Saturday, June 29, 2019

'Frightful' women: ELIZABETH COXHEAD, The Figure in the Mist (1955)

It was a pale blue and golden rampart, a wall of peaks springing cleanly out of the satiny blue-grey water. Or, if you liked, a blue silhouette in tissue paper, transparent towards the top and filtered with patches of gold. Great cliffs must hem it in. Grappling-irons would be needed to gain a foothold. For the first time in her nineteen years the child of the Essex flats looked at beauty, and in the screaming of the gulls heard the music of the west.

A young girl discovers the beauties of Scotland and the complexities of grownup social life while serving as a live-in help for a London University professor, his wife, and their young son on summer holiday in Arran. Along the way, she develops an affinity for rock climbing and meets a chatty young man.

Surely this is a Mabel Esther Allan novel? Or a charming, cozy romance?

Well, certainly The Figure in the Mist has all the elements of a cozy family holiday story, complete with armchair travel and likeable locals. But it's ultimately a bit more complex, and these familiar plot devices are quite nicely interwoven with issues of class, gender, education, selfishness and vulnerability in young and old alike, and helicopter parenting vs freedom and challenge. Not quite the simple resolutions one might expect either.

Coxhead's heroine here is the appropriately named Agnes Flint, who during this Scotch summer must begin to learn to be a bit less hard and to forgive her fellow beings' shortcomings. She has grown up in a rather dreary middle class suburb, a tough, smart, no-nonsense kind of girl. Her first sight of Arran from the boat, quoted above, makes clear that Scotland will have an impact on Agnes, but she'll learn even more from her interactions with charming Matthew Ogilvy and his insecure wife Margaret, their overprotected, neurotic, but lovable toddler son Adam, Mrs Gillies the manager of the local hotel and an old school friend of Margaret's, and Patrick Hadley, a student of Matthew's who visits for a week. She even gains a bit of self-knowledge from the rock-climbing Matthew teaches her (Coxhead was herself a climbing aficionado and made it central to another of her novels, 1951's One Green Bottle, now added to my TBR list) and the "figure in the mist" she encounters during a climb…

Elizabeth Coxhead mid-climb

Professor Ogilvy is kind to Agnes and helps her with her difficulties, though he's also undoubtedly rather selfish and loves the attention he gets from her—as well as, apparently, many of his female students. Adam is a delight for Agnes (whom he calls "Angus") from day one. But Margaret is distinctly prickly, and the challenging relations between Agnes and Margaret are the real centerpiece of the novel—even when Margaret disappears for two pivotal weeks to visit her ailing father. And Coxhead handles Margaret with rather wonderful compassion—even if we don't quite come to love her, we certainly come to understand her foibles. Soon after Agnes's arrival, she is confused by how kindly Mrs Gillies responds to her initial complaints about Margaret—"She wanted a reassurance that Margaret would be kind to her, while Mrs. Gillies—was it possible?—was asking her to be kind to Margaret."

After Margaret has urged Agnes to get a shorter haircut because it will be flattering to her face, and then been overheard gloating behind her back to Matthew ("Touching, isn't it? The sincerest form of flattery. Just about as close as she could come to a faithful imitation of mine."), Mrs Gillies is unsurprised:

"It's certainly no news to me," said Mrs. Gillies, tranquilly resuming her knitting, "that poor Margaret is a fool. She was aye a fool—that's why I'm sorry for her.

And of course, after Margaret leaves for two weeks and Adam blooms without her neurotic hovering, more serious tensions arise upon her return.

Although rock climbing isn't the main subject of the novel (those uninterested in climbing will be more than compensated by the scenery described in the main climbing scene), there is one climb that forms the centerpiece, and something of a turning point, in the novel. It made me want to be out there scaling some heights myself (particularly in Scotland), though I have an anxious suspicion that I'd be like the one inevitable girl in every school story who manages to twist her ankle and spoil everyone's fun. And although Agnes is a complicated character, it's hard not to love her—and Coxhead—for the scene in which the blunt Agnes firmly tells off the self-absorbed and talkative Patrick. It's long, but I can't resist quoting it:

" ... but you do agree, don't you, that it was pretty discouraging? I mean, you'd have done the same in my place?"

