In The Vine Country with Somerville and Ross

I have been to the south of France, for the grape harvest, with two Anglo-Irish Victorian lady writers, and I loved it.

Œnone Somerville and her cousin “Martin Ross” (actually Violet Martin – of Ross House) wrote novels, short stories and travelogues together as “Somerville and Ross”. I remember an adaptation of ‘The Experiences of an Irish R. M.’ being very popular when I was a child, I’ve noted that Virago reissued ‘Through Connemara in a Duchess Cart’, I remember seeing ‘The Real Charlotte in some very good company on a list of forgotten classics, and I know that Lisa rates them very highly.

But that’s about all I know. Except that they share a biographer with Margaret Kennedy, and that has to be another positive thing.

I’ll find out more one day, and I’m sure there’s a great deal of interest to be learned, but for now I just want to enjoy their excellent company.

In the Vine CountryEarly in their writing career the cousins were commissioned by a weekly publication -The Lady’s Pictorial” – to travel to the vineyards of the Médoc,” to write a series of articles about their experiences. Some time later, those articles were collected and published as ‘In the Vine Country.’

There is much to be enjoyed here: accounts of travel by train and by boat; observations of people, places and so many things that the ladies see long the way;  time spent at vineyards, where they saw the harvest and the treading of the grapes; visits to chateaux, where they were most impressed by the great barrels that lay maturing.

Along the way they sketched, and they were very proud of their Kodak wherever they went. The sketches illustrate and illuminate the text; what happened to the photographs I don’t know. Well I know that some were lost when they forgot to remove the lens cap, and only realised when they believed it lost and went to put something else in its place to protect the delicate lens.

There are lots of things like that; the kind of little things you would remember from a holiday. And this is a book that feels rather like hearing about somebody’s holiday. One of the lovely things is that the teller knows exactly how much to tell; enough to keep things interesting but not so much as to lose the attention of a listener without a particular interest in what is being said.

(I have to say ‘the teller’ because there is no indication of who the first person narrator is, or of whether it the pair took turns. Maybe I’ll find out, because I shall definitely be reading more of their work, and more about them.)

That the tale of this adventure was so very well and so very engagingly told speaks volumes for Somerville and Ross’s careful observation and genuine interest. It can’t have been usual for two 19th century ladies to travel to the continent unescorted, but they managed things nicely, smoothing their path with acceptance and understanding, and with good humour laced with a lovely sense of the ironic.

That reminds me to say the the writing style made me think of the Provincial Lady. It was smoother and calmer though; as she might of written had she had all the time in the world to make such a trip herself.

It was a lovely trip, and I hope to be spending more time with my two new friends.

I think maybe it should be ‘Connemara in a Duchess Cart’ next; because I’m delighted that Reading Ireland Month.led to our introduction.

15 responses

  1. Aren’t they such fun? I’m sure you will love Connemara in their excellent company as well. I think the narrative voice is Somerville’s, because she was the artist, but since they worded so closely together it may not matter. Who is the joint biographer? I may need to add some books to my reading list 🙂

    • The biographer is Violet Powell, Lisa. I haven’t read the Kennedy book in full, because there’s a certain amount about books I’ve yet to read, but I have the impression that it’s informed, straightforward and not intrusive. She wrote about E Delafeild and Jane Austen too, so I certainly can’t argue with her taste.

  2. Oh, what a lovely sounding book. I wish I could be riding in that cart with the two ladies on the cover. This is definitely something I’ll look into. Thank you for the introduction!

  3. Wonderful review. Added to my TBR…also Jane a big thank you for introducing us to some great authors whose works would have never reached us unless it was because if you! 🙂

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