time very much swept up in the labors and anxieties of the war and didn't have time or patience to polish her prose and clarify her characters as thoroughly as she might otherwise have done. Which somehow made me enjoy it even more. It is, in that sense, very much a "thick of it" kind of home front novel. And even with its weaknesses, Somewhere in England is still thoroughly entertaining and made me giggle and guffaw throughout.

One other little oddity to mention: Although Nothing to Report never seems to have mentioned the fact (or I was completely obvlivious to it), Somewhere in England makes quite clear that these events are taking place in Barsetshire, that mythical county of Trollope and Thirkell. I'm absolutely terrible with names, and it's been a while since I've read Thirkell anyway, so I can’t say for certain whether Oman might mention any familiar names or places from Thirkell's more famous version of Barsetshire. It's possible, but I suspect for the most part Oman has carved out for herself her own little corner of the county, including the cathedral city of Went and the village of Westbury-on-the-Green (usually just called Westbury).

Sadly, this appears to have been Oman's final novel. From this point, she wrote only non-fiction, apparently with considerable success. Included among those later works are Ayot Rectory (1965), based on the diaries of a historical resident of the village in which Oman made her home in later years, and An Oxford Childhood (1976), a memoir of her early years. These could have potential...

Monday, March 18, 2019

Bombs and giggles: VERILY ANDERSON, Spam Tomorrow (1956)

I don't about you, dear readers, but I don't do as much re-reading of old favorites as I would like. I'm always meaning to, but then I come across new books and get sidetracked by the proverbial bright shiny object instead. But I feel particularly bad about those books that I read before I started blogging, which have remained "the standard" for me but which I've never written about. Those are the books that tend to gaze accusingly at me from my bookcase.

It was therefore very much high time for me to re-read this one, one of the first WWII "home front" memoirs I ever read. It remains, along with Frances Faviell's A Chelsea Concerto, an absolute favorite. I've written about several of Verily Anderson's lovely, poignant, hilarious memoirs before (see here), but I haven't circled back around to this one. Until now!

Things start off here with Anderson's classic, wry humor:

"Long-distance call for Bruce," a F.A.N.Y. sergeant, soured by the years of peace between the wars, looked into the common-room and addressed me in the third person.

I zipped up my khaki skirt, loosened after lunch, and ran to the telephone. It might be Donald. It was.

"What size do you take in wedding rings?" his voice asked from London.

"I don't know, darling. Why? Are we going to be married?"

"That's what I should like. Can you get leave?"

"Of course, darling." I would have married Donald any time he asked me since I first met him a few years before.

"What about tomorrow?"

"All right, darling. Of course."

After that memorable (if somewhat anticlimactic, from a marriage proposal perspective) opening, Anderson flashes back to a breezy summary of her childhood and youth, including her troublesome schooldays (later unforgettably described at full length in the wonderful Daughters of Divinity) and a disturbing but entertaining near miss with a possible white slaver.

But then it's on with the main course of the book—the experiences of Verity, Donald, their friends and relatives, and their own growing family during the war years—all told with Verity's delightful zest for life and poignant stoicism in the face of hardship. From her initial appreciation of the aesthetics of barrage balloons ("If this is the war," I said, "it's much prettier than I'd expected"), to enduring a rather daft F.A.N.Y. court-martial for having crashed a makeshift ambulance into a fence post, to a bout with German measles in a hospital reminiscent of a medieval torture chamber, Verily's war gets off to a bumpy start.

Verily (I somehow feel that I'm on a first-name basis with her) is just the sort of author that you feel you’d love to sit down to tea with (though mind you, the three-ring circus of a home she describes wouldn't make it the most restful of teas). She's also the kind of author who, between provoking giggles, reveals an underlying strength and a determination to find the lighter side of even the darkest moments. One could do worse than remember her perspectives in one's own stressful moments. I love her reasoning about staying in the F.A.N.Y.s:

Walking home to the rectory, I tried to analyse my reasons for wanting to go back. My heart had never been in the F.A.N.Y.s until Dunkirk. The community life did not suit me. Discipline did not appeal. I was not a good F.A.N.Y., either technically or socially. Could it be patriotism? Knowing myself, I felt there must be some more selfish motive behind it. Then I remembered telling Lucy I should feel safer right in the war.

