10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I ditched my 100 Years of Books project when I made a new design for my reading life towards the end of last year.

I didn’t miss it at first, but in time I did, especially when other people – SimonAnnabel – I’m looking at you! – started lovely new projects!

I’ve learned that I need a project, but I also need plenty of space to read other things.

And so I’m picking up the threads again.

 100 different books by 100 different authors – 1850 to 1949!

But I’ve taken away the deadline. It’ll be done when It’s done.

If it can be done.

I’m not going to read books that I don’t want to read just to fill in missing years so I might never finish. But I think I can, if I do a little re-shuffling of books and authors along the way, so that the authors with many books can fit around the authors with not so many.

I’m going to carry on with my 10% reports every 10 books, and because I’ve read a few books from missing years since I ditched the list I’m able to say – here’s my third 10% report!

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1865 – Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

I am so pleased to say that I have finally discovered why so many readers love Anthony Trollope. In fact, if it isn’t wrong to say so after reading just the one book, I am now one of them. I’d picked up one or two books over the years and they hadn’t quite worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them but I didn’t love them, they weren’t the right books; I had to find the right place to start, the right book at the right time at the right time, and this book was that book.

1867 – Cometh Up as a Flower by Rhoda Broughton

The story is simple, but it is made special by the way it is told. Nell’s voice was underpinned by excellent writing, and Rhoda Broughton’s understanding of character and her command of the story stopped this from becoming a sensation novel. It’s a very human story of love, passion, betrayal, loss …

1891 – Mona and True Love’s Reward by Mrs Georgie Sheldon

At first I thought that Mona might be a little too nice, a little too good to be interesting, but she grew into a very fine heroine. She continued to be good, but she was ready to stand up for herself, she learned to be practical and capable, and she coped well with some very tricky situations.

1903 – The Girl Behind the Keys by Tom Gallon

She was hired, she was given an advance on the salary that was far more than she had expected, and she learned that the work would be not very demanding at all. It seemed almost too good to be true. It was, and it didn’t take Miss Thorn very long at all to work out that the Secretarial Supply Syndicate was a front for a gang of criminals; con men who were ready to use any means necessary to extract money from their victims.

1910 – The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

I had to love Laura. Her letter’s home were a riot. I loved that she delighted the invitations to tea that the other girls dreaded, because it gave her a chance to examine new bookshelves, and that made the fear of being called on to recite or perform fade into insignificance. I loved her joy when an older girl look her under her wing; and her outrage when she found that she had a young man.

1920 – The Adventurous Lady by J C Snaith

I was intrigued to see J C Snaith described as a ‘teller of enthralling tales.’ I had never heard of the author, and when I went to look for him I found that he was very obscure, but I found a book titled ‘The Adventurous Lady’ that promised so many things I love – a train, a governess, a country house, a play – and so I had to start reading.

1927 – Red Sky at Morning by Margaret Kennedy

William and Emily Crowne were the loveliest of children. They were attractive, they were imaginative, and they played so happily together, caught up in their own world and oblivious to the world around them. They didn’t see how jealous the Frobisher children, Trevor and Charlotte, were. They didn’t know that their father’s notoriety would follow them into their adult lives.

1928 – Grey Mask by Patricia Wenworth

Something else I particularly liked was the way Patricia Wentworth threaded serious questions – about Margaret’s life as a single woman and the choices that she made, about Margot’s vulnerability and the position she had been left in, and most of all about the consequences of not knowing our own history – through an classic golden age style mystery. The story is bold, but its author clearly understands where subtlety is required.

1935 – 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 ….

1945 – Haxby’s Circus by Katharine Susannah Prichard

I read that Katharine Susannah Prichard travelled with a circus when she was researching this novel, and I think it shows. The pictures she paints of the people and their world are wonderful.

* * * * * * *

The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first two 10% reports are here and here.

I’m well on my way to my next 10% already, but I have lots more years to fill and so recommendations – especially for the earliest years – would be very welcome.


The Story of Twenty One Books

That’s the sum of this month’s book shopping – it was an exceptionally good month.

This may be a long post, but I resolved to record all of my purchases this year.

* * * * * * *

20150328_171336These were ‘library building’ purchases. I have a dozen or so authors whose books I am gradually collecting as and when affordable copies appear.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give back the library’s copy of The Flowering Thorn back until I had a copy to keep – that’s always the way with Margery Sharp – and I spotted a Fontana edition that was if not cheap then at least much less expensive than many. I do like Fontana paperbacks, but I have to say that in this instance the image and the tagline suggest that the artist and the writer haven’t read the books.

