The Lark by E. Nesbit
Apologies for my recent silence. We had to return to the Northern home lands for various reasons, but we managed to fit in a visit to Barter Books. This wondrous shop was holding onto a copy of a Winifred Peck book that I had found on their catalogue, and I found another one on the open shelves. As both of these books are out of print I was really pleased. The gentleman who passed the latter down from a high shelf was amused by me clutching the book to me when he offered to return it…Before you ask, we did take some books to barter, and I am pleased to say that I emerged from the ex- railway station with a large bag of books which I had not paid money for, and leaving some credit behind. Oxfam in Hexham got the rejects, but as I bought a pile of books from them they benefited twice over.
Today’s book is a jolly read.
My review copy of this (Thank you, Dean Street Press!) is in the brilliant new reprint series, Furrowed Middlebrow, and again it is an enjoyable read that mysteriously slipped out of print. I loved reading this slice of early twentieth century life, describing the lives of two cousins, Jane and Lucilla who are thrown onto their own resources after a fairly inadequate preparation for life. If you want some escapism from everyday life, this tale of romance, flowers and making the best of a trying situation maybe for you.
On the face of it, the difficulties to be faced by two young women left alone in the world in 1919 may be daunting. This book, however, is more in the style of an adult fairy tale, in which they ultimately make a life for themselves, despite as well as because of the men that they encounter. The opening of the book is a strange story of teenage girls testing the romance of folk lore to try to foresee who one of them will love. It comes to pass that a series of much more mundane events lead to a sighting, and the rest of the novel is shaped by this unusual experience to a certain extent. Both girls have been left orphans, and have grown up in a girls’ school with gifts from a mysterious guardian who has provided for them until one day, when they are instructed to depart for a small cottage with a small cash sum. The cottage is well set up, there is a good servant in residence, and they choose not to be downhearted. Indeed, Jane declares that this situation is going to be one of opportunity, a “Lark” in fact. Some readers may think that it sounds anything but, given the situation of unmarried women in the wake of the First World War, when even experienced, qualified men found employment and indeed hope hard to come by, but this is essentially a tale of optimism rewarded.
Being a fan of womens’ writing of the interwar period the style of this novel is unusual in that it is cheerful and optimistic, even though there is no family and no real plan of survival. So much of this novel is dependent on coincidence and fortuitous happenings that real life can seem a little far away, as the girls accidentally come upon people who are able and willing to help them with flowers to sell and a premises to work from, although the paint removal disaster is more realistic. This novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief in places, but the flowing style of writing means that there are few or no jarring notes. Indeed, I enjoyed gently following their progress, even if the repetition of unreliable people is a little frustrating.
This is a book to be read for sheer enjoyment and escapism. It is not a powerful book, but there are elements of realism and understanding that would bring acknowledgements from many readers. If you are in need of an easy read, with no death and despair, this is a fine book which I would recommend.