He had stopped in his tracks and was demanding an answer, demanding her interest, her precious attention, so that she was forced to bring it back from the sea and sky. "I'm sorry, Patrick," she said. "I'm afraid I wasn't really listening. Tell me again."

He stared at her, his mouth open; it took him quite five seconds to grasp that she had not been listening. "Well, I must say, I think you're damn' rude."

"Do you? " said Agnes, her control snapping. "Well, if we're going in for home truths, I'd better tell you that I think you're damn' boring."

"Look here—"

"Why, just tell me why, should I be interested in your essays? Why should I care what you do or don't say to your tutor? Why do I have to spend my free afternoon on a re-hash of your academic career? What would you say if I started reeling off my essays? Would you find them interesting? Or is there to be one standard of entertainment for you and another for me, just because you happen to be a man and I a girl?"

It was really funny, seeing him goggle there, his frank blue eyes cloudy with bewilderment, the colour coming up into his handsome face. At length he said:

"I think you're frightful."

"Oh, splendid."

"I never in my life met a woman as frightful as you are." He sought for words which should express it more clearly. "You're the most frightful woman I've ever met."

"All right, it's penetrated."

"And you can damn' well finish your precious afternoon by yourself." And round he turned, shuddering with outrage, and striding back by the way they had  come, was soon out of her sight.

Oh, the relief at being rid of him! She felt no more compunction than if she had brushed off a persistent fly.

Oh dear. Rather harsh, indeed, but how many times have we all wanted to say something similar to some clinging bore?! But Coxhead lends the scene greater depth when, a few pages later, Matthew teases out a bit more compassion from Agnes—compassion that will undoubtedly be needed in dealing with Margaret later—and I related even more to her:

"I didn't realise till I'd done it just how young he is. It was as if I'd hit Adam. He just stood there saying 'You are a frightful woman,' over and over. He hadn't even words to curse me with."

"Poor young ass. I like to think Adam would have stood up for himself more efficiently. Perhaps next time callow youth annoys you, you'll make the necessary allowances."

"I'll try." She sighed. "But you know, one's always being told to make the necessary allowances for children and the aged. It's a bit hard if one has to make them for one's contemporaries also. Is nobody ever to be treated as an equal?"

"You will be safe to make allowances for everybody always." He gave her a sideways grin. "Bit of a tough nut, aren't you, Agnes? I mean it as a compliment, I rather like tough nuts, in fact I'm a bit of one myself. But we ought to pay for our privilege by modifying our toughness for the weaker brethren."

The wrapping-up of the relationship between Agnes and Margaret, which is also the conclusion of the novel, is handled in a similar way. Agnes is young and rash, a bit impatient and intolerant, but she also grows as a character and returns to her home and school as a more mature, complex young woman.

I first read Elizabeth Coxhead way back in 2015, and reviewed her 1952 novel A Play Toward here. I was a bit ambivalent about that one, though in light of my enjoyment of The Figure in the Mist I'm wondering if a re-read could be in order? First, though, I think I'm going to need to get hold of One Green Bottle—first, because I want to figure out what the deal is with that title, and second, because the dustjacket for A Play Toward contains an enthusiastic blurb about Bottle from no lesser critic than Marghanita Laski.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hopeless no more: DOROTHY LAMBERT, Much Dithering (1938)

The most striking thing about Much Dithering was its peacefulness. The few people who saw it from charabancs on morning or evening or circular drives said: ''Isn't it peaceful?" or "Isn't it quiet?". And some said they thought it was a lovely place to be buried in, but while they were alive they preferred a place with more life, if you knew what they meant.