And the rather nondescript book that one is resting on is an first edition of ‘Return I Dare Not’ by Margaret Kennedy!

* * * * * * *

The next round of shopping was not at my expense – because I won £50 of books from Harper Collins! At first I was overwhelmed by the choice, but when I saw Vintage on the list of imprints my path became clear.


  • ‘A Long Time Ago’ filled another gap in my Margaret Kennedy collection.
  •  Remembering Darlene’s words of praise, I picked ‘Here Be Dragons’ to add to my Stella Gibbons collection
  •  ‘A Street Haunting and Other Essays’ by Virginia Woolf looked too lovely to resist
  •  Several people recommended ‘The Black Count’ by Tom Reiss after I fell in love with The Count of Monte Cristo’ so I took their advice.
  • And of course I was going to have a copy of Victoria Glendinning’s much lauded biography of Anthony Trollope!

I’d say that was £50 very well invested.

* * * * * * *

Visits to two charity shops I hadn’t been into for a long time paid dividends.


I remember my parents reading Nevil Shute and Howard Spring, I loved the books from their shelves that I read years ago, and so I was delighted to find two titles I didn’t know in lovely editions.

I saw ‘Death of an Avid Reader’ by Frances Brody in the library and though I liked the look of it I didn’t pick it up because I knew that I had copies of earlier books in the same series at home unread. But when I spotted a like new copy I had to bring it home.

I was always going to pounce on a book by Francis Brett Young that I didn’t have on my shelves. I love his writing. I hesitated over this one because it’s a history of England in verse, but in the end I decided that I didn’t pick this one up I might never see another copy and I might live to regret it. When I came home I remembered that I loved the extract I knew, and I knew that I had made the right decision.

* * * * * * *

I picked up two more books when I dropped off several bags of books to another charity shop.

20150328_171629A lovely hardback edition of the collected stories of Jane Gardam that was only published last year for £2 was a wonderful bargain.

I don’t know much about R C Hutchison – and the dust jacket of this book doesn’t give much away – but I picked the book up because it was in condition and it clearly dated from one of my favourite eras. I found some 1950s leaflets from the reprints of society, that somebody must have used as bookmarks inside, adverting authors including Winifred Holtby, Somerset Maugham, Howard Spring and Margery Sharp. I too that as a sign that I should buy the book. When I got home and looked up Hutchinson I found that he had been reissued by Faber Finds and by Bloomsbury Reader, which has to be a good sign.

* * * * *

And then there was the Oxfam Shop.


I can only assume that someone with very similar taste to me had been clearing out, because among lots of books I already own I found:

  • Two more by Jane Gardam
  •  Two British Library Crime Classics I I hadn’t meant to start collecting but now I have four and I think maybe I am.
  • Childhood memoirs by Marcel Pagnol, whose books inspired two of my favourite films – ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon Du Source.’

I looked in again next time I was passing, just in case there were any more. There weren’t, but I found this.

I know the library have copies, but it was such a nice set.

* * * * * * *

Just one more – a brand new hardback that I just had to run out and buy – another  ‘library building’ purchase.


“The winter of 1924: Edith Olivier, alone for the first time at the age of fifty-one, thought her life had come to an end. For Rex Whistler, a nineteen-year-old art student, life was just beginning. Together, they embarked on an intimate and unlikely friendship that would transform their lives. Gradually Edith’s world opened up and she became a writer. Her home, the Daye House, in a wooded corner of the Wilton estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the other brilliant and beautiful younger men of her circle: among them Siegfried Sassoon, Stephen Tennant, William Walton, John Betjeman, the Sitwells and Cecil Beaton – for whom she was ‘all the muses’.

Set against a backdrop of the madcap parties of the 1920s, the sophistication of the 1930s and the drama and austerity of the Second World War and with an extraordinary cast of friends and acquaintances, Anna Thomasson brings to life, for the first time, the fascinating, and curious, friendship of a bluestocking and a bright young thing.“

* * * * * * *

I’ve stayed out of bookshops today, so that is definitely it for March.

It’s been a bit mad – some lovely review copies have landed too – but there won’t be many months like that.

Though we’ll be visiting one or two bookshops when we have a week’s holiday in Devon next month …..

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 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?!

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.