Margery Sharp Day is Here: Happy Birthday Margery!

A few months ago , when I was looking up something or other to do with a book, I noticed that Margery Sharp, one of my very favourite authors, was born on 25th January 1905.

VQMXoK1lnypYYUI thought that it would be lovely to throw her a party on her ‘110th birthday – that’s today!

Because I know that there are others out there who love her books, because I know there are others don’t know her and who would love her too, and because all but one of her books are out of print and need to be reissued, they really do.

I knew that there were others who knew and loved Margery, and it’s been lovely to find that there were more of us than I realised, and to find that so many others were ready to accept a recommendation and try a new-to-them author.

I’m looking forward to reading lots of posts, and of course I have to tell you about the book I read for the occasion.

* * * * * * *

The story of ‘The Gipsy in the Parlour is quite simple, but the execution makes it something very special indeed.

The year is 1870, it is the height of summer, and on a Devonshire farm the three Sylvester women are anticipating the arrival of another to join their ranks.

“Themselves matched the day. The parlor was hot as a hothouse, not a window was open, all three women were big, strongly-corsetted, amply-petticoated, layered chin to toe in flannel, cambric, and silk at a guinea a yard. Their broad, handsome faces were scarlet, their temples moist. But they stood up to the heat of the parlor as they stood up to the heat of the kitchen or the heat of a harvest-field: as the sun poured in upon them so their own strong good-humour flowed out to meet it—to refract and multiply it, like the prisms of their candlesticks, the brass about their hearth. Nature had so cheerfully designed them that even wash-day left them fair-tempered: before the high festivity of a marriage their spirits rose, expanded, and bloomed to a solar pitch of stately jollification.”

Charlotte had arrived first, the bride of the eldest of four brothers. On her wedding night she unpacked her own sheets and goose-feather pillows and she gave the nuptial chamber a good turn-out before she undertook those other duties of a married woman to her husband’s complete satisfaction. And the next morning she was up at dawn, serving hearty breakfasts.

She was a formidable woman of the very best kind; she cheerfully revolutionised the households, and she did a little match-making, resulting in brothers number two and three bringing home brides with the same physique, the same attitude to life, and the same work ethic.

They worked together wonderfully well – Charlotte, Grace and Rachel – and they raised fine sons and saw them off to distant corners of the British Empire, to establish farms of there own.

And then that the youngest of the four brother brought home a bride.

It was clear from the start that Fanny Davis would not be like the other Sylvester women. They were fair and magnificent; she was dark, small and weak. She had worked in a hat shop!

Charlotte accepted that Fanny Davis would not be working alongside her sisters-in law, that she would be different. Grace and Rachel agreed. The household found a new equilibrium.

The Gipsy in the Parlour

On the eve of her wedding Fanny Davis developed a mysterious malaise. She could recline on the sofa in the parlour, she could receive visitors, but she could do no more than that. The doctor was baffled.

And so Fanny Davis, sly and self-willed, came to rule the household.

The pictures that Margery Sharp paints of the Sylvester household and the cuckoo in the nest are wonderful. Some of the credit must go to her inspired choice of narrator: Charlotte’s eleven year-old niece who spends her winters with her family in London and her summers on the farm tells the story, some years after the events that she describes.

The pictures of the farm that she paints are so vivid, and her youthful perceptions are lovely:

“It wasn’t at that time, particularly uncommon. Ladies lay in declines all up and down the country…No common person ever went into one. Common persons couldn’t afford to. Also, there needed to be a sofa. No sofa, no decline.”

Her narration is effective because she has a little more faith in Fanny Davis that others might, because she can be drawn into her orbit as her ‘little friend’, and because she has her own role to play in the story, in London.

I suspect that there is more than a little of the author in her character, and through her the author tells her story with the idiosyncratic, subversive wit that I have come to love. Nobody else could have told this story quite like this.

I wish I could tell you her name, but it is never given.

Aunt Charlotte cared for the ‘invalid’ but her young niece – quite innocently and inadvertently – effects a ‘cure’. The Sylvester women are delighted – until the full story comes out.

I had a good idea of what was going to happen,  but it was lovely watching the drama unfold. The joy really was in the telling.

I especially loved watching Charlotte take London by storm!

