This 1953 book, beautifully republished by Persephone, is a sort of household book of the year, as a section is devoted to each month. Not that it is a book of out of date household advice, though it does offer recipes and other notes of monthly tasks, it is a sort of observation of the changing seasons. It takes a light view of the most liked and disliked jobs of the month, ranging from the much liked “Reading Forgotten Books During Spring Cleaning” to the disliked “Looking Your Passport in the Face”. There is a quote from the “British Merlin” of 1677 for every month, in which characteristically dated language explores what plants and crops to plant, particular “Physick” concerns, and foods to avoid. A sharp sense of humour pervades every piece, especially the longer observation of an element of life which is written up in full. This is a book of funny incidents, wry comments and lovely realisations. Although written much later, this book reminded me strongly of “The Diary of a Provincial Lady”, with a harassed woman trying to do her best when rationing and other difficulties beset her.
There are several elements in each section, beginning with an illustration specific to the month, featuring activities common to the month such as swimming in June, or going to the theatre in December. Then there is a piece which covers such subjects as “Books for the Family” and the “Dressing – Up Box”, which recommends these as activities for the family, with reference to her own to sons and family involvement. The funniest ones are undoubtedly “How not to Renovate a Lawn” which deals with the family’s efforts to renovate a lawn which is targeted by a dog on a daily basis, involving vast amounts of seed and black cotton, and “Eggs”, which explains the author’s inability to boil eggs owing to frequent distractions and accidents involving eggs. These are honest accounts with potentially added humour, but also reflecting the sort of anecdotes common to many families. Another one recalls the author’s addiction to furniture auctions, which on one occasion leads to the purchase of a large wooden case for an attic workroom, which is nearly impossible to get up the stairs, leading to fears of her husband being trapped on the upper floors of the house when it gets stuck on a bannister. This book does not deal with adventurous humour, rather the sort of amusing story common to everyday life. The recipe for each month includes some unfashionable ingredients such as lard, but do provide a window into the favoured food of the era. Each month also includes a short anthology of relevant pieces of poetry and prose, such as March’s pairing of Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary extract and William’s famous daffodil poem.
This is a lovely book which presents large aspects of a woman’s life in the 1950s. While undoubtedly a period piece, there are elements of life which are still recognisable today even if some of the details have changed . As a piece of vivid social history it is a good read, as a handbook of a year, a charming insight into progress, and a lovely book to own. As someone who enjoys novels from this period, it is a fascinating background read. I am so glad that Persephone has reproduced this book with such care and attention to detail, and that I had the opportunity to read and review it.
I picked this book up to read in March, and did not find it appealing as being so different from how the year was working out. I have read it very quickly and with great enjoyment more recently – finding it frequently funny and always informative. It is an example of a book being right for the time – do you find some books can be best enjoyed at different times?