Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Carried away?


Perhaps just a bit carried away in the past couple of weeks with interlibrary loans, book purchases, and even a very generous loan of an impossibly rare title (thank you Kathy!). On the other hand, you can see that I was paying attention to the "possibly FM" suggestions (among other things)...

Hopefully, you'll be hearing more about many of these soon. Meanwhile, to those in the U.S., have a lovely Thanksgiving! You can guess what I'll be doing in between holiday festivities...

Thursday, November 21, 2019

OLIVE HESELTINE (as JANE DASHWOOD), Three Daughters (1929) & The Month of May (1931)

Okay, it's certainly time to get cracking on writing about some of the considerable number of blog-worthy (or –unworthy) books I've read in the 20 years or so since I last regularly posted reviews. (Okay, maybe not quite 20 years, but it does seem like a long time.)

I don't know a lot about Olive Heseltine. Her first published book was Conversation (1927), which seems to be both a kind of history of the art of conversation and a guide, setting out rules for social interactions and examples from great conversationalists. In the U.S. it's available for perusal or downloading from Hathi Trust. She then published two novels using her pseudonym, the Austen-inspired Jane Dashwood, which seem to have been well-received, then fell silent until a self-published memoir in 1948 called Lost Content and, posthumously, a collection of essays. John Herrington found that she was divorced in 1920, thereafter single though keeping and writing under her married name. In later years, she lived in Abinger Common in Surrey. At any rate, having read these two novels, I can't help wishing she could have written more.

I've had these titles on my TBR list for ages, but only recently got round to them. Three Daughters, as might very well be guessed, traces the lives of three sisters from just verging on adulthood to middle age, each growing into very different lives as a result of their particular personalities and outlooks. We experience in the course of the novel the giddy (and often very funny) joys of youth, the ups and downs of romance, and the realities of marriage and heartbreak.

The girls' interactions are often pure delight:

The three girls boarded a bus that carried a red umbrella over the driver's head and went all the way from Baker Street to Piccadilly for a penny. They sat on the front seats and amused themselves by pointing out the people whom they thought they would resemble when they were middle-aged.

"That's me!" said Miranda, indicating a stout and red-faced woman pushing a perambulator, three children following behind; "a mother of four, and another loved-one at home as like as not."

"That's me!" said Judy, as a hook-nosed, double-chinned dowager sailed by in a barouche; "you bet I've got a title, a tiara and a Place!"

"And that's me!" cried Lydia, looking over the side of the bus where an agitated elderly figure, with her hat on one side, was scuttling across the road; "I expect I shall only have a small comic part—a sort of aunt."

"You're a Cassandra all right!" laughed Miranda; "it's Aunt Minnie!"

The aforesaid Aunt Minnie comes in for this description early in the novel:

Their Aunt Minnie's presence affected the inmates of Conyngham Place with that faint uneasiness which is roused by the humming of a mosquito. With none but benevolent intentions towards the whole human race, she nevertheless contrived to vex and depress every member of the family to whose interests she was unselfishly devoted.

And who could resist the girls' discussion of an early suitor:

"Do you really think him a snob?"

"Well, he's both a snob and an idealist," returned Miranda; "it just depends which way he goes. If it isn't a Duchess, it will be some kind of moral swell—some dreary but splendid person who has done something fearfully heroic—"

"You mean the kind of thing one sees in the papers—'Plucky woman rescues horse from burning stables'—'Girl's heroic plunge into Atlantic to save baby'—"

"Yes; or someone who has devoted her life to curing lepers—something dank but sublime."

I found the relations of the sisters with one another and with their challenging and manipulative mother quite believable, both in happy and unhappy moments. We also see the passage of time in England from the Boer War to the 1920s, and the changing fads and fashions of the times. I have to share this slightly long but rather wonderful description of life in the earlier years of the story:

Lady Pomfret belonged bone and marrow to that great period of England's prosperity which was subsequently so much derided. With the nineteenth century just drawn to its close, the age still clung to the Victorian traditions of decency, refinement and idealism. In tranquillity the lady graced the drawing-room; in security the horse ruled the road. Victorias, landaus and high-swung barouches, with liveried coachmen, and footmen sitting cross-armed on the box beside them, bore their wealthy occupants along the Ladies' Mile; high dog-carts spun along the country lanes; horse-buses ambled through the London streets. The trailing-skirted, tight-waisted ladies of the comfortable classes, who would have been horrified to have been labelled "women," controlled large staffs of low-paid servants; and while a very few advanced parents believed in the Higher Education and sent their daughters to College, the vast majority educated them on lines of feminine accomplishment and kept them at home, there to wait gracefully for the advent of the husband. Self-sacrifice, good manners and ignorance of the facts of life were the attributes most generally approved in young ladies. Over the conscience of the bulk of England Puritanism still retained its iron clutch; in society the presence of the chaperone was considered as indispensable as her offices were, in fact, superfluous. Between the sexes formality reigned; natural friendships between unmarried men and women were rare, impropriety of conduct unthinkable. Only a very small section of the advanced and intellectual attempted to put into practice the theory of the equality of the sexes; the vast majority agreed with Lady Pomfret, who, never having found any difficulty in getting her own way with men, strongly opposed the extension of the suffrage to women.