I can't tell you how excited I was when Grant Hurlock (whose personal library must exceed even my wildest fantasies) shared his copy of this novel with me. First, of course, because I'd placed it on my recent, now outdated Hopeless Wish List, and this was only one of several books from that list that Grant has made it possible for me to read. But also, more frivolously, because my half-joking expectation in that post that the title of the novel would turn out to be a place name instead of (or, really, in addition to) a description of the plot actually proved to be accurate!

Back cover advertisement from Grant's
copy--I wonder how much those
rings cost now?

So here we are in the quiet, well-to-do village of Much Dithering (just down the road from the inevitable Little Dithering, which doesn't sound quite so entertaining). The main character of the novel is Jocelyn Renshawe, the young widow of the local squire, but in the opening paragraph we actually first meet her jaded mother Ermyntrude Lascelles (marvelous name!), who is always on the lookout for social and economic advantages:

Ermyntrude Lascelles, widowed for the second time, felt that Fate had  treated her shabbily in removing her George just as he was about to get command of his regiment. The role of a colonel's wife would have suited her admirably, and twice it had been almost within reach and then snatched away: once in India when Dick Pallfrey had been killed on the Frontier; and then, most annoyingly, just when the regiment was going to Egypt, George Lascelles was inconsiderate enough to contract measles—measles, of all things! So like George, who made a point of contracting every possible disease and was really a very tiresome, fussy little man, only bearable because he had a little money and would one day be a colonel, being a sound if uninspired soldier, and might even have gone as far as a brigadier. But no! Being George, within sight of achieving his wife's ambition, he contracted measles, which led to pneumonia, and so Ermyntrude was a widow who lived in a private hotel in South Kensington and visited her friends with unfailing regularity.

The relationship between Jocelyn and Ermyntrude is not a close one, in part because Jocelyn was primarily raised by her aunt, Miss Palfrey, in Much Dithering, while Ermyntrude lived with her military husbands in India and Egypt. And poor Jocelyn has led a rather listless, thankless existence:

Summer fêtes in aid of the day schools or the church, village concerts, Women's Institute meetings, and the annual garden party at the Priory—such were the events of the year. No wonder that Jocelyn was a specimen of human cabbage, and fitted into her surroundings so completely that she was hardly noticeable. She was always there when wanted, and she was always taken for granted. She took herself for granted and had never thought of herself as an individual with a personality of her own to develop. Her looks were an accident—a lucky accident, for she herself was unaware of her possibilities, and merely accepted herself as God had made her, as she had been brought up to do by her old-fashioned aunt during the years she had spent in her care when her parents were abroad with the Regiment.

As the story begins, however, Jocelyn's life is about to get considerably livelier. Ermyntrude's occasional London beau, Adrian Murchison-Bellaby, moves to Much Dithering with his parents and sister, and immediately decides Jocelyn is more his cup of tea than her mother is. Meanwhile, Jocelyn's aunt and her mother-in-law, the Honourable Augusta Renshawe, have decided that she should marry Colonel Tidmarsh, an elderly retired Army man, living with whom would surely be like watching paint dry. And then Gervase Blythe, a somewhat mysterious former Army acquaintance of Colonel Tidmarsh, arrives in town and rescues Jocelyn from a rainstorm before coming under suspicion as a jewel thief.

Advertisement from final pages

All of which inspires a sort of unexpected awakening in our protagonist:

Jocelyn sat up very straight with a sudden defiance. ''What do I do? I'll tell you: I exist, I moulder. I've never been allowed to be myself. I've always been guided and shielded and steam-rolled, according to the pattern designed for me by other people—all with the best intentions in the world, no doubt. I keep my house nice and I weed my garden—and oh, how I hate tulips!" she ended inconsequently.

One is safe in assuming that she is about to leave her mouldering existence and her tulips behind, but how she does so is a thoroughly enjoyable story.

I have to be honest in saying that Lambert's style of writing is a bit rough around the edges. It's a bit repetitive at times, and Lambert has an odd predilection for very long paragraphs, which slows the pace a bit. Much Dithering certainly lacks the polish of a Miss Buncle's Book or a Cheerfulness Breaks In. But Lambert does get us into the same literary neighborhood (with perhaps even a touch of Margery Sharp here and there?), and if you're like me and can never get enough of cheerful village comedies, then even this unpolished stone is a bit of a gem.

