I’m delighted to see that Vintage will be reissuing lots of Margaret Kennedy’s novels, and when those titles are added to the others available as Faber Finds that means that nearly all her novels but one are readily available.
All of novels but one – this one – and I am so sorry that it seems to have slipped through the net.
‘Not in the Calendar’ was Margaret Kennedy’s final novel, published in 1964, and it tells the story of a friendship that lasted a lifetime with all of the subtlety, understanding and grace that I have come to expect from her writing.
Caroline was the tenth of twelye children of the Knyvett family; the family could trace its history back to the Doomsday book, but it had fallen into decline and to send to many sons out into the world, to find good marriages for so many daughter out into the world would not be easy. But the children had been brought up to be proud of their heritage, to be aware of their status, to take their rightful places in the world ….
Wyn was the deaf- mute child of a family who all worked at the big house. she and Caroline played together so happily. They ran, they played with dolls, they examined the things they found. And they found ways to communicate with each other, through pantomime, through gestures through signs. Wyn began to copy Caroline’s lip movements and to make the signs of speech, and she showed a gift for art when Caroline brought her coloured chalks.
It was a lovely friendship, and it gave so much to each girl.
But Caroline’s family saw none of that. They just saw an ungainly child making ugly sounds, and they took steps to separate the pair.
And then life took them in different directions.
Wyn was spotted by the governess to the deaf-mute daughter of a wealthy family, and she was quick to see now bright Wyn was, how much potential she had, how much the two girls might learn together. And learn together they did! They learned sign language, they learned to read lips, and in time they learned to speak.
She wrote to Caroline; Caroline wrote back; their friendship was quickly re-kindled,
She found success as an artist, and an inheritance from her adoptive parent gave her independence.
Meanwhile, Caroline’s elder sisters were marrying well, while she was left behind to look after Lallie, the youngest sister who was an invalid, who needed her.
But, in time, Lallie found her own path in life, and found the strength to take it. And that allowed Caroline to follow her own calling; to build on what she learned as she played in the kitchen garden.
Margaret Kennedy tells the story of a friendship that would last a lifetime beautifully. The perspective changes; Wyn’s governess speaks of her charges, a brother’s visit to Caroline is observed, letters between the Knyvett sisters are opened. Each chapter on its own is effective, but the structure works a little less well than a more traditional narrative.
Because Margaret Kennedy observes everything so very acutely, but she doesn’t push too hard, she leaves space for her readers to think. And I think that this story needed just a little push.
The other thing that didn’t quite work for me was the suggestion – out forward in the title, the introduction, and the text – that Caroline was saintly. She was undoubtedly good, but I saw her as a woman who had come to understand what was truly important in life, who wanted the best for those she loved, and who knew that sometimes it was best to quietly wait and hope.
What I loved though was the give and take in the different relationships; the two little girls in the kitchen garden, the governess and her two little girls, the teacher and her pupils, and, of course, the artist and the teacher who had played together in the kitchen garden when they were so very young.
I loved the eccentric household that grew around Caroline, and watching one of her nieces step into it.
All of the characters, all of their worlds, are so very well drawn. Margaret Kennedy is wonderfully clear-sighted and unsentimental, and that works particularly well with the story and the ideas in this book.
But it was so sad that Caroline’s sisters could never see how much Wyn had achieved, could never appreciate what Caroline was doing or what she was doing it.
Their stories made a nice backdrop, and caught the changes that the twentieth century would bring for families like the Knyvetts.
This Margaret Kennedy’s best work, but it is profound, it is moving, and I know that Caroline, Wyn, their lives and their relationship will remain close to my heart.
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And now I must mention an idea that’s been floating around my mind for a while now:
If I was to host a Mararet Kennedy Reading week, say in the start of October when all of the reissues are with us, would anyone join me?
I’d love to do it, but I’d hate to be here banging the drum on my own ….