There were flaws in the story – the Sylvester men were horribly underwritten – but the number and the quality of the good things swept any reservations that I had away.

But I so loved the Sylvester women, I was delighted by the telling of the story that played out on the farm in Devon, and the end of that story was exactly right.

* * * * * * *

Now, please do tell me if you’ve read a book for Margery Sharp Day. I’ll post a round up once the day is done.

And please don’t worry if you haven’t – Margery Sharp posts are welcome on any day of the year!

Margery Sharp Day is just a week away!

It’s happening on 25th January – her 110th birthday – and the plan is for as many people as possible to read one of Margery’s books and post about it on her birthday.

You don’t have to have a blog, you can post on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Librarything, Booklikes – wherever you like!

I’d just ask that you tell me about it, so that I can share your post and include you in the round-up that will follow a day or two after the event.

All of the details – a badge, a bibliography, and links to lovely reviews – are here.

I know I’ve said all of this before but I just had to say it again. Because I’d hate anyone to miss it. And, most of all, because I am so thrilled that so many people have gone to so much trouble to find an out of print Margery Sharp novel to read.

margery sharp day

Cat is reading on the computer – which she doesn’t really like – so I do hope she is enjoying The Sun in Scorpio.

Cynthia has awarded The Flowering Thorn a full five stars.

Lise Lillywhite has transported Audrey to Somerset,

Kirsty has read The Innocents, and told me that she found it hard to put down.

I’ve spotted Anbolyn reading Britannia Mews

Karen has hunted and she had found her copy of The Nutmeg Tree.

Ali has started The Foolish Gentlewoman, and she tells me that she likes the style.

And Lory told me that she had two books in mind.

I think – I hope – that there might be others too.

Do let me know!

But I don’t want to put anyone under any pressure.

Posts on the day would be lovely, but I’m delighted to see people reading Margery’s books on any day of the year.

I’ve been struggling to pick a single book to read, but I haven’t spotted anyone else reading The Gipsy in the Parlour, and so I took my copy from the shelf.

And I have just one more thing to say – Margery Sharp Day – is just one week away!

Margery Sharp Day is Coming Soon!

It’s happening on 25th January – her 110th birthday – and the plan is for as many people as possible to read one of Margery’s books and post about it on her birthday. You don’t have to have a blog, you can post on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Librarything, Booklikes – wherever you like! I’d just ask that you tell me about it, so that I can share your post and include you in the round-up that will follow a day or two after the event. All of the details – a badge, a bibliography, and links to lovely reviews – are here.

* * * * * * *

I’m still not sure what I’m going to read for the day, but I think it will be one of these three:

Lise Lillywhite

The Flowering Thorn

The Sun in Scorpio

Or it might be time to read ‘The Innocents’ – which is sublime – for the third time and see if I can finally find the words to explain just how wonderful it is.

In the meantime I’ve re-read Margery’s penultimate novel, ‘The Faithful Servants.’ It was published in 1975, when she was seventy years old and, though it isn’t her best work, it still has much that is wonderful.

* * * * * * *

In Victorian England the family of Joseph Arbuthnot, a roguish elderly gentleman, were waiting for him to leave this life, anticipating a nice legacy. He confounded them with one final act of devilment. He left his entire fortune to create a foundation that would support faithful servants in need of charity.

margery sharp dayThere would be one or two days a year when applicants might apply to the trustees with a letter supporting their claim from their priest or for their employer.

Old Jacob named The Copstock Foundation after his loyal housekeeper, suggesting that maybe she had been rather more to him than that.

The family was confounded but they fell in line, putting forward various members to act as trustees over the years.

The books follows the family history and interesting cases presented to the trustees over the years that followed.

My favourites stories told of:

  • Miss Quartermaine and Miss Xavier, who would live happily together a London flat.
  • The maid who applied to support a lady who claimed to have been a Russian Grand Duchess.
  • Mrs Crankshaw, a cook whose first request was for a glass of port.

A string of character sketches reflect the changing world over the course of nearly a hundred years. They’re very nicely observed and drawn; laced with wit and balanced with a clear-sighted understanding of the harsh realities of life for some. Sometimes the story is cosy, but there are moments that are – quite rightly – a little uncomfortable.

