Caroline – the heroine of ‘Four Gardens’ – would be of the same generation as my grandmother. My mother’s mother that is; my father’s mother was a good deal younger.
They were born when Queen Victoria was on the throne, near the end of her reign but not so near the end that they didn’t remember her. Their values were formed by that age, and by the Edwardian era that followed, and after that they lived through Great War and the repercussions that reverberated through the twenties, the thirties ….
‘Four Gardens’ was published in the thirties, and I do hope that my grandmother read it. I loved it, and I am quite sure that she would have loved it too.
Caroline grew up in a country town, the daughter of the town grocer, and the daughter of a widowed mother. She grew up in a world where the social order was clear, and it worked well.
‘People on the Common ‘inhabited large detached houses, employed whole-time gardeners, and drove carriage and pair. People in the Town lived in streets, rows, and crescents, had the gardener half a day a week, and transported themselves on foot, in ‘buses, and occasionally on bicycles.’
Caroline and her mother lived quietly and happily in the town, and so Caroline grew up to be quiet, thoughtful and accepting. Sometimes she wondered what life might hold for her, but she didn’t go out and look for it, she just waited quietly for it to happen.
But Caroline did look for gardens. She gazed, rapt, into gardens when she and her mother went out for walks. Most of all she loved the wild, neglected garden of an abandoned manor house. In her seventeenth year she found a way into that garden, and she came to think of it as hers. She met a young man, who thought it was his, and that was her first brush with romance.
Caroline hoped that it would be her happy-ever-after, but it wasn’t. He was from the common and she was from the town.
“You shouldn’t hate anyone, Carrie.”
“Except the wicked,” said Caroline promptly.
“But we don’t know any wicked, dear,” said Mrs. Chase
She mourned for a while, but she accepted that her dream would not come true.
Caroline makes a sensible marriage, to a man who, though he was not the love of the life, was a good man. She was content with her role, as a dutiful wife, a loving mother, and a thoughtful daughter. It was a nice, quiet, sensible life, and when adversity came down the values she had been raised with and her love for her family her gave her the strength she needed to prevail.
And her second garden, a very small garden where she grew vegetables, is where she finds solace.
Time brings changes, and her husband’s success gives Caroline a new home; a big grand house on the common. It doesn’t change her, but it does change her life. She learns to manage her household, and she finds that Lady Tregarthan, who she feared would be too grand for the likes of her, was a kindred spirit.
“I see you’ve been cleaning silver,” said Lady Tregarthan loudly. “If I’d known I’d have come earlier and lent a hand.”
“Well!” said Caroline, quite struck. “Do you like it too?”
“Love it,” said Lady Tregarthan. “When I was a small child I used to be allowed, as a Saturday treat, to clean the tops of my mother’s scent bottle. That is how we were brought up.”
They become the best of friends.
Caroline loves the grounds and the gardens of her new home; but she regrets that the presence of a gardener means that it can never be truly hers.
When her children grow, when her husband dies she needs to find strength again; to set them on the right path, and to meet another change of circumstances.
Caroline’s fourth home – and her fourth garden – give her the most happiness. Because she knows that she has played her part – as daughter, wife and mother – and because she found them, she made them, herself.
They where what her first garden had been, in her dreams.
I have to believe that Margery Sharp loved people; that sometimes they saddened her, sometimes they amused her; that maybe, like me, that there were so many people in the world and that they all had their own life stories that might be told.
She clearly loved and Caroline; she blessed her with a lovely inner voice and she gave her story exactly the right tone.
There’s gentle wit, wry humour and acute observation in this story of a life well lived.
I wish I could find more words, but sometimes a book is simply so right that the words won’t come.
Caroline’s story ends in the thirties, but I could so easily believe that she was one of the elegant elderly ladies I remember my mother speaking with after church on Sundays when I was a very small girl. They would have been friends of my grandmother.
Now I’m wondering what their stories might have been ….