A friend of Heseltine's, in her Guardian obituary (which doesn't seem to be completely accurate in relation to some of her works), said of her, "There was something elegiac, a homesickness for the nineteenth century," but it's not quite clear from the above passage and from the last passage I'm quoting below, that "homesickness" is quite the word—certainly an interest in the period, and a flair for vividly evoking it, but one doesn't exactly get the sense that she wanted to live in such times.

At times the story in Three Daughters may be just a bit weighed down by the philosophizing of the characters, especially the poignant and well-read Lydia and her difficult loves. ("Suddenly the door opened and William said rapidly: 'Ladyship says will you kindly come into the drawing-room, as there's one or two people there?' 'Blow!' thought Lydia, putting down the Critique of Pure Reason.") But overall I found this novel hard to resist, and we reach some particularly touching moments when we meet, in the final scenes, some of the new generation now at the age the sisters were at the beginning, and see the girls all grown up and changed by life.

Obviously, I enjoyed the book, as I immediately put in an interlibrary loan request for Heseltine's second novel, The Month of May, a slightly more melancholy book, but still quite lovely. The tale of Mary, one of (again) three daughters, though in this case there's also a brother. Mary has been left behind at home while her siblings go off to make their own lives—Eleanor, a clever but somewhat chaotic, new-age-y novelist, Vivien, sensitive and spoiled and damaged by the loss of her first love in World War I, and Charles, a professional now entirely managed by his wife Eileen and becoming rather stuffy and conservative under her influence. Mary's destiny, however, seems to be to stay at home and care for their malingering, self-pitying mother and their kind, failing father, who have come to rely on her presence. (Sure, one might wonder why they're so dependent, since the family also has servants, but of course at this time period one could never have too many menials at one's beck and call!)

Someone at the Minneapolis
Public Library in 1931 had
elegant handwriting!

Part of the explanation for the position Mary occupies, too, is that she has been rather hopelessly in love, against her own best instincts, with a sort of charming ne'er-do-well, whose good friend has likewise developed an unrequited love for Mary. It all seems quite hopeless, and indeed The Month of May is perhaps a bit like F. M Mayor's The Rector's Daughter with a brighter wit and a pluckier sensibility. When I read it, I felt that it was probably a weaker novel overall than Three Daughters, but looking back a few weeks later I wonder if it might not end up being the more haunting one. At any rate, it's sad that Heseltine didn't continue writing—I would have quite liked to see where she got to in later novels.

In closing for now, I'll share one passage from Month which is entertaining. Mary's whiny mother is bemoaning the state of womanhood in the present day, and detailing the proper expectations for a "lady" in her own day:

"Ah yes!" exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, with animation, "would that young women nowadays could have their rules by heart! To begin with"—ticking off each point on her fingers: "A lady must always be bien chaussée, bien gantée, bien coiffée. A lady should take an hour to get up and an hour to go to bed. A lady removes her stay-laces at night and puts them in again next morning. A lady does not perspire. A lady does not blow her nose in public. ('Five minutes before breakfast,' my Aunt Amelia used to say, 'should be enough for any Christian gentlewoman.') A lady keeps her eyes on the ground when she goes out walking. A lady never climbs a style before a gentleman. A lady does not eat cheese. A lady should know how to carve."

Which, despite the woeful state of humanity in late 2019, should at least make us grateful that we're not Victorian ladies!

Friday, November 15, 2019

GILLIAN TINDALL, The Pulse Glass (2019)

I have a whole slew of recent reading I need to catch up on here—something like two dozen books altogether, and some of them quite interesting (though some will have to be mentioned only briefly as my notes haven't always been all they might have been). But before I do that, I can't delay in writing about a wonderful book I just finished, and a brand new one to boot. Me reading a book hot off the presses? Unheard of!