I would have liked to spend a little more time with the different applicants and a little less time with the trustees. Their dealing with the applicants were wonderfully entertaining, and they learned ever so many lessons along the way, but when they were on their own they were just a little bit dull. And I do agree with a review I read that suggested Margery Sharp was at he best when she followed the life of a single character through a novel.

But, that said, these sketches are lovely; there are many wonderful – and surprising – moments; and I was so pleased when Margery pulled a thread from the past to bring the story together, as she had done so cleverly in earlier books. There are things in this book that nobody else could do as well as Margery Sharp, and it is a very fine entertainment.

* * * * * * *

 Now, just one more thing – what are your plans for Margery Sharp day?!

Today is March and Tomorrow will be April ……

….. which means that it’s time I looked forwards and backwards at my reading.

March was a much better reading month than February.

I read four books from my pool for Reading Ireland Month

Broken Harbour by Tana French got me off to an excellent start. Yes it’s a crime novel, but it’s also a state of the nation novel, or quite simply a top flight contemporary novel I was tempted to start on Tana French’s novel for a while, but I settled for savouring the prospect for a while longer because I had lots of other interesting possibilities.

picmonkey-collage-2I had a lovely time In The Vine Country with Somerville & Ross. They were excellent company, they brought the trip to life on the page, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their books, both fiction and non fiction.

Then there was The Wild Geese by Bridget Boland; a historical family story told in letters. It’s out of print and a ‘pick it up if you see a copy’ book, rather that a ‘go out and find a copy’ book.

Maura Laverty is out of print too, but definitely worthy of reissue. Alone We Embark is a lovely, human drama; and a few weeks on from reading it the people and their stories are still swirling in my head, because Maura Laverty has art of making her characters feel like friends and neighbours.

I started ‘The Quest for Fame’ by Charlotte Riddell too, but I found that it was a book best enjoyed slowly, so that one will run on into April.

 I read two very good crime novels. I’ve already written about The Case is Closed by Patricia Wentworth, a lovely period piece for those who like their stories character driven and don’t mind if they work out the solution before the book gets to it. And I will right about ‘Humber Boy B’, a brand new novel by Ruth Dugdall, so for now I’ll just say that I was very  impressed.

I had mixed feelings about my other contemporary reads: I’ll just sat that:

  •  Rise by Karen Campbell was great
  • The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer was readable
  • The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton was  ….forgettable ….

Now let’s talk about classics.

untitledLady Anna was my first non-Palliser Trollope and I loved it, for the drama and the romance of it all. It might not be his greatest work, but it is a very fine entertainment.

I’ m looking forward to reading more Trollope for his bicentenary next month. Ayala’s Angel is the book I have in mind, and I’m planning to take it with me when we cross the border for a week’s holiday in Devon.

 I’m afraid though the I was disappointed in this year’s Dickens – David Copperfield – there were moments when I loved it, but there were moments when I definitely didn’t. I’ll pull my thoughts together soon. I will say that it probably didn’t help that I read this not long after last years Dickens – Bleak House, which I loved – and that I wish I’d read Dickens chronologically, because I spotted one or two characters here that I suspect were re-worked for later books

I started with my new book of the month and I’ll finish with my old book of the month:

 The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp is a gem, and it so deserves to be reissued.  But even of it isn’t there will be another party next January, for Margery’s 111th birthday.

And that was March.

EGButtonNow for April.

I’ve mentioned Trollope, I’m putting a list together for the Classics Club Spin, and I have a book in mind for Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week.

Beyond that I shall, as always, be trying to read the books that call.

Now, please tell me how your March was? And what do you have planned for April?

The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp

Oh, this is lovely.

Margery Sharp’s 1933 novel – her fourth – is light, bright and witty, and it’s thoughtful, emotional and profound too. Not many authors can do all those things, and I don’t think anyone but Margery Sharp could wrap them up in a book as engaging and readable as  ‘The Flowering Thorn.’

‘The Flowering Thorn’ tells the story of Lesley Frewn. She was a Londoner, and you could probably call her a bright young thing. She had private means – not enough to make her fabulously wealthy, but more than enough to give her a very nice lifestyle. She had a lovely flat, her wardrobe was full of the latest fashions; she loved, art, music and theatre and partying with her circle of friends and suitors.

But one day something went wrong.

