“Why isn’t this book in print?”
We used to ask this question about the novels of Angela Thirkell, Rumer Godden, and Dodie Smith. Publishers heard the collective cry of fans and reissued these wonderful writers’ books.
But the following are still among the missing: H. E. Bates’s Love for Lydia, Gladys Taber’s Mrs. Daffodil, Emily Kimbrough’s Forty Plus and Fancy-Free, Alice Thomas Ellis’s Home Life, & Eleanor Cameron’s A Spell Is Cast.
1 H. E. Bates’ Love for Lydia. H. E. Bates wrote gorgeous short stories about rural life in England, but my favorite of his books is Love for Lydia. Set in the 1920s, this beautifully-written novel is the story of a vibrant, sexually rebellious heiress’s effect on four men in a small town. It is narrated by Richardson, a moody, aspiring writer who, at the beginning of the novel, works unhappily on a small-town newspaper. And then he meets Lydia on an assignment. He is supposed to interview her two aristocratic aunts about the death of their brother and the advent of Lydia. Instead, the aunts, after inquiring about his family and deducing his class, coax him to take Lydia skating. And the book takes off from there! Lydia becomes a small-town femme fatale, but she is so full of life we don’t blame her. This book was also adapted for a splendid TV series.
There are many fans of Gladys Taber’s Stillmeadow books: charming, lyrical collections of her “Butternut Wisdom” columns for Ladies’ Home Journal, articles, and essays about living in a beautiful, but run-down, farmhouse in Connecticut. She and her husband bought Stillmeadow with another couple, because Taber and her ex-college roommate, Jill, desperately wanted a country getaway. After their husbands died, they moved to Stillmeadow permanently.
But the book I’d dearly love to see back in print is her autobiographical novel, Mrs. Daffodil. The kind, witty heroine, Mrs. Daffodil, is almost Taber’s twin: she lives in the country with her widowed friend, Kay, and they raise children, dogs, cats, a pheasant, and a baby blue jay. Mrs. Daffodil, a writer, happily churns out a syndicated column called “Butternut Wisdom” and romantic short stories about young love, because readers are not interested in what she knows about,i.e., middle-aged widows. Mrs. Daffodil has a weight problem because she loves to try out magazine recipes that call for a pint of sour cream. When we first meet her she is having trouble zipping up a dress, and about to go on a diet.
Just like life!
3 Emily Kimbrough’s Forty Plus and Fancy-Free.
Emily Kimbrough is best known for Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, a hilarious travel memoir co-written with actress Cornelia Otis Skinner. But Kimbrough also had a solo writing career. In Forty Plus and Fancy-Free, Kimbrough, a fashion editor for The Ladies’ Home Journal , is trying to decide whether to travel to Italy with her friend, Sophy. Her employer agrees to give her a vacation if she covers the Coronation in England. I laughed hysterically over their Italian lessons at the Berlitz school, because who hasn’t had linguistic goof-ups? When a young man follows Sophy through the streets in Italy, she cows him by telling him she is a grandmother. And there are breathtaking descriptions of views and art, though usually with humorous comments.
4 Home Life, Home Life Two, & Home Life Three by Alice Thomas Ellis. Ellis, a novelist, mother, editor,and a conservative Catholic, wrote these brilliant domestic columns originally for the Spectator. Home Life is vaguely like E. M. Delafield’s Provincial Lady, only urban, circa the 1980s. A white Persian cat is in the sink, so Ellis has difficulty brushing her teeth; a man mistakes her for a prostitute when she is in a bar with Beryl Bainbridge; she gets snowed in the country; and the pipes burst and inundate a set of Thackeray.
5 Eleanor Cameron’s A Spell Is Cast is my favorite children’s book, though it is really an “all-ages” book. It is the story of Cory Winterslow’s stay with her grandmother and Uncle Dirk in California. Her adoptive mother, Stephanie Van Heusen, an actress, tours constantly and has left Cory with a series of hired helps. But during this tour, she has sent Cory to California, and Cory has looked forward to being part of a family. She is intensely disappointed when Uncle Dirk, who has written charming letters, doesn’t show up at the airport. There are many family secrets: she learns that Stephanie has never legally adopted her. There is a Dali-esque dream sequence when Cory has a fever–have I ever read a dream sequence in another children’s book?–andshe finds herself in a music room where there is a chess set with carved unicorns instead of horses. It turns out that this room is real. It is atmospheric moments like this that made this novel such an intense experience when I was young.