10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

It’s taken me a very long time to get to this second report for my 100 Years of Books project.

That’s partly because I’ve read a couple of big books that were published before 1850 – The Count of Monte Cristo and Vanity Fair – and partly because I ‘ve been going back to authors – Margaret Kennedy, Anthony Trollope, Angela Thirkell – and I want 100 authors for my 100 years so each author only gets one appearance.

And it’s also because I began to have doubts about whether this was the right project. Because I feel differently about the two centuries I’ve brought together. The twentieth century is home and the nineteenth century is somewhere I love to visit, so I thought that maybe I should have two projects, one short term and one long term.

That thinking distracted me for a while, but in the end I decided I would stick to the original plan; to read the books I picked up naturally and to read the books that I didn’t pick up quite as naturally but really appreciated when I did.

I may struggle to fill some of the earlier years but …. I think I have to try.

So, my first report is here, and this is the second:

1866 – Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade

“Charles Reade was once a very popular author; and, though his historical novel ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’ was his most acclaimed work, ‘Griffith Gaunt’ was his personal favourite. You might call it a sensation novel, and it is a sensation novel, but its much more than that. This is a book that grows from a melodrama, into a psychological novel, into a courtroom drama ….”

1878 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“Listening highlighted the quality of the storytelling, the characters, the prose, and the wonderful, wonderful rhythm of the words. That was something I would never have picked up if I’d read from a book. It didn’t take long at all for me to be smitten ….”

1911 – Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole

“Mr Traill is a new master, in his first teaching post. He knows that it is first step on the ladder. He is young, handsome, athletic, charming, and the boys love him. But he is oblivious to the tension in the air, and he is incredulous when one of his colleagues warns him to get out as soon as he can ….”

1923 – None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick

“I found myself listening  to Mary Clarendon, as she spoke about what happened  when she and her husband moved from London to a Cornish cottage they named ‘None-Go-By’, and it’s lovely because her voice is so real, open and honest; and because she catches people and their relationships so beautifully.”

1925 – The Mother’s Recompense by Edith Wharton

“It was not easy to feel sympathy for a woman who had abandoned her daughter, but I did. Because Kate Clephane was a real, complex, human being, and she was as interesting as any woman I have met in the pages of an Edith Wharton novel. “

1932 – Three Fevers by Leo Walmsley

“I learned recently that Leo Walmsley’s father, Ulric, studied art in Newlyn under Stanhope Forbes. and that pointed me to the best way that I could explain why this book is so readable: Leo Walmsley captured his fishing community in words every bit as well as Stanhope Forbes and his contemporaries captured the fishing community in Newlyn.”

1934 – Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

“‘Wild Strawberries’ is the story of one aristocratic English family and one glorious summer in between the wars. And it is set in Angela Thirkell’s Barchestershire, a place where every single person, however high or low their situation, is happy and accepting of their situation and the role they are to play. You need to be able to accept that – and I can understand that some might not be able to – but I can, and if you can too, you will find much to enjoy in this light, bright and sparkling social comedy ….”

1939 – Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish

“When I read the extract from her book I fell in love with her voice; it was the voice of a woman talking openly and honestly to a friend, a woman with lots and lots of great stories to tell. I so wanted to read everything that she had written, but there was not a copy of her book to be had. Until I found that I could borrow a copy from Open Library ….”

 1940 – The English Air by D E Stevenson

“The story played out beautifully, moving between Franz and his English family. It grew naturally from the characters I had come to like and to care about; it caught the times, the early days of the war, perfectly; and though it wasn’t entirely predictable it was entirely right. Even better – maybe because ‘The English Air’ was written and published while was still raging – the ending was uncontrived and natural. And that’s not always the case with D E Stevenson’s novel ….”

 1941 – The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge

“This is a story of the darkest days of World War II, when only England stood against the Nazi forces advancing across Europe, and when the fear of invasion was very, very real. Elizabeth Goudge lived on the south coast of England then, close to the eye of the storm, it was during the war that she wrote this book, and it was clear as I read that she knew and she that understood ….”

And that’s it! It shouldn’t be such a wait for the next report ….


It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:


Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray


Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope


Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick


Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane


Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

A Cottage in Cornwall, named ‘None-Go-By’ ….

…. it was to be home to a couple, both writers, looking for the peace and quiet that was missing on their busy London lives. They didn’t find it, but they found new interests, they made new friends, and it made a lovely story. And this story is very close to a real story: the story of Mr and Mrs Alfred Sedgwick themselves.

I was aware of Mrs Sidgwick but I didn’t know that she had any links with Cornwall until a number of her books, smartly re-bound, appeared among the Cornish fiction in the Morrab library. They all looked promising, and but I had to pick this one up first. I liked the title, and I knew when I read the opening that I had to carry on.

“Two elderly people with moderate means and no incumbrances ought to be able to lead a quiet life. For a long time, Thomas and I had said this to each other, but we had not done it. We have no children of our own, but we have relatives and friends, and somehow or other we get mixed up in their affairs. We do not wish to be because by nature we are curmudgeons, but it happens.”

I found myself listening  to Mary Clarendon, as she spoke about what happened  when she and her husband moved from London to a Cornish cottage they named ‘None-Go-By’, and it’s lovely because her voice is so real, open and honest; and because she catches people and their relationships so beautifully.