“The image she sought there–so curiously, eagerly, as though for the first time–was tall, poised and precisely as slender as fashion required. Gown, gloves and single orchid were impeccably chosen, while the dark, smooth shingle, close as a silken scalp, set off a certain neat elegance of head and shoulders. A lady, one would say, of at least sufficient income, enjoying considerable taste, and not more than twenty-eight years old….Without the slightest warning, Lesley Frewen burst into tears.”

A man was to blame: the one suitor Lesley really, really wanted didn’t want her.

Now experience has taught me that one Margery Sharp heroines, a wonderfully diverse group of women, have in common is that they don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves; they get up and carry on.

the-flowering-thorn-margery-sharp-001Lesley was no exception, and she was inclined to be bolshie.

That goes some way to explaining why she offered to adopt an unwanted infant who had been left on her aunt’s hand after the death of a servant, saving him from being sent to an orphanage.

The other part of the explanation was that she thought that the experience would proved her with a fabulous stock of anecdotes.

She had doubts, but she had been taken with the child and she didn’t want to lose face. So she told herself that in four years time he would be going to school and she could resume her old life.

Lesley quickly realised that her income would only stretch so far, and so she decided that she would move her household to a cottage in the country. It takes time for her and her little boy – Pat – to learn to live together. The relationship they form is more much elder sister left in charge and little brother than mother and child, but they make it work.

Margery Sharp handles this beautifully, with understanding but without the faintest hint of sentimentality.

Along the way Lesley learns to be a countrywoman, forming friendships with her neighbours, joining in village life, and eventually realising that she could dine very well on local produce and didn’t need to have meals sent down from Fortnum and Mason.

“All through the summer Lesley’s household consolidated itself. In now included besides Patrick, Mrs Sprigg, and Pincher; a fine ginger cat who was sometimes called Alice; and of its tiny universe – as variously inhabited, for all its size as the island in ‘The Tempest’ – Lesley herself was the natural and undisputed centre. Within it, whatever she said or did was of extreme importance: goddess-like in her meanest activities, she dispensed food, favour, justice and protection. She had scraps for a dog, milk for a cat, bread for a child, a wage for an old woman: she had a roof and a fire and a door to shut or open. She was beginning to be beloved, and she was already essential.”

The journey to that point wasn’t simple: there were ups and downs and lots of lovely details, characters and incidents.

Lesley became great friends with the vicar’s wife; she charmed her elderly, aristocratic landlord; she rose to the occasion magnificently when called upon in a crisis.

And yet the obvious resolution was far from inevitable. There would be visitors from London, and there would always be a part of Lesley that felt the pull of her old life.

She was aware that the country life had changed her, as the good country food had changed her waistline, and she really didn’t know when Patrick went away to take up the school place that Lesley had inveigled her godfather into providing.

It was lovely spending time with these characters and in this world. There were so many times when I smiled, when I felt a tug of emotion, as I read.

There would be a lovely twist before the ending.

And that’s all I’m going to say.

The whole book is lovely, it’s as fine an entertainment today as it must have been in 1933, and I a still hoping that someone somewhere will reissue Margery Sharp’s books ….

A Thank You Letter after Margery’s Party

margery sharp dayI want to say thank you to everyone who played a part in this celebration of the lovely legacy of books that Margery Sharp left to the world

Thank you to everyone who found a book to read – we covered a wonderful range of titles.

The Flowering Thorn (1933)

Cynthia said;

“5 stars!”

The Nutmeg Tree (1937)

Lory said;

“Julia is portrayed with so much sympathy and humor, though, that we embrace her follies as part of her inimitable verve and zest for life. In her outer and inner battles, we root for her and forgive her many lapses, which if we are honest may remind us of our own efforts to “be good.””

Sarah said:

“The blurb on my old copy says this is ‘a rich, amusing and lovable book.’ It’s now the twenty-first century but the copywriter was absolutely correct. Hurray for Julia Packett, hurray for The Nutmeg Tree and Happy Birthday Margery Sharp.

Harlequin House (1939)

Leaves & Pages said:

“This book was written and published just as World War II was looming, and though the tone is frothy enough – one might even go so far as to call it somewhat hectic – there are enough glimpses of the darkness of the times to give one pause here, to consider the situation of those soon to be heading into the terrible days of what we now know was World War II.”