That was it. Anything might happen now, not only to my brothers and friends in the navy, the army, the air force, but to my parents, to Rhalou with her little family, and to Lorema still at school. In the F.A.N.Y.s I should be safe from the impact. Somebody else does your thinking for you in the army, and even your feeling. And if I were killed, well, in the F.A.N.Y.s life was that much less interesting to want to cling on to.

But only a few pages after that poignant moment, here she is opportunely and hilariously giving the newly-trained neighborhood first-aid post a chance to do their thing:

During an early daylight raid I became one of the first casualties to be treated by the first-aid post set up in the garage under Berkeley Square. I was making shepherd's pie in our small kitchen, carefully following the recipe book because I had never learnt to cook before I was married. A bomb dropped some way off. The vibration caused a heavy saucepan to bounce off a high shelf; it hit and broke a beer bottle on a lower shelf, which then fell on my head. It was the silliest accident, because anyone In their senses would have looked down and not up while that sort of thing was going on. I went on with my shepherd's pie till I realised that the excess of uncooked gravy was dropping from my head.

When I asked the local chemist for lint and disinfectant, he felt it was only fair to allow the first-aid post to claim me. He personally led me down their ramp; and immediately a label with my name and address and religion on it was tied round my arm in case I died during treatment. The V.A.D.s were as pleased to see the blood running down my face as we, in the F.A.N.Y.s, were when a new old crock fell into our hands. Half a dozen V.A.D.s made a rush at me and treated my small abrasion as though my whole head had been blown off. They treated me for shock with sugared tea, specially brewed, and they would have gladly carried me away on a stretcher had I allowed it.

Then there's the night Donald, who works for the government, doesn't arrive home and Verily convinces herself he's with some floozy, only to have to cool her jets the next morning when she learns that he'd been summoned to an unplanned meeting with Churchill…

Not my copy, but I found these photos online of a
copy of the book annotated for Verily's godson. Not at
all certain what Verily means by saying this copy "was
a splendid silver beer mug on a timber stand"???

This annotation says: "These dots replace a censored
paragraph about life at the Vincent's [??] during an
air raid in which Mummy Vincent ignored bombs, blast
and the full treatment to finish washing up."

In Anderson's later memoirs, we come to know her children very well as they grow up (including Rachel, who is a well-known novelist and children's author in her own right). In Spam Tomorrow, we get to be in at the births of Rachel and her older sister Miriam. No doubt childbirth always feels harrowing to those involved, though not many first-time mothers have to experience labor pains and a bombing raid at the same time (while being observed by a group of medical students, no less):

Whenever, from time to time, I could get my breath I gasped out some fatuous crack, feeling it behoved me, as the central figure, to entertain the company a little.

As the pace grew fiercer, outside interference was added to the drama by the crash of gunfire and drone of aircraft overhead.

"Ours" said one student with confidence, and was immediately contradicted by a bomb dropping a few fields away. By now I had ceased to care, and would have welcomed a whole bread-basket of bombs on the top of us.

Spam Tomorrow progresses through the war years and right up to V-E Day (descriptions of which are always among my favorite parts of war memoirs and novels), so that first-born Marian is old enough to have become a connoisseur of bombs:

When a bomb whistled down, Marian threw herself giggling on to Donald's bed, saying, "One two three and a—" "Bang!" she shouted with delight as the bomb exploded.

"More bangs?" she asked hopefully.

"Oh, the woos," she said regretfully of the all-clear, knowing it meant that she must return to bed.

If you haven't met the delightful Verily yet, you really owe it to yourself to make her acquaintance. Spam Tomorrow is followed by five more memoirs: Our Square (1957), about the family's harried life in London after the war, Beware of Children (1958), about their time running a holiday vacation camp for children, Daughters of Divinity (1960), about Verily's school days, The Flo Affair (1963), about Verily's adventures with the children following Donald's unexpected death, and Scrambled Egg for Christmas (1970), which takes up the family's story a few years later, when Verily is back in London trying to make ends meet. Some are easier to find than others, but all are well worth reading. It all started with Spam though!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

An historical tidbit: Agatha Christie on Brexit?

I don't generally comment on politics here, and for the most part this post won't either. Largely, this is because the situation in the U.S. and the U.K. is so depressing that I can barely do more than glance at the headlines each morning and then spend the rest of the day pretending that none of it is really happening. This blog often functions as part of that pretense.

