“In an attempt to tell the story of any human life there is a balance to be kept, for every one of us, whether that be hero, villain or nonentity, is destined to grow roots and look at stars.”
“Some discover early, and others late, that the purpose of growing roots is not only to confront destiny, it is also to afford balance for looking up toward the sky.”
Isn’t that a lovely way to explain a title, to introduce a volume of biography? And this is a lovely volume of autobiography.
Clara Coltman Rogers, later to become Lady Vyvyan, was born in Cornwall in the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign. She had a happy childhood with her brothers and sisters and the opening chapters are filled with lovely memories, viewed with the wisdom of greater years.
“A child is so near the ground that his horizon is restricted and flowers are his natural associates. I remember once finding the orange pistil in the cup of a deep purple crocus and gazing at it with awe. the double daisies in our own gardens were always greatly admired, they were pink and fat and sturdy, yet they did not, like the purple crocus, make one forget the earth all around and the garden wall and the sky overhead and the governess and lessons and meal times, to become only a little pin-point of awareness registering a tip of gold within a purple flower.”
There are many lovely details. Walks on the moors. Tree climbing. Visits to friends. All of the usual things that Cornish children do.
And a love of books is clear from the start and colours every chapter.
“A love of books came early in that experience of ‘something beautiful’. I was always a reader. By ‘always’ I mean as long as I could remember anything. I do not recall how I discovered that I could find magic between the pages of a book, nor when I realised that, by the help of such magic, I could escape from my own self into somebody else’s mind.”
This book most certainly holds that magic.
Clara clearly loved her roots, in Cornwall and in her family, but she also wanted to reach for her own particular stars. She wanted a purpose in life, and found it first as a social worker in London. Her parents are strongly opposed, but it is easy to understand what drew Clara, and how she found fulfilment in her career.
And she loved travelling, and was always drawn to the open air, the open road and solitary places.
“… a ruling passion that was to lead me far from the ecstasy of sitting alone in some little Cornish field or on some granite boulder that crowned a hill, to wander in distant lands and sometimes even to recapture man’s lost intimacy with dark night and dawn. It led me to sleep out on Irish hills with newspaper for a blanket and the rucksack for a pillow; to camp beside many a brown-peat river among the mountains of Wales; to paddle a canoe down river in the Arctic solitudes of Alaska; to find beauty in the desolate mangrove swamps of Australia; to walk beside the Rhone, day after day, and week after week, from the glacier source to the Mediterranean delta. On all these journeys I was seeking escape from the haunts of men into the sanctuaries of nature.”
The course of Clara’s life was, inevitably changed by the Great War. She was travelling in Germany when war broke out, and had a perilous journey home. And then when a sister and a brother both died she realised that she must leave her work and go home to support her parents. She accepted this with good grace.
She wrote – and soon became a published author.
She travelled. Much of this is passed over briefly – I imagine it is covered in other books – but she writes at length of a stay with her surviving brother on his sheep farm in Australia. Her words convey a love of the country and the people she meets, and paint wonderfully vivid pictures.
And this particular volume closes with her marriage.
I loved so much about this book. Clara writes so beautifully about so many things I love, and the balance of memories and reflection is just perfect.
Indeed, I have fallen in love with Lady Vyvyan. I will be seeking out her Cornish books, her travel writing, her second volume of autobiography …and there’s a novel too … I am happily looking forward to spending more time in her company.