Cluny Brown (1944)

Gabi said:

“Exactly the right book for me to be reading right now, when I need cheering up. Wrtten in 1944, when the war had been dragging on for 5 years, it must have provided comfort, humor and solace to a war weary Britain.”

Lory said;

“Though published in 1944, Cluny Brown is set six years earlier, in an England on the brink of war and of the destruction of many of its ancient ways of life, and the coming change is foreshadowed in Cluny’s subtly disruptive nature. This serious strain anchors the comedy, and gives it a slightly darker touch that keeps it from being too silly and bright.”

Simon T said:

“Cluny Brown is an absolute delight, and establishes Sharp in my mind not simply as a first rate middlebrow novelist but also (which I had forgotten) a wry and witty one.”

Britannia Mews (1946)

Anbolyn said:

“I was constantly surprised by this novel. The characters were very unpredictable and the many unexpected turnings of the plot made this a fresh and exciting reading experience. Sharp’s writing is straight forward and fantastically descriptive and the dialogue is frank and vigorous. I always love multi-generational stories and this one is so satisfying. I turned the last page sad to leave the family behind.”

Sarah said:

This is no comfort read but do take it up because it is so worthwhile. Sharp’s novel is a retelling of a Victorian morality tale told to frighten wayward girls in the schoolroom, told with a feminist sensibility and also a respect for old-fashioned grit and making the best of one’s situation.”

The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948)

Ali Said:

“I am so glad that I chose The Foolish Gentlewoman for Margery Sharp day; I loved every bit of it. It is a novel of great insight, humour and warmth; it is a truly delightful read.”

Mystica said:

“Set in the period after WWII I do so like the pace of this book. Somehow in some strange way it slows you down, gets you to think of how and why people acted the way they did.”

Lise Lillywhite (1951)

Audrey said:

“Part of me wants to share lots of wonderful bits about the characters {you just have to love a book that has a telling scene involving a twinset, don’t you?}, but I’d rather hope that you have a chance to read this for yourself. “

The Gipsy in the Parlour (1954)

I said:

“The pictures that Margery Sharp paints of the Sylvester household and the cuckoo in the nest are wonderful. Some of the credit must go to her inspired choice of narrator: Charlotte’s eleven year-old niece who spends her winters with her family in London and her summers on the farm tells the story, some years after the events that she describes.”

Something Light (1960)

Vicki said:

“It begins most promisingly: “Louisa Mary Datchett was very fond of men. Not all women are…” “

The Sun in Scorpio (1965)

Cat said:

“Margery Sharp writes with the true British humour that I love, capturing the attitudes and eccentricities of her characters with the perception that comes from close observation.”

The Innocents (1972)

Kirsty said:

“Sharp’s use of the first person perspective and its subsequent immediacy is marvellously crafted, and the whole story is rendered more believable and heartwrenching in consequence. “

Kathy said (in a lovely comment):

“I wanted to let you know that I loved The Innocents! When I finished I just wanted to think about what a lovely story it was and then to discuss it with someone. Sadly, I couldn’t think of anyone else I know that could have possibly read it. So now my mission is to set that aright by mentioning it (annoyingly, I’m sure) to every book lover I know.”

Thank you to Karen and Simon, who weren’t able to take part but who spread the word.

I think that’s everyone, but if it isn’t let me know and I’ll put things right.

I know that there were others who would have loved to take part, but who couldn’t find books.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have some reissues …. ?!

Margery in Cornwall!

With Margery Sharp Day in mind I ordered a copy of ‘The Lost Chapel Picnic and Other Stories’ from the Cornish Library Service’s fiction reserve. I knew that I want a copy to keep, but I try to be virtuous and I like the library to know that there are people out there who want to read old books.

The copy that arrived was in lovely condition, and I was delighted to see that it collected short stories written for a wonderfully diverse range of publications – at home and abroad – over a period of thirty years.

That was when I placed an order for a copy of my own to keep. A set of stories publishes together could be read in a library loan period, but a wide ranging collection like this needs to be read, and savoured, one story at a time.

The story that caught my eye was the earliest story in the collection, first published in Harper’s Magazine in 1939. But that wasn’t what caught my eye. It was the name – Seal Tregarthen’s Cousin – Tregarthen is such a Cornish name, and so I had to wonder if Margery had a Cornish connection.