Dorothy Lambert was born Alicia Dorothea Irwin in Cork in 1884, married an Eric Lambert in 1906, and later lived in Kent. That's just about the extent of my knowledge of her. But she wrote 27 novels in all, by my count, between 1929 and 1953, so she was no slacker, and if all of them are at the level of Much Dithering it would definitely be fun to read more of them.

Friday, June 14, 2019


Apart from my recent post showing some of the Mabel Esther Allan dustjackets kindly shared with me by F.G., I haven't posted a lot about "girls'" fiction lately. It's funny how my reading of certain types of books ebbs and flows a bit during the course of the year. I've sometimes wondered if it's related to weather or hours of daylight or something strange like that, but it probably just my weirdly varying moods.

For whatever reason, over the past month or so I've spent some wonderful weekends and/or happy bedtime reading delving into some particularly good titles originally marketed for teenage girls. Maybe my moon's in Aquarius or some such thing…

All dustjacket images courtesy of F.G. (of course!)

The first title to talk about is one more title that can now be crossed off of my recent Hopeless Wish List, thanks to Constance of the wonderful Staircase Wit blog. After I noted on my list that a copy of GWENDOLINE COURTNEY's A Coronet for Cathie (1950)—even the Girls Gone By reprint from a few years back—would cost a bit more than the average flat in London, Constance jumped in and saved the day, and it wasn't long before my eagerness overcame all the other titles on my TBR list and I dived in. (I should also note that Constance reviewed the book herself soon after, and her review here likely sums things up better than I could ever do).

For those unfamiliar with the story (i.e. if you don't have an original copy treasured from your childhood, and missed the Girls Gone By reprint, and don't want to sell your cozy Bloomsbury flat to buy a copy now), it's the charming if implausible story of sickly 15-year-old Catherine Sidney, an orphan raised with limited means by a loving aunt, who discovers that, following a striking series of tragedies in a hitherto unknown branch of her family tree, she is now the unfathomably wealthy Duchess of Montfort. We should all have such problems. 

Cathie ventures to Devon with her Aunt Bet, where she briefly meets the dying elderly Duke, as well as her gruff but kindly new guardian, Colonel Rushton, and the colonel's three lively and likeable children. (One might expect that some of these other members of the family might be a bit saddened by the truly alarming body count among the Duke's heirs of late, but little mention is made of all the corpses beyond their beneficial impact on Cathie's social status.)

A bit of sarcasm aside, though, and with all its implausibilities, Coronet is a lovely fun tale. It started out just a bit bumpy for me as it is for all intents and purposes a Ruritanian tale despite being set in England, and Ruritania has never been my favorite country to visit. Then, too, as Constance also points out in her review, Cathie's completely ludicrous fragility for much of the story (being carried up and down stairs by her own personal footman—I mean, I wouldn't mind having a footman, but if I get to the point of making him carry me around I hope someone stages an intervention) makes her not a terribly dynamic heroine. Plus, she at times is so idealized, so much adored by all who meet her, that a couple of times I found myself perversely wanting to press her nose into her crumpets just a bit.

Later in the story, however, when Cathie is no longer decrepit and is able to head off to day school with her considerably more dynamic cousins—and even take up horseback riding!—things do liven up, and the whole premise of her as a kind, unselfish, down-to-earth squire for her vast estate begins to pay off. (Though, as much as I comprehend that any large landowner with lots of tenants has some real social responsibilities to shoulder, the way Cathie's estate is described feels a bit too feudal for the 1950s!)