However, I recently came across a tidbit with a direct connection to the blog and felt I had to share it. I decided not long ago to splurge and go whole hog into a full membership at Ancestry and even the supplemental "Publisher Extra" edition of newspapers.com. This is handier than I can say both for continuing to research my genealogy and for research of authors on my list. Someday a fully revised main list, with improved details on many, many authors, will appear (heaven knows when), but that's neither here nor there for this post.

What I came across (in a search for newspaper articles about Doris Langley Moore) was a striking artifact from the last Brexit referendum. Now, even as a total Anglophile, this idiot American had no idea there had been a referendum back in 1975 on whether to leave what was then called the European Community. (I was seven years old at the time and not following the news as closely as I should have.) And obviously I didn't read all the background articles about the current Brexit balls-up because, well, see first paragraph above. But if I had I would have come across this Guardian article from 2016 which discusses the 1975 debate and which might help those of you who are similarly oblivious to this earlier upheaval.

What I came across was this paid advertisement headed "Writers for Europe" in which dozens and dozens of well-known authors, including many from my list, urged the public to vote to remain in Europe:

The photo itself is quite large, though you'll have to blow it up or save it and open the saved version in order to see it clearly.

Keeping Agatha Christie company in the 1975 version of the Remain campaign were women writers including the afore-mentioned Doris Langley Moore, Pamela Hansford Johnson, Ursula Bloom, Margaret Drabble, Rosamond Lehmann, Rumer Godden, Elspeth Huxley, Jean Rhys, Jean Plaidy, Naomi Mitchison, Antonia Fraser, Anna Freud, Kay Dick, Angela du Maurier, Sybille Bedford, Caryl Brahms, and Lynn Reid Banks. They were supported by many other highly recognizable male authors.

Many things have changed since 1975, of course, so one can't be certain how these authors would have voted in 2016 (though however they voted, they'd probably be alarmed by the way it's playing out). But I found it rather interesting to think about.

Friday, March 1, 2019

The UTTERLY hopeless wish list

In 2013, not long after I began blogging, I made my first Hopeless Wish List, having already developed the first symptoms of my all-consuming obsession with the most obscure of obscure authors. But not, as it happens, having quite fine-tuned my interlibrary loan and/or savvy book shopping skills. Nor, for sure, had I made contact with a host of fellow aficionados who have since made it possible, in various ways, for me to read some of my most-yearned-for titles.

I updated the list in 2014 (I can't believe it's been that long!), but that one is long out of date too. It's therefore time to do a new Hopeless Wish List, and needless to say I have significantly upped the ante on exactly what it means for a book to be "hopeless"! But based on past experience, it's worth my while to make a list of my most coveted titles, on the off chance that someone somewhere someday will say, "Hey! I have a copy of that you can borrow/buy/have!" It could happen (and has before). Plus, I wanted to organize the list in order to create Abe Books "wants" for them, so I might just as well share it. And for those of you who have trouble finding a lot of the books I write about, an added benefit is that it may provide a wry comfort to see that there are books I can't get hold of either...

In case anyone but me is curious, at the bottom of this post I'll also do a summary of the titles from the previous versions of my list which have been, in one way or another, removed from the realm of the hopeless. But first, without further ado, here are the new additions to my greatest hits of hopelessness:

(It's hard to prioritize these books, a) because I would jump on any one of them in a moment, and b) because some I know a fair amount about and others I have only small tantalizing tidbits about, but of course it could be the latter which turn out to be the real treasures.)

P. Y. BETTS, French Polish (1933)
Could this one—the one and only novel by an author better known for her acclaimed memoir People Who Say Goodbye (1989), reprinted a few years ago by Slightly Foxed—be one of those treasures? French Polish is mentioned here as "a funny and sharply observed novel about a girls’ finishing school", which is more than enough to sell me on it. But try looking for a copy of it.

E. M. CHANNON, The Surprising Holidays (1926)
I've read several of Channon's books, including the mysteries Twice Dead and The Chimney Murder, which were reprinted by Greyladies, and a very enjoyable school story, The Honour of the House. But ever since I read a piece about Channon by Hilary Clare, this is the one I've most wanted to get hold of. Clare said it was among the funniest of Channon's works, and summed up its plot as "the lack of domestic capability of an English middle-class family." Books to Treasure has released several of her school-related stories in e-book and paperback, so why why WHY haven't they got round to this much harder-to-find book?!?!

