As it is the Rosamond Lehmann reading week, and as I have loved reading her work so much in the past (I’ve yet to read everything she wrote) I decided to take a short break in my month of re-reading when I found this in Waterstones just waiting for me. I popped in (never usually going to full price book shops) just to see if they had a copy of one of the Rosamond Lehmann books I hadn’t read – they had, this one – I decided it was meant to be.
This short collection of stories Rosamond Lehmann wrote during the Second World War. They concern primarily the minutiae of everyday rural life. These stories do seem to offer the reader a different view of the world than Rosamond Lehmann’s novels which are more concerned with romantic love and the women who are hurt or betrayed by it. The war looms large particularly in the last of these stories, the families are socially speaking like those of the novels I have read – yet their worlds have been shrunk by the war. A lost trunk could prove disastrous- there is no chance of just replacing everything during such times.
The title story – and “The red-haired Miss Daintreys” are narrated by Rebecca, the memorable narrator of Rosamond Lehmann’s brilliant complex novel “The Ballad and the source” which I read about a year ago. In “The Gipsy’s Baby” Rebecca and her sisters strike up a fragile, unlikely friendship with the Wyatt children, who live in a tiny cottage at the end of the lane. The social gulf however is just too hard to bridge and when the gypsies arrive the scene is set for tragedy.
“In October, the gipsies came back. They came twice a year, in spring and autumn, streaming through the village in ragged procession, with two yellow and red caravans; men in cloth caps, with handkerchiefs knotted round their throats, women in black with cross over shawls and voluminous skirts, some scarecrow children, and several thin-ribbed dogs of the whippet race running on leads tied, much to Jess’s disquiet, under the shafts of the caravans.”
In “The red-headed Miss Daintreys” Rebecca and her family meet the four Daintrey daughters and their parents while on holiday on the Isle of Wight. The relationship with the family continues for some years – seeing the eldest Miss Daintrey the subject of an unlikely romance.
The next three stories: “When the waters came”, “A dream of winter” and “Wonderful holidays “are each about Mrs Ritchie and her children Jane and John. A bee man arrives during winter to take the swarm living in the walls of the house; there are village amateur dramatics during school holidays, while a WW1 veteran misses his absent wife.
“I wrote to her yesterday and told her she better come back. I don’t like the idea of her being up in town. Those last raids were child’s play to what’s coming, so I hear. They might start any moment. I can’t have her exposing herself to them. Besides’ his voice went up his nose, weak with self-pity – ‘I can’t see to everything myself day in day out like this. There’s all the potatoes to go in. It means too much stooping for me”
I loved these wonderful stories – they are quite different to the novels of Rosamond Lehmann that I have read – but they are beautifully written, the characterisation just as well developed. The world of adults seen mainly through the eyes of children during those war years is brilliantly portrayed.