None of those details matter much in the end, however, as realism is hardly the point of the story. A Coronet for Cathie is not my absolute favorite of Courtney's work—Sally’s Family will always retain that title, I think, and Girls of Friar’s Rise and Stepmother are also faves, all with their more domestic concerns. But Coronet is still great fun, with memorable characters and a nice message about "people who are worth knowing" and those who aren't. Thank you again to Constance for making it possible for me to read it. I highly recommend it—particularly if you were thinking of selling that flat anyway…

From there, I confess I was instantly and irrevocably seduced by the cover art of JANE SHAW's Anything Can Happen (1964), which happily came into my collection courtesy of the wonderful F.G. I was just at the point where one look at the girls with adorable Sixties hair browsing the bookstalls by the Seine with Notre Dame in all its unsinged glory behind them was all it took. I immediately started reading, and it proved to be every bit as charming and compulsively readable as it looked.

I read a couple of Jane Shaw books years ago and enjoyed them but never became obsessed. Well, I'm afraid obsession is in the cards now, so it's just as well that Girls Gone By announced, while I was reading this book, that they're beginning to reprint several of Shaw's books.

The premise is a classic wish fulfillment fantasy—Alison and her cousin Elizabeth (nicknamed Dizzy due to her reputation for nonlinear thinking, not to mention seeing criminal activity everywhere she looks) are sent to visit their Aunt Sophie in Paris. Poor things. And Aunt Sophie, a crime writer who tends to get obsessed with her work, is not exactly a strict or attentive guardian, so they practically have the run of the city. They quickly make friends with handsome young Pierre, his brother Alain, and their two adventurous little sisters Régine and Danielle.

Everywhere they turn in Paris, they find mysterious happenings, which Alison sometimes puts down to Dizzy's flair for intrigue but which finally become all too real. They encounter suspicious behavior in a jewellery shop, get followed by "the Man in the Grey Suit," and come to believe that Alison's mother's old governess Madame Bertholet, whom they solemnly promised to visit, is the victim of some diabolical intrigue at the hands of her housekeeper. In the course of their adventures, they find plenty of time to visit Montmartre, stop in to Deux Magots, climb the Eiffel Tower, and stroll through the Louvre.

It's all silly and implausible, but I found it absolutely addictive and delightful. I didn't want it to end. As I was reading, I recalled that Sue Sims and Hilary Clare, in their Encyclopaedia of Girls' School Stories, suggested that Shaw could most closely be compared with P. G. Wodehouse, and although that sounds like an odd link, the kinship is clearly on display in Anything Could Happen, which sparkles with wit and charm throughout. I'm assuming there are other Shaw fans among readers of this blog?

And finally, just two weekends ago, I was needing something light and cheerful to blot out the general sluggishness resulting from antibiotics for a sinus infection (yuck), and picked up SUSAN WYCHWOOD's French Leave (1936). I've had this school story for ages, since I bought it based on Sims and Clare's description of it, and it's turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, down-to-earth school stories I've read.

It centers around Avalon Grey, who is sent to boarding school in France because her widowed father, a retired general, can't bear her resemblance to her dead mother and to her older brother, who ran away from home years before when he was just about Avalon's age. For the most part, the plot is realistic, with lots of humorous but entirely plausible scenes between girls and mistresses, including mild culture clashes between French and English ways of doing things (Avalon is the only "Eengleesh mees" at the school, though a new English mistress does arrive partway through the school year). The French provincial town where the school is located is pleasantly described, and contains excitement only in the form of a local regiment of Spahi soldiers (recruits from Algeria serving their required time in the French army—no postcolonial concerns here!). The staff and fellow boarders are mostly kind and eager to please their English classmate, though there is a requisite troublemaker, Denise, who resents the attention Avalon receives and seeks to bring her down a notch or two.

There are a few gentle adventures of the traditional school story sort, but even there the book manages to stay fairly plausible—there's no climbing out the chimney of a burning room or singlehandedly taking down a ring of spies in Wychwood's tale. Instead, there's a very modest buried treasure left over from World War I (with some interesting discussion of the impacts of war), the discovery and rescue of an injured Spahi colonel in a forest, a near-miss with a wild boar during a walk through the forest, and a Spahi lieutenant who takes a mysterious interest in Avalon. Somehow, it's all very sweet-natured but without being cloying or sentimental, spirited and entertaining without being frenetic, and manages to give one a feel for the rhythms of day-to-day school life. Sims and Clare noted that "[t]he details ring completely true, and one cannot doubt that the author is drawing on her own experiences or those of someone close to her."