PRISCILLA JOHNSTON, The Narrow World (1930) & Green Girl (1931)
These two novels, the latter a sequel to the former, come from my Grownup School Story List, just like the Betts title above. Both appear to be set in schools, and the latter includes a romance between a young girl and one of the masters at her school. Other details are elusive, and an Abe Books search for either is unlikely to bear any fruit.

DOROTHY LAMBERT, Fish Out of Water (1937) & Much Dithering (1938)
These could truly be either trash or treasure, as I know practically nothing about them or about Lambert herself, but the titles are irresistible and they are seductively unavailable.  Who could resist a title like Much Dithering?! (A part of me, I admit, really hopes that it turns out to be the name of a country estate: "We're walking over to Much Dithering this afternoon to have tea with Lady Smythe-Hyde-Barrington-Thorne-Babbington.")

At least we know a fair amount about this one, and as of this writing a single copy is actually available on Abe Books, should you wish to invest a cool $1,000 on it (!!). A parody of the detective genre (the title is of course a wry homage to Sayers), in which caricatures of the most famous detectives of the day gather at the home of one Miss Pyke and are drawn into the mystery of a kitchen maid's disappearance. Mystery guru Martin Edwards even wrote a piece about it here, about reading and discussing the book with fellow mystery writer Margaret Yorke. I can't imagine why no one has reprinted this by now—perhaps there's a rights issue?

HILDA HEWETT, The Desert Shall Rejoice (1950)
I've written about Hewett here, having been lucky enough to track down several of her books from libraries. She's a classic hit-or-miss kind of author, and in truth I'd be willing to sample any of her other titles if they could be found, but my two favorites of her books so far are Kaleidoscope (1947) and So Early One Morning (1948). I know absolutely nothing about The Desert Shall Rejoice, but the three books have in common that they're the only three Hewett published with Hurst & Blackett, who seem (perhaps?) to have given her a bit more freedom and encouragement than her usual publisher, the more romance-oriented Robert Hale.

MONICA REDLICH, Cheap Return (1934), No Love Lost (1937), & The Various Light (1948)
I had had Redlich on my author list for a couple of years before even discovering that she had written adult novels in addition to her two (slightly better-known) children's books, Jam Tomorrow (1937) and Five Farthings (1939), the latter of which I reviewed here. I'll bet a lot of fans of those books don't realize it either. Cheap Return was described by one critic as "entertaining because of its gentle satire and its lively presentation of life in a girls' college," which is more than enough to make me crave it. No Love Lost gets the briefest of critical mentions as "a simply-told story of the reactions of a schoolgirl to the unhappy marriage of her parents." And of The Various Light I know nothing except that Carl Jung, of all people, particularly recommended it to a friend of his (which is certainly enough to arouse curiosity—did he enjoy the novel, do we think, or merely find it of psychoanalytic interest? Either way I'm sold). Are these three novels as charming and entertaining as her children's fiction? Or not? Judging from my searches for available copies of them, we may never know.

GWENDOLINE COURTNEY, A Coronet for Cathie (1950) & other serials (?)
I've nabbed all of Courtney's other titles, but a recent Abe Books search for this one found only a $700 copy of the Girls Gone By reprint. The original edition must be worth its weight in gold. Which (not to be critical of my fellow indie publishers, but…) begs the question of why GGB recently reprinted the readily available Stepmother instead of this one! And along the same lines, when GGB reprinted Mermaid House, a novel that had previously appeared only as a serial, the introductory material suggested that there were other such works to be be published in due course. I might have to drop them a line to see what happened to those.

NETTA SYRETT, A School Year (1902)
Another school story that has apparently become highly collectible. Sims & Clare note that it's on the borderline between children's and adult fiction, which is always tantalizing for me, and that it's based on Syrett's own school experiences. Syrett was also an early feminist who wrote intriguing adult novels, a few of which have been reprinted in recent years. Alas, not a single copy available on Abe Books at last check.

RUTH ADAM, Set to Partners (1947)
Though occasionally an uneven writer, I have always been fascinated by the wonderful detail and social conscience of Adam's novels (and of course her social history A Woman's Place, available from Persephone). I've written about her several times and have been fortunate enough to read several of her obscure titles (see here). But this one remains a complete mystery. Not even any details of its subject matter. Not a single copy available either. Grrrr.