It seemed that she did:

“The island was off the cost of Cornwall, the smallest and most outlying of a small group three hours from the mainland …. on every first of August Mr and Mrs Cattlett set out from their home in Chelsea to make the tedious journey by train, steamer and row boat …. “

That describes the Scilly Isles and the journey to them exactly.

The smallest island is Bryher – after which my dog was named!


That steamer would have sailed from the harbour in my home town; I drive past it every day on my way to work every day.

I wonder if Margery sailed on it, if she broke her long journey in one of the local hotels, if she walked along our promenade …..

I don’t know, but it’s a nice idea. There’s nothing in the story to say that she did or she didn’t, because its a very human story. The setting is significant, but its not a story about the place, its a story about people.

The Cattletts are a particular kind of visitor, a kind that anyone who lives in a tourist town will recognise. They come every year, they love the place, they know everything there is to know about it, and they are always out and about, doing things and seeing things. They can’t understand why the locals, who live in such a wonderful part of the world, aren’t quite as bright and enthusiastic as they are.

They forget that we’re living with all the things that they left at home, and they don’t quite understand that living in a place all year round is rather different from visiting it, however regularly.

Margery reveals all of this beautifully, and pokes fun gently at the visitors who go out hiking and set up their easels to paint, wondering why the locals who don’t do the same, and at the locals who carry on their daily lives, scuttling into their homes when necessary to avoid the visitors. They weren’t rude, they were just a little bit busy.

Seal Tregarthen, the boatman who brought visitors to the island and took them out on fishing trips was the link between locals and visitors, and he was amiable but not overly chatty.

“‘I sometimes wonder,’ said Mrs Cattlett suddenly, whether they really like us.’

‘Of course they do, said George. “They simply aren’t demonstrative. They’re too close to the soil.’

‘I know, George. That’s why I’m so fond of them. but it does seem hard to win their confidence. You go fishing with Seal, for instance, but you never bring back any …. gossip.'”

One year though, quite out of the blue, there was a surprise. Seal Tregarthen’s cousin arrived to help him. The Cattletts couldn’t find out much about him, even when Mrs Cattlett took the initiative and went to ask Mrs Tregarthen for help turning a heel,

When the weekly delivery of newspapers arrived from the mainland the Cattletts saw a story about a fisherman who had fled after a fight, and they put two and two together.

margery sharp dayThey were still talking about it when they got home. They decided that they really  had to do something about it.

But when they returned to the island there was a lovely twist in the tail.

I still don’t know if Margery came to Cornwall, but I do know that she understood the Cornish, she understood holiday visitors, and she understood the dynamic between them.

She spun that into a lovely little story, with a wonderful sense of fun.

A perfect magazine story!

* * * * * * *

Don’t forget Margery Sharp Day – it’s coming very soon!

Preparing a Party for Margery

A little while ago, when I was looking up something or other to do with a book, I noticed that Margery Sharp, one of my very favourite authors, was born on 25th January 1905. I realised that that date next year will be her ‘110th birthday’ and I thought that it would be lovely to throw her a party.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to read a Margery Sharp book between now and then, and to post about it on that day?!

I know that her books for children are much loved, but I want to focus on her writing for grown-ups. Because I know that there are others out there who love her books, because I know there are others don’t know her and who would love her too, and because all but one of her books are out of print and need to be reissued, they really do.

(Don’t be put off by that fact; many of them are gettable, but I’ll come back to that in a while.)

I should explain what makes Margery so special, but I’m not going to, because there is somebody else who loves her who has done that so much better than  I ever could. That’s why I’m going to direct you to The Margery Sharp Blog.  It was – and is – so clearly a labour of love for its creator, who you may know through her writing blog,  Genusrosa.

Finding someone else who loves Margery, and somebody who  celebrates her legacy with such style, is one of the highlights  of my book blogging years

Now I can’t promise that you’ll love Margery, but if you appreciate 20th century women writers you really should try her, because those of us who love her really, really love her.

Now, to practicalities.

We need a badge:

margery sharp dayPlease display it and please spread the word. It’s big here but it does scale down nicely – I’ve checked!