Sadly, the identity of Wychwood herself remains shrouded in mystery. Even the brilliant John Herrington was unable to trace her. Sadder still, this was apparently the only book she published. I for one would have loved it if she'd written 20 or 30 more.

To give you a taste, since this book is also a bit of a challenge to track down at reasonable prices, some of my favorite passages in the book relate to the determined belief in the minds of the French that England is perpetually shrouded in fog. Early in the book Avalon discusses it with her classmates:

"Is it true," asked Louise, "that in England there is always a fog, especially in London?"

"Oh, no," laughed Avalon, "we have them sometimes, of course, in the winter, and now and then there are some very dense ones in London, but not always!"

"One hears it said," muttered Denise darkly.

"Yes," said Avalon, "I have heard it said too, but no one in her senses could believe any country to be permanently wrapped in fog."

"Is your King married yet?" asked Jeanne hastily, to change the subject.

"I saw him once in Paris. He is handsome, your King," said Marie-Therese.

"Yes, isn't he splendid?" glowed Avalon. "I've seen him once, in London."

"Which she couldn't have done in a fog," put in Antoinette soberly.

And that passage links up nicely, later in the book, with a scene in which Avalon and the new English mistress toy with the assumptions of a Frenchwoman on the train to Paris:

"You have fogs in England?" she added hopefully.

"Occasionally," agreed Miss Field. "I remember one five years ago—or was it six? Do you know, Avalon? Or perhaps you would have been too small at the time to appreciate it."

"But I have seen a fog," claimed Avalon.

"Indeed?" said Miss Field, turning to her with well-acted eagerness. "When? Where? You have never mentioned it to me before."

"It was about a year ago," said Avalon. "It was quite thick—one could only just see the top of the church steeple at the end of the street. What a pity you missed it!"

I recommend French Leave for fans of more realistic school stories, and I anticipate a very pleasant reread somewhere down the road.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Sneak peak: covers and intro writers for new Furrowed Middlebrow titles

It's that time again, when I get to share some more of what we've been working on with the new Furrowed Middlebrow titles coming soon from Dean Street Press. Now I get to show you the new covers and tell you some exciting news about the writers who will do introductions for each of the titles.

Although all of the books we publish are obviously favorites of mine, this batch feels particularly personal, since I've been fascinated with "blitz lit" and the home front for many years—since well before I started this blog. To be able to release nine of my favorites from this field all at once is a really special experience.

Now, a small prologue. You who are regular readers of this blog know that I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction. But occasionally a modern novel just aligns with my obsessions so perfectly that I can't resist. This certainly happened a few years ago when Connie Willis released her breathtaking two-part novel Blackout and All Clear, about Oxford historians using time travel to research the realities of wartime life in Britain. It's riveting and touching and suspenseful, and it's also by far the most perfect evocation of the period I've ever read that wasn't written by someone with personal experience of it all. I'm in awe of the research Willis put into this mammoth but completely addictive project (I would have loved for the whole story to be 3,000 pages instead of a mere 1,000!). And for anyone who has doubts about the time travel bit, I can say that I almost never read sci-fi of any kind, but this is so well-done and realistic that you quite forget any implausibilities. If you're fascinated by life during wartime, you owe it to yourself to read them. (Two of Willis's earlier novels, To Say Nothing of the Dog and Doomsday Book, also feature some of the same historians researching other historical moments, and both of those are brilliant as well.)