I had to smile at gentle marital bickering between Thomas and Mary; for all that each tried to have the last word it was clear that they were two very different people who loved each other and accepted each others little foibles. He was an impractical, absent minded philosopher who from time to time set out on a grand scheme; she was a practical woman who wanted to work steadily to get her house and her garden exactly the way she wanted them. It’s a real marriage, captured absolutely perfectly.

It was lovely watching their ups and downs as they settled into their new home and a new lifestyle.

Place names were changed, but I soon worked out that ‘None-Go-By’ must be in the Lamorna valley.

 “We went for a walk across the wild land at the back of the house and came in time to a stream and a windmill. The catkins were out on the hazels, the gorse was blazing on the moors and in the hedges, the light airs sent you its essence hot and sweet in the sun; there were primroses on the banks and the blackthorn. Yellow hammers flew here and there about the hedges, asking for their little bit of bread and no cheese. The rooks were busy in the taller trees near the stream, and the larks, risen high into the heavens, were singing all the cares of the world away.”

Cecily Sedgwick's home - 'Vellensagia' - in the Lamorna valley

Cecily Sedgwick’s home – ‘Vellensagia’ – in the Lamorna valley


Of  course the locals came to see their new neighbours. There was Mrs Lomax, who fancied herself as the leader of village society; and then there was Mrs Almond, the vicar’s wife who was lovely and had the sunniest of natures.

It was inevitable that young  family members, who had been frequent visitors in London, would invite themselves to stay. There were high jinks with a young nephew who came to convalesce after illness. There was diplomacy when a niece sought sanctuary after her first marital spat. And there was romance in the air when another niece came to stay.

And there was a community of artists in the Lamorna valley; Mary made friends there too.

All of this is handled with a light but sure touch, and there is much to raise a smile.

    • Bob, the fox terrier, eating the kidneys intended for the first supper at None-Go-By, when a lack of table space caused a dish to be placed on the floor.
    • Young nephew Sam discovered by guests stark naked in the kitchen – because he didn’t want to get his clothes wet as he washed the dishes.
    • A basket of ducklings inadvertently let loose in the vicarage; rounding them all up again caused havoc.
    • The drawing of battle lines over the controversial issue of – rhododendrons!

And somehow, along the way, ‘None-Go-By’ became the centre of local society, and the Clarendons were busier than they had ever been.

‘No, we are never dull. There are shipwrecks and floods and stranded whales and suicides, murders, embezzlements, births, deaths, divorces, love affairs, quarrels, weddings, shops, concerts, cinema, bridge parties, gardens, clothes, housekeeping, servant troubles, dances ….’

They loved it, and I loved meeting them.

I’m so glad that the Sidgwicks stayed in Cornwall, that they celebrated their Golden Wedding here, and that there are more books inspired by the years they spent here for me to read.

A Painting, a Passage and a Story …..

This morning we went to see a wonderful, wonderful exhibition at Penlee House. ‘Penzance 400’ celebrates the 400th anniversary of my home town’s royal charter with a fabulous array of paintings, photographs and documents. If you are anywhere in the area between now and 7th June I recommend it warmly and unreservedly.

There was something very special, that I hoped I’d see but didn’t dare hope I that I would. I’ll come back to that ….

First I must tell you about a painting, a painting from the permanent collection that I know and love, that I realised was almost a perfect match for a passage that I copied out from a book I returned to the library later in the day.

The painting is ‘Market Place’ by Stanhope Forbes


The passage is from ‘None-Go-By’ by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick (1923). She renamed the town but it was easy to recognise.

“We had come to Porthlew on market day when farmers and their families from all parts of the compass crown into the town. The whole day long they stand in groups at every corner and on the pavements of the main street, talking to each other. Every hotel yard is crammed with carts and jings; and below that part of the main street know as the terrace the old country buses range themselves until it is time to put the horses in again, and loaded with passengers and packages drive home to the distant villages. There are not as many buses as there used to be. They are gradually being replaced by motors, but there are still a few, in which for sixpence you may travel for two hours traversing five miles in the time and learning surprising details about the internal infirmities of your fellow passengers and the scandalous conduct of their absent friends.

Thomas never goes to Porthlew on market day because he likes to finish his shopping in minutes and then ask me what the devil he is to do with himself for the rest of the afternoon; but I, having lived in London all my life, never get tired of our country town. I like coming and going in full view of the bay, and then getting glimpses of the sea in the side streets as I shop in the main one. I like the crowds and the fruit stalls and the personal relationship with the trades-people. There is no such thing in Porthlew as a hostile minx who calls you Moddam ….”

I’ll come back to the book – which was lovely – in a day or two.

Today I want to back-track to something else that I saw.

We knew that in the 1930s, when he was the head of Penzance Art School, my grandfather prepared a number of illuminated manuscripts for the town council, for presentations and to record significant events. We had tried to find about more, but the council had no records; if the manuscripts still existed they would either be deep in the archive or with the recipients. It felt like a dead end.

It was possible that one would be on display, but I didn’t dare hope.

There was!

At least I think it was – it was unattributed, but the date was right and the style was right.

I told my mother about it this afternoon, and she was delighted. And she remembered the mayor whose term of office it commemorated.

Finding that connection to our own family history was very, very special.

Today has been a very good day.

And just a little while ago, when I was searching for the right painting by Stanhope Forbes, I found another of his works that I didn’t know.

Market Jew Street - Nocturne
‘Market Jew, Nocturne’ shows the scene that Mrs Sidgwick would have seen towards the end of her visit to town; the old country buses ready to depart, below that part of Market Jew Street that we still know as ‘The Terrace’ ….