Many of you will recall that Tindall is—as well as one of the foremost history writers in the world today (and, earlier in her career, a successful novelist as well and therefore included in my author list)—also the daughter of Ursula Orange, author of three novels reprinted as Furrowed Middlebrow titles, and the niece of Monica Tindall, author of another FM title. She also surely has the most seductive approach to historical writing I could imagine—such that even if you think you're not really "into" history, you really owe it to yourself to give her work a try. I couldn't put The Pulse Glass down and finished it in two days (it would certainly have been one if not for that dratted dying computer).

I first read and became a fan of Gillian's when she emailed me after I'd written about her mother's books, but as soon as I picked up Three Houses, Many Lives (2012) and, a bit later, Footprints in Paris (2009), I was hooked. Her focus, as she herself described it, is on the study of place and urban history, but that hardly does justice to the scope and elegance of her work. The Pulse Glass, for example, has four epigraphs—one from the periodical History Today, one from a poem by Polish Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska, one from children’s author Philippa Pearce, and one from Proust—which might just begin to suggest the varied sensibility and array of learning Tindall brings to her work.

The book begins on a somber note, as Tindall scatters her brother’s ashes along a disused railway line. This leads to meditations on the perishability of both people and objects, and on the randomness with which some objects manage, often by pure happenstance, to survive their inevitable contemporary irrelevance before taking on new, richer meanings for later generations. It's difficult to find a snippet from the book that can really give a sense of the power of the connections Tindall makes between personal events, objects, and history, but this passage gives a hint of the random survivals which particularly fascinate her and in turn make the book so riveting:

Let enough time pass and any written missive from the world that has vanished becomes precious. How glad a museum would now be to receive a medieval shopping or laundry list! And glad they are when some unexpected windfall comes their way. About a dozen years after the beginning of the present century, someone doing repairs to a wall in Corpus Christi College, Oxford, noticed that a tightly folded paper had at some point been stuffed into a crack between stones, presumably to keep out a draft, and had subsequently been plastered and painted over. When the paper was retrieved and deciphered, it turned out to be a fragment of a musical score by Thomas Tallis, complete with words, from a special service held in St. Paul's for Henry VIII in 1544, two years before his death. It is known that the service was arranged by Catherine Parr, the final wife who survived the much-married kind, and it is thought that the words may be by her. With similar serendipity, two much-folded sheets of paper were found lining the spine of a seventeenth-century book in the printing and publishing archive of Reading University. The sheets had apparently been used to reinforce the binding, and turned out to be from one of the first books printed in England by Caxton's press—a priest's handbook, dating frtom 1476-7. An interesting example of a printed page being, for once, more significant than a handwritten one.

Papers so unvalued that they are reused for bindings are clearly a fruitful source for lost writings, for in 2018 the Vice-Chancellor of Northumbria University, while rummaging in Cambridge University Library, made a similar find. As part of the backing of another manuscript, and divided into several different scraps, he discovered the score of a lost Christmas carol that had been sung in his own district in the early fifteenth century—'Parit virgo filium'. So, after five hundred and fifty years, the mute carol proclaiming a virgin bearing a son was given voice again in Newcastle Cathedral.

From its melancholy opening pages, The Pulse Glass proceeds with interlinking discussions of the blooming and wilting of railway lines, and the surprising afterlife of some disused stations; the enormously unlikely survival of a medieval Latin gospel; the centuries-old letters of several prominent families; rediscovered treasure from the attics of Westminster Abbey, which connect up with the intriguing vicissitudes of a small ivory figure of Christ that sits on Tindall’s bookcase; and the sometimes misguided urban "renewal" of London. That's just to name a few. And her tale touches on such disparate topics as the English Civil War, Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, Rudyard Kipling, and Florence Nightingale, as well as compelling details of Tindall's own family, earlier books, and the house in London in which she's lived for half a century.

And what wonderful connections she is able to make along the way, and what wonderings she inspires!

The book ends, too, on a personal note. The second-to-last chapter sheds charming light on Gillian's aunt, Monica Tindall, author of The Late Mrs Prioleau, one of my favorites of the Furrowed Middlebrow reprints. And in the final chapter, she offers her most thorough and heartbreaking discussion of her mother, Ursula Orange, and of Ursula’s suicide. I read this chapter with tears in my eyes and that little quiver that comes from real life poured elegantly, measuredly into great writing.

On our recent vacation, I largely took a vacation from blog reading as well. One of the utterly non-blog-related books I read was Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk, who was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize just a few days before we set out (I had bought the book at least a couple of weeks before the announcement, so I was in the unusual position of being right on point). I loved Flights, with its unusual and lovely weaving together of disparate stories into what must be called a novel, even if it resembles few novels before it. Tokarczuk also reminded me of another contemporary author I love, W. G. Sebald, whose haunting, melancholy novels are among my favorites.