We need a bibliography

Rhododendron Pie (1930)
Fanfare for Tin Trumpets (1932)
The Nymph and The Nobleman (1932)
The Flowering Thorn (1933)
Sophy Cassmajor (1934)
Four Gardens (1935)
The Nutmeg Tree (1937)
Harlequin House (1939)
The Stone of Chastity (1940)
The Tigress On The Hearth (1941)
Cluny Brown (1944)
Britannia Mews (1946)
The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948)
Lise Lillywhite (1951)
The Gipsy in the Parlour (1954)
The Eye of Love (1957)
Something Light (1960)
Martha in Paris (sequel to The Eye of Love) (1962)
Martha, Eric and George (sequel to Martha in Paris) (1964)
The Sun in Scorpio (19650
In Pious Memory (1967)
Rosa (1969)
The Innocents (1972)
The Lost Chapel Picnic and Other Stories (1973)
The Faithful Servants (1975)
Summer Visits (1977)

 The early books were printed in small quantities, and are very nearly impossible to find, but The Nutmeg Tree became a film and then a play and from then on her books were printed in larger quantities.

‘The Eye of Love’ is in print, and I’ve picked up used copies ‘The Stone of Chastity’, ‘Cluny Brown’, ‘Britannia Mews’, ‘Lise Lillywhite’, ‘Something Light’ and ‘Four Gardens’ very cheaply, so there are books out there to be found.

It’s also worth checking your library catalogue, because I’ve found other titles in my library’s reserve stock.

And Open Library has a nice selection of titles that you can borrow for a fortnight to read online or on a compatible device.

I have some reviews to tempt you – here ten different readers on ten different books:

Jackiemania on ‘The Flowering Thorn’
Farm Lane Books Blog on The Nutmeg Tree
Reading 1900-1950 on ‘The Eye of Love’
Biblioathas on ‘Cluny Brown’
Mary’s Library on ‘Summer Visits’
Fleur in her World (me!) on ‘Four Gardens’
Strange at Ecbatan on ‘The Stone of Chastity’
Clothes in Books on ‘Something Light’
Mystery File on ‘The Tigress on the Hearth’
Leaves and Pages on ‘The Sun in Scorpio’ (and many of her other books)

I do hope that you will find a book and be part of Margery’s birthday party.

Do tell me, and please ask is you have any questions at all.


Four Gardens by Margery Sharp

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.

4gardensCaroline 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 ….

The Tigress on the Hearth by Margery Sharp

What an opening!

Hugo, a young Devon lad, the kind of hero who could so easily have stepped from the pages of a Regency novel found himself at the point of a sword. He had been on holiday with his uncle when he, quite inadvertently, breached Albanian etiquette, and it seemed that he would never see Devon again.

But, fortunately, help was at hand. A young woman appeared, disarmed the swordsman, and defused the situation.

Hugo was smitten, and so was she. He vowed to take Kathi home as his bride. His companions counseled him against such a course of action, but young love won the day.

And so action and adventure gave way to a love story, and a new take on Pygmalion.

A wonderful take, that showed understanding of very different cultures, and highlights the similarities and the differences , with all the warmth and wit I have come to expect from Margery Sharp.

Hugo’s parents were a little startled at their son’s choice of bride, but they quickly came to love Kathi. She was a quick learner, and there was much in her that suited them. She had been brought up to respect and care for her elders, to love and support her husband, and to share and respect the ways of others.

Kathi was a little disappointed that she wouldn’t be working the land alongside her husband, but she found much to enjoy in a comfortable life in Devon society.

And she found that the rules of Albanian society and the rules of Devon society were not so very different.

“It must be very hard to be a gentleman,” said Kathi thoughtfully, “there are so many things they may not do. I am glad I am not one.”

Hugo laughed.

“Perhaps you are right, dearest. For ladies, particularly handsome ones. may do anything they please.”

Once more Hugo found trouble. And once again Kathi came to the rescue. Much to his consternation!

Would they find a new understanding? Would they have a happy ending?

Well, what do you think?!

This is a very short novel, but it really is a gem.

A lovely mixture of adventure, romance and social comedy, made quite wonderful by Margery Sharp’s humour and intelligence, and by lovely. lovely storytelling.

The only thing it lacks is an enterprising publisher to bring it back into print …