So, why this digression to gush about a contemporary author? Well, because, beyond all of my wildest dreams, Connie Willis has actually written the introduction for BARBARA NOBLE's marvelous Blitz novel The House Opposite! I've been a geeked out little fan boy about this for quite two months now, so it's a great relief to finally make the revelation. And suffice it to say that her enthusiasm for the novel matches mine, which only adds to the thrill. I'm clearly beside myself…

But of course, I love all of our intro writers, and all the intros I've read so far are excellent. For that matter, how exciting is it to have art historian / museum director / scholar / diarist Sir Roy Strong providing an introduction to our reprints of CAROLA OMAN's Nothing to Report and Somewhere in England? Apart from all his other brilliance, Sir Roy has considerable personal knowledge of Oman since he was married to her niece, designer Julia Trevelyan Oman.

In the course of obtaining the rights for Oman's novels, we also made contact with her grand-niece, who sent me some wonderful recollections of her aunt and several photos, which I'll be sharing with you in an upcoming post.

We also have introductions written by close family members for two more of our titles, and I love the bit of personal insight they offer into the authors themselves. Rachel Anderson, who has written a lovely introduction to her mother VERILY ANDERSON's wartime memoir Spam Tomorrow, is herself a prolific and acclaimed author of children's fiction as well as several novels for adults. Rachel doesn't put in an appearance in Spam Tomorrow until about halfway through the book, and then her birth is a more peaceful one than her older sister Marian's, whose birth in the midst of German bombing is one of the books most unforgettable scenes. But she is prominent in her mother's later memoirs, and it's priceless to have her introducing the book.

Close personal knowledge also informs Eileen Kamm's wonderful introduction to her mother-in-law JOSEPHINE KAMM's postwar novel Peace, Perfect Peace. Now, if the name Eileen Kamm doesn't ring any bells, it's likely that her maiden name, which she has used for dozens of acclaimed children's titles, will be familiar to a lot of you. She is better known to readers as Eileen Dunlop, and I'm thinking I shall have to expand my horizons and do some reading from a generation or so after my usual period, as her books look rather irresistible!

Journalist, memoirist, and novelist Charlotte Moore is already no stranger to readers of the Furrowed Middlebrow edition of E. Nesbit's The Lark, for which she provided a brilliant introduction. So I'm very excited to have her introducing ROMILLY CAVAN's marvelous Beneath the Visiting Moon this time around. I haven't seen her intro yet myself, and I can hardly wait...

And last but most definitely not least, I always adore the introductions that scholar and researcher Elizabeth Crawford writes for us. In her previous work for us, she has unearthed the most amazing details and tidbits about Rachel Ferguson, Winifred Peck, Elizabeth Fair, and Elizabeth Eliot, and this time around she's doing triple duty, writing intros for BARBARA BEAUCHAMP's Wine of Honour, SUSAN ALICE KERBY's Miss Carter and the Ifrit, and one of this batch's most anticipated titles, MARJORIE WILENSKI's Table Two. Probably needless to say that I haven't read any of these yet either, as Elizabeth has her work cut out for her, but I'm so thankful that she was up for the challenge and I have no doubt the results will be riveting.

Finally, after giving you all of this wonderful news and teasing you with the lovely covers (if I do say so myself), I have just the tiniest bit of bad news. We knew we were taking on a big job tackling nine titles by eight different authors all at once—eight different sets of rights situations to sort out, eight different intros, etc. But we still just slightly underestimated the amount of work involved (and when I say "we", I should really be acknowledging that it's Rupert at Dean Street Press who's been bearing the brunt of it all!). As a result, these new titles, which I had originally announced for early July, have now been reset for an early August release—just in time for lazy summer holidays! Queue mournful violin music. I'm so sorry for the delay, but hopefully the anticipation will make these books taste all the sweeter. 

Now, I hope you're as pleased with these covers as I am. I'd like to note that the covers for Spam Tomorrow and Peace, Perfect Peace incorporate the artwork from the original dustjackets, which turned out quite nicely I think. The others are an array of mostly wartime artists—it's amazing how poignant yet beautiful bomb damage can be when painted by a brilliant artist, and the "business as usual" image for Miss Carter, which I had never seen until I stumbled across it searching for appropriate cover art, is one of my favorite "stiff upper lip" images. Eric Ravilious, whose ravishing paintings we've used for several previous books, seemed a perfect choice for the two cheerful Oman titles, and if the eerily beautiful Milena Pavlović-Barili work used for Visiting Moon is a bit more surreal than our norm, it's also somehow perfectly fitting for this tale of a young woman celebrating her 18th birthday with World War II looming in the background (and it even includes the visiting moon).

