Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Time travelling

Revisiting the books one loved as a child can be a mistake.

One book I had from the library often was A Child's Day Through the Ages by Dorothy Margaret Stuart, first published in 1941. As the title indicates, each chapter describes a typical day in the life of a child from a different period of history, from the Bronze Age to Edwardian England.

Some years ago I found a second hand copy of the book. On reading it again, I couldn't see why I had liked it so much. The characters were flat. There was little plot or conflict or drama. Both the text and the illustrations seemed designed to educate rather than entertain.
"The merchant, still wearing the high crowned beaver hat without which he was seldom seen during his waking hours, said a rather long grace and seated himself at one end of the square table, with his wife opposite him, and his son between them. On either side of the fireplace stood a broad and high arm-chair finely carved ut of glossy brown oak, but at table the family sat on wooden stools. A linen cloth was spread, and on it were pewter cups and plates, and spoons of a kind of brass-ware called 'latten'. There were knives with wooden handles, but forks with wooden handles had not yet appeared in the homes of the merchant class." 
There are copies of the book available on Amazon for anyone who would like to read it, but for me the magic is gone.

Another book I loved was The House of Arden by E. Nesbit, forst published in 1908. It's not one of her best books, nor her best known. It's a time travel story, and even as a child I could see flaws in the way the time travel worked. But I like time travel stories and Elfrida was one of my favourite fictional characters.

The story was first published as a magazine serial, and that's evident on reading it now. But the characters are alive. There's adventure and danger as well as every day life. E. Nesbit's descriptive passages are scene setting rather than educational.

"They found the George half-way up Arden village, a stately, great house  shaped like a E, with many windows and a great porch with a balcony over it. They gave their letter to a lady in a round cap who sat sewing in a pleasant room, where there were many bottles and kegs, and rows of bright pewter ale-pots, and little fat mugs to measure other things with, and pewter plates on a brown dresser. There were greyhounds, too, all sprawling, legs and shoulders and tails entangled together like a bunch of dead eels, before the widest hearth the children had ever seen. They hurried away the moment they had given the letter. A coach, top-heavy with luggage, had drawn up in front of the porch, and as they went out they saw the ostlers leading away the six smoking horses."
This one I come back to often.


  1. Oh my goodness, how many decades is it since I thought of A Child's Day through the Ages? I can see my copy now - a red hardback, with no cover though I daresay it had one at the start of its journey through my hands. I read it over and over again and am sad to hear that it doesn't carry well into one's adult years. A bit like Kings and Things and Our Island Story by H.E.Marshall. (I've just discovered she's a woman - all my life I have thought those books were written by a man).

    Perhaps one shouldn't revisit the best-loved books if there has been a long, long gap? One of my all-time favourites as a child was Castle Rhanby by Meta Shaw - do you know it? I even went to the lengths of leaving it on the floor for our cocker spaniel puppy to chew one corner off so that my father would have to pay the library for it and I could keep it. (I have no idea why I didn't just ask for one of my own, there is no way he would have refused).

    One can still get copies of it but I dare not....

  2. Hi, good to see you here. Since two of us remember A Child's Day so vividly after all these years, there must have been something about it that made an impression at the time. And in fairness to the author, it wasn't intended for adults. 'Britain's Story Told in Pictures' was a book I inherited from an older cousin and remember well. I see there are copies on Amazon and e-bay. I don't think I ever came across Meta Shaw.