AGNES ROSEMARY COOPER & MARY WELLER (writing as RAMSAY BELL), The Lake of Ghosts (1940)
Very much in the realm of books I'm irrationally obsessed with despite knowing very little about them is this little potential treasure.  Cooper and Weller wrote four novels under their pseudonym, with the first, Dragon Under Ground (1937), described by a contemporary critic as "a pleasantly told yet thrilling tale of Christmas adventure." (That one's currently available for a mere $471!) With the popularity of Christmas titles, and especially if it turns out that these are all mysteries, as seems possible, we just might see that one become available in the future?) But it's Lake of Ghosts that attracts me, despite the fact that my only tidbit of knowledge is that it's set in the Apennines and has an archaeologist as heroine.

JOAN DE FRAINE, Eighty in the Shade (1935)
Along the same lines, I only have a blurb noting that Eighty in the Shade "tells the story of a suburban family over a Bank Holiday weekend." But there's certainly potential there, right?

ALICE LUNT, Tomorrow the Harvest (1955)
Lunt was a close friend of Mabel Esther Allan and the author of several children's titles, including three school stories, as well as this one adult novel, described as being based on her wartime experiences in the Land Army. The children's titles are possible to find, but the novel has practically ceased to exist. You can see though why it would be on this list.

MARGARET LANGMAID, This Charming Property (1934)
The Sydney Morning Herald called this "a spirited little romance" about the "uncivil warfare" aroused in a traditional English village by the building of a row of new villas. "Thus modernity challenged antiquity, and the strife was none the less savage because it took the form of snubs, veiled insults, and occasional outbursts." I'm sold, but alas the book is not—anywhere.

MABEL BARNES-GRUNDY, Paying Pests (1941), Mary Ann and Jane (1944), & The Two Miss Speckles (1946)
These could certainly go either way, and Barnes-Grundy seems to have been known for her frivolous romantic tales (though similar language has been used about some of my favorite authors), but these, her final three novels, are likely enriched by wartime settings. I know little about the first two, but the last deals with two sisters living in Bath during the war.

WINIFRED LEAR, I Like This Place (1980) & Maiden Stakes (1988)
These might be the most hopeless items on this list. Lear, the author of two novels—The Causeway, enthusiastically reviewed here, and Shady Cloister, which I never got round to reviewing and didn't love as much but still enjoyed, as well as the delightful memoir Down the Rabbit Hole—apparently self-published, in small quantities, three short books of anecdotes and recollections, which means they're vanishingly rare. These Peculiar Things, the third title, isn't even listed on Worldcat at all, but I know it exists because it's the one I happened to stumble across (and spent far too much to acquire). I really need to write about it here, but meanwhile I'm beginning to doubt that similar lightning will ever strike for these two.

And if that's not enough hopelessness, there are still some from my previous lists that I despair of ever having the chance to read (perhaps these should be called The Despair List?):

Greyladies happily reprinted MOLLY CLAVERING's Near Neighbours a couple of years back, and Mrs Lorimer's Family is widely available, but all her other novels (see here) seem to be about as rare as a Guttenberg Bible.

My second wish list mentioned BRIDGET LOWRY's To-Morrow's Giants (1933), which remains hopeless to find, but the situation was worsened when Lowry's granddaughter chimed in on the post and quoted a review of another of her novels, The Losers (1932), described as "..a little Cranford about a bungalow town..." There are currently two copies of that one on Abe Books—both selling for well into three figures…

I must keep mentioning F. M. MAYOR's Mrs Hammond's Children (1901) & Miss Browne's Friend (1914) in the hope that some savvy publisher with British Library access will finally reprint them. Her three novels are classics, particularly The Rector's Daughter, so it's criminal that these are still unavailable. Janet Morgan, in her intro to The Squire's Daughter, described Mrs Hammond's Children as a collection of stories “based on the relations among children and the kindnesses and cruelties they practise on one another.” Miss Browne's Friend (1914), published as a serial, is described as "an exploration of a friendship between a suburban lady and a prostitute." One can only imagine what Mayor's brilliance might have made of that!

I was fortunate enough last year to read one of WINIFRED WATSON's rare other novels (aside from the ubiquitous and wonderful Miss Pettigrew)—see here. My focus now is on two more of her books—Hop, Step And Jump (1939), described in one source as a "variant on the Cinderella theme", and Leave and Bequeath (1943), which came after Miss Pettigrew and is described as "part murder-mystery and part psychological study". Both, needless to say, hopeless.