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Dustjacket porn: Familiar faces

Back in April (see here) I told you a bit about my Fairy Godmother and the lovely things she had sent me after my updated Hopeless Wish List post (now already hopelessly out of date). In that post, I shared some of the luscious dustjackets she had scanned for me of some of Mabel Esther Allan's rarest titles, and I have more of those to share soon. But she also sent me a slew of other dustjackets from her phenomenal collection. In this post, I'm sharing jackets for some of the books I've already written about here in the past, but for which I had either no cover images or only very poor images from the internet.

First, off, at the top of this post, a book I loved so much I made it part of the first batch of Furrowed Middlebrow titles published by Dean Street Press. I first reviewed Frances Faviell's brilliant, gut-wrenching WWII memoir, A Chelsea Concerto, back in 2013, and at that time I had never even glimpsed the cover art. F.G.'s copy, and the wonderful photo of Faviell herself, is ravishing indeed.

Next up, another favorite from an author we'll be publishing this year. We're reprinting Verily Anderson's Spam Tomorrow in our batch of WWII titles this summer, but Daughters of Divinity is just as wonderful and I'm happy to finally see the lovely original dustjacket (complete with a quote from no lesser figure than Elizabeth Bowen praising Spam). I reviewed Daughters of Divinity here.

I wrote about Elizabeth Coxhead's A Play Toward in 2015 (here). I found a halfway decent cover image from the internet for that post, but nothing near as nice as F.G.'s full scan. I was lukewarm on the book then, but I have recently read a bit more Coxhead with better success, which I'll be posting about soon, so a revisit to this one might be in order.

A Play Toward is on my Grownup School Story List, and so is Elizabeth Lake's The First Rebellion, a favorite I also reviewed in 2015 (see here). I had a very shoddy cover image indeed at that time, so F.G.'s scan is an enormous improvement!

It's impressive that F.G. managed to find a copy of Fay Inchfawn's Salute to the Village (reviewed in 2013 here) with any dustjacket at all, and it was delightful to see how the book originally looked.

I had a decent front cover of Geraldine Symons' The Suckling when I reviewed it late last year (here), but it could hardly compare to the gorgeous full jacket image provided by F.G.

I've written about Ruth Adam several times, but her dustjackets are a challenge to come by. I wrote about Fetch Her Away in 2016 (see here), and the novel reflects Adam's passionate concern with social issues.

Just about my favorite of Ruth Adam's books, though, is A House in the Country, which I reviewed here, yet I had never seen this lovely dustjacket for it. The book is charming and humorous, as you might guess from this cover, but you might not guess from the illustration that Adam's social concerns are also present here, cleverly interwoven with her amusing plot.

Back to my Grownup School Story List, I reviewed Margaret Hassett's Educating Elizabeth in 2015 (here), but had also never glimpsed its cover. F.G.'s copy is a bit the worse for wear, but it's a pleasure to get to see it at all.

And finally, one last cover from an author we're publishing this summer. I never got round to reviewing Come, Draw This Curtain, though I did read it a year or two ago. We're publishing Kamm's earlier Peace, Perfect Peace (reviewed here), and you might just see more of those enthusiastic blurbs about it on the back of this cover. I also recently reviewed Kamm's Nettles to My Head (see here).

And that's all for now, but have no fear: This is only the tip of the iceberg of the wonderful dustjackets F.G. has provided. Next up are lovely jackets for some of the children's fiction I've reviewed here. And as I mentioned, there are more Mabel Esther Allan covers and many more from other authors coming soon. Thanks again to the very generous F.G.!
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