Reading The Pulse Glass, in turn, brought both Tokarczuk and Sebald to mind. Which is why I can't yet bring myself to put the book on my "have read" shelves and am keeping it right by the side of the bed. A re-read is surely imminent.

It's possibly my favorite book of the year, and (here's a sentence I never thought I'd write) the fact that I'm briefly mentioned in the final chapter has nothing at all to do with it!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Possibly Furrowed Middlebrow: the results

Well, this has taken far longer than it should have as it's been a busy couple of weeks since our return from vacation (among other things, a dying computer has many repercussions, not all of them expected, and adapting to a new one has a few as well). But at long last, here are the results of my first ever Possibly FM query. Thanks so much to those who replied for the lovely suggestions and a lot of food for thought. Obviously, we can't publish everything, even everything that I love and would like to publish, but it's helpful to know what you would like to see.

Here, in no particular order (except that authors suggested more than once are being mentioned first) are the compiled responses, with in most cases at least a brief comment.


There were several mentions of DES, but I have some good/bad news about this. The bad news side is that we were actually hoping to publish more of DES's work in addition to the three we're releasing in January, but unfortunately, between the release of our first set of DES titles early this year and our queries about doing more, the rights to all the remaining titles were apparently granted to Endeavour, who have released a number of her books already. I wish we had had a chance to make our case for doing some of the others—I did particularly have my eye on The English Air and a few other favorites—but alas these things happen. The good news, at least for readers of e-books, is that presumably most or all of DES's remaining titles will be coming along the pipeline before too long.


Several mentions here too, and very interesting to me because I've only ever read Greenery Street. It looks like Another Part of the Wood is already available in e-book in the UK, and a few of his earliest titles are public domain in the US and therefore available for free online, but there are a number of others that look intriguing. Recommendations of favorite titles would be welcome. I have some reading to do!


Love love love her, but many of her books are available electronically, and in the UK there's even a Delphi Classics edition of her more or less complete works, as well as Bloomsbury Reader editions of some of the most famous titles.


Several mentions of Young. Definitely under consideration…


I wrote about her other three "contemporary" novels here. I have a bit of a dilemma about the last, Fair Stood the Wind, because of one passage of disturbing racism (why, Carola, why?!), and it's a bit weaker overall than the other two anyway, but the others are certainly on the "possible" list.


Orange did write six novels in all, and we did only publish three of them. Which I would find completely maddening as a reader. But we chose those three because both I and the author's daughter, author Gillian Tindall, felt they were her best work. I'll have another look at the other three and see if my own feelings have changed at all.


A couple of suggestions for Adam, and she is certainly under consideration.

HELEN ASHTON (especially The Half-Crown House)

I'm not a huge Ashton fan, especially after reading Joanna at Littfold (see here), but I did quite like Half-Crown House


This from a commenter using the marvelous name "raddledoldtart". I confess I had never heard of Baxter, but she looks interesting, and there's a slightly harrowing bio of her here. Two of her memoirs have already been released in e-book (with extraordinarily inappropriate covers), but she appears to have written a few novels as well, so I'll have a look.

GRACE S. RICHMOND, Cherry Square

An American author, but the book's description and original cover are certainly enticing. Food for thought.

E. NESBIT – the other novels for adults

Since Nesbit is public domain in both the UK and US, e-book editions of these abound. That doesn't help those who don't read e-books, but alas it does mean it wouldn't be practical for us to do them.


Many of her novels are already available from Bloomsbury on both sides of the Atlantic. If there are any particular favorites of hers that aren't available, let me know and I'll check them out!

MAGDALEN KING-HALL (as Cleone Knox), Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion in the Year 1764-65

You know, this has been on my TBR for way too long. Time to rectify that.

RACHEL FERGUSON (especially A Child in the Theatre)

I'm embarrassed to say that my grand project of reading all of Ferguson fell apart a while back with only two novels left unread—her first, False Goddesses, and A Child in the Theatre. (I also have a review of Sea Front, her final novel, that deserves to finally be posted!) After an enthusiastic recommendation from a scholar writing her dissertation on Ferguson, however, this must be bumped up the TBR too.

MARGERY SHARP (especially Rhododendron Pie and Four Gardens)

I had removed Sharp from my list after Open Road released a bunch of her novels on e-book. The assumption being that surely they would do the rest down the road. But for whatever reason, they don't seem to have done so. Which makes me wonder…


Maybe I was just being a cranky old fart when I tried to read this, but it really didn't grab me. I know it has some firm advocates though, so I may have another look.