Also on my second list, I mentioned ELEANOR SCOTT's War Among Ladies and Puss in the Corner (1934). There is, it now seems, a glimmer of hope that Interlibrary Loan may come through for War (I'll keep you posted), but Puss seems thoroughly hopeless. A contemporary review of the latter described the author as "a witty and discerning observer of female character, and more especially of the reactions of women to one another." Exactly zero copies available for sale.

Other lingering hopelessness from the earlier lists includes MARJORIE APPLETON's Anything Can Happen (1942), WINIFRED BLAZEY's Grace Before Meat (1942), and MARGARET DALE's Maze (1934).

On the brighter side, however, here are some of the books from the earlier lists for which the fog of hopelessness has cleared:

From my original 2013 list (here), I'm particularly delighted to note that I had a hand in dispelling the fog for two of the titles—both FRANCES FAVIELL's A Chelsea Concerto (1959) and E. NESBIT's The Lark (1922) seemed hopeless to me back then, but are now yours for the ordering as Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press!

My earlier wish lists were rather dominated by WWII novels, and I'm happy to say a number of them have been checked off my list. After several years of searching and savvy shopping, I was thrilled last year to get hold of BARBARA NOBLE's The House Opposite (reviewed here). And then there's the whole slew of other books that have been made available to me by the redoubtable Grant Hurlock, whose library must exceed even my fantasies. Thanks to him I got to read RUTH ADAM's Murder in the Home Guard (reviewed here) and There Needs No Ghost (reviewed here), MARJORIE WILENSKI's Table Two (reviewed here), AND LORNA LEWIS's Tea and Hot Bombs (reviewed here). (Happily, I recently seized a rare opportunity to get hold of Lewis's other wartime girls' novel, Feud in the Factory, and will plan to review it soon.)

Whew! Plus, thanks to Grant, I also now have the one URSULA ORANGE novel I had previously found unattainable, 1942's Have Your Cake, and hope to be reading and reviewing that one soon as well!

NOEL STREATFEILD's World War II era novels for adults were on my list a few years ago. Thereafter, I managed to track down I Ordered a Table for Six, which was rather bleak, and Greyladies reprinted The Winter Is Past (1940), which became one of my favorites (see here). But there's no longer any hopelessness at all, as all of Streatfeild's adult novels are now happily back in print (and in e-book) from Bello Books and Macmillan. Hooray!

Greyladies also cleared the fog of obscurity from RICHMAL CROMPTON's wartime novel, Mrs Frensham Describes a Circle (1942), which I reviewed here. A dozen or so other Crompton titles (sadly not including Mrs Frensham) have also been released in paperback and e-book by Macmillan.

Happily, too, the two unpublished STELLA GIBBONS novels I was yearning for—The Yellow Houses (c1973) and Pure Juliet (c1980, originally An Alpha)—were finally published in recent years, and the latter is a favorite of mine (reviewed here). Not only that, but I've now tracked down all of her other novels, as well as (thanks to Grant Hurlock) her one rare children's title, The Untidy Gnome (see here)!

The wonderful Simon at Stuck in a Book so generously gave me (!!!) his copy of EDITH OLIVIER's The Underground River (1929), which still has pride of place on my shelves.  Why hasn't a children's publisher reprinted this one, especially now that her novels and other books are available from Bello and Macmillan?!  I reviewed it here.

I found several novels by NORAH HOULT and enjoyed them very much. I'm reminded that I really need to get back to reading more of her work. If you're a fan of There Were No Windows, do track down House Under Mars, one of her other wartime works. And I did get hold of ELINOR MORDAUNT's The Family (1915), but it was finally just a bit too bleak for my tastes. It can now be downloaded, at least in the U.S., via Hathi Trust. I nabbed a copy of EDITH PARGETER's Ordinary People (aka People of My Own), quite some time ago, but still haven't read it. It was somewhat deceptively referred to by Janet Maslen as "about a family living in a 'peaceful English setting...in cramped quarters during heavy blitzes".  Actually, it appears to be substantially pre-war in setting, though it may well end with the Blitz, and that caused it to be pushed aside for other priorities. And although I never found SYBIL LETHBRIDGE's The Wild Feather or Gnats and Camels, I did give another of her novels, Misfits, a try, and wrote about it in a post about disappointments here. I might still pick up one or both of the other titles if I stumbled across them, but I'm not actively searching.

Well, surely that's more than enough to have bored you all silly. I doubt that I need to say this at this point, but if you happen to have a copy of any of the above titles, do feel free to drop me a line (furrowed.middlebrow@gmail.com)!
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