MARCH COST (especially The Bespoken Mile)

After a positive experience with The Hour Awaits, unearthed at a book sale, and a negative experience with its sequel, Invitation from Minerva, I seem to have sworn off March Cost. But I have to say, after looking back at the review of this title here, it does sound tempting.


Not sure. A number of her books were reprinted a few years ago by Macmillan, and although I quite liked Family Roundabout (available from Persephone) and Mattie and the Dearingroydes and Mrs Frensham Describes a Circle (both reprinted by Greyladies), I haven't been equally impressed with the Macmillan titles. So it would be the challenge of separating the wheat from the chaff of the out-of-print titles. Any suggestions?


Love her. Most of her books are readily available now as they are public domain, but it's true that a few later works are not. Of those, Expiation is now happily available from Persephone, and I read and enjoyed Mrs Skeffington ages ago. Perhaps I should take a look at the others.


Definitely planning to have a look at the two other Noble novels I am able to get hold of. Two others—The Wave Breaks (1932) and Down by the Salley Gardens (1935)—seem to be beyond my powers to track down, but if anyone has them and would consider sharing do let me know!

G. B. STERN, Ten Days of Christmas

At the moment, I can't seem to find who suggested this one, but good news for them, this is actually in print from Corazon Books in both the US and the UK, but I'm happy to have the suggestion anyway because it reminds me that a) the book belongs on my war list under postwar, and b) I really need to read it.

PAMELA FRANKAU, Clothes of a King's Son trilogy

Another to bump up my TBR list. I've been intrigued by it ever since Ali reviewed it, so it's time to pull the trigger.


Looks like great fun for the TBR list, but it's readily available in e-book already.

GRAEME & SARAH LORIMER, Men Are Like Street Cars

An American husband and wife writing team. The book sounds like fun and it's an irresistible title.

JANE SHAW, Highland Holiday

Happily, this one's coming soon from Girls Gone By, as are several more hard-to-find Shaws!

SHEILA STUART, Alison's Yacht Adventure

I haven't read any Sheila Stuart, but clearly I should.


Definitely on the consider list.


I read this one a while back, but have to admit I can barely recall it. Time for a review.

SHEILA PIM, the non-mysteries

Hmmmm, this suggestion is certainly calculated to intrigue me. In addition to her four mysteries, reprinted years ago by Rue Morgue, Pim wrote three non-mystery novels that are now vanishingly rare. I have one of them, which I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read. I wonder if I can get hold of the others?

DOROTHEA TOWNSHEND, A Lion, A Mouse and a Motor Car

Described as a "humorous romance/adventure novel" and with a title that manages to evoke both C. S. Lewis and Beverly Cleary, I am hooked. Sadly though, it will need to be added to the Hopeless Wish List as there seems to be no way to get hold of it.

And, last but certainly not least, there's the astonishing list from Grant, who has already given me access to so many wonderful titles from his vast collection. The titles below, from which I removed a few already mentioned above, are mostly deeply buried indeed, and (apart from Tea and Hot Bombs, which is certainly on our consider list if we do a batch of children's/young adult novels in the future) I don't know enough to comment on them, but I am certainly game to sample them.

1943 Ding dong dell by Joan Morgan
1944 The seed was kind by Dorothy Macardle
1940 The gentlewoman by Norah James
1930 Jam today by Marjorie Firminger
1931 Children, be happy! by Rosalind Wade
1943 Long division by Hester Chapman
1941 Blitz kids by Elinor Mordaunt
1938 Half o'clock in Mayfair by Marie Troubetzkoy
1944 Enter - a land girl by Constance M Evans
1944 City without sentinel by Shirley Darbyshire
1943 Home Fires Burning by Barbara Kaye
1941 Spies at Candover by Norah Mylrea
1943 Tea and hot bombs by Lorna Lewis
1943 Birds on the wing by Dorothy Lambert
1951 Death has ten thousand doors by Bridget Chetwynd
1941 Jade earrings by Berta Ruck
1944 Judy Ashbane, police decoy by Constance M Evans
1944 Enduring adventure by Norah C James
1952 Rubies, emeralds and diamonds by Bridget Chetwynd
1931 Gin and bitters by Elinor Mordaunt
1945 Four steps upwards by Constance M Evans (Judy Ashbane redux)

(by male authors)
1940 These, our strangers by Adrian Alington
1943 The squad goes out by Robert Greenwood

If you have any other suggestions not listed here (or if I missed anything already suggested), do let me know. 

I have my reading cut out for me!

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