So I thought I'd share some of my favorite passages. I loved Louisa Ashton, the kind and patient matriarch of the family. She has a special bond with her granddaughter Rachel, who spends a lot of her time at Greenbanks. I think Rachel and her uncle Charles, Louisa's son, are the only people who truly appreciate her. Charles tells her one day, "The only person I find completely satisfying, Mother, is you."
'Me?' asked Louisa, going quite pink.
'Mmmm,' said Charles. 'The French have an expression "Bon comme le pain." When I heard it, I thought of you. You're good, like bread; you're essential, you know, Mother. The world couldn't get on without people like you.'
'Nay, nay,' protested Louisa. 'I'm not half clever enough. Not clever enough for your father, not half clever enough for you children. I've always felt that drawback.'
'It's better to be wise than clever, and that's what you are, darling. But don't look so bothered. I won't praise you any more.'
One day Rachel wants something to dress her dolls, and Louisa opens up the ottoman in her bedroom.
It was long and stiff, with a high rolled end; no one dreamed of accepting its invitation to recline. . . When Louisa opened it, it let out a smell of time, a faded, shut-up smell of prints and silks and flannels that had been there for years. Rachel leaned into it, drumming her toes on the side, entirely unaware that the ottoman contained an almost complete record of her grandmother's life.Rachel asks to hold a little box, which belonged to Louisa in her own childhood. She steps over to
a little water-colour drawing of Louisa as a child in short black boots and royal blue frock, clasping the very box Rachel now held in her hands. It gave Rachel a queer feeling to hold the box and look at it in the picture. She felt the little girl with a round face and curls so fair you could hardly see them on the paper could not possibly be her grandmother, but the box was the very same box still. She looked from the box in her hands to the box in the picture for several minutes. Then she handed it back to her grandmother and leaned into the ottoman once more.I've had that same feeling, looking at a photo of my grandmother as a child in the 1910s. There was no box to connect us across the years, just the family likeness.
Louisa rummages through the layers of her life and her memories, while Rachel watches, unaware of what is passing through her grandmother's mind. Eventually Louisa finds a piece of red bombazine, which satisfies Rachel. This scene reminded me of Louisa May Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl, where Polly and the Shaw children spend an afternoon with Grandmother Shaw, digging through her cabinets of treasures. But Mrs. Shaw tells the children stories about what they discover, and her memories are happy ones. Louisa's aren't, for the most part. And in the end, she puts back "a beautifully stitched night-gown and a night-cap with a frilled edge. These were her death clothes..."
Finally, it's always lovely to meet a fellow reader, even a fictional one:
Rachel had a passion for reading, shared by no member of her family . . . But Rachel, surreptitiously visiting the book-cases where her father had all the best books on show, extracted volume after volume of Shakespeare, Sterne, Fielding, Goldsmith, Dickens, Scott, Jane Austen, bound Cornhills, bound Punches . . . She skimmed over what she did not understand and got what she wanted from the rest . . . She read the classics with avidity, not knowing them to be classics, but she read with equal avidity St. Hilda's, Brenda Shows the Way, The Hockey Heroine and other school tales lent to her by Judy, who always had books of this kind given to her at Christmas. She read, too, the penny novelettes she found in the kitchen at Greenbanks and at Beech Crescent. She made no discrimination between these literatures; she read and enjoyed them all.I finally redeemed a book token from Persephone that I have been hoarding, so I'll soon have a copy of Because of the Lockwoods to add to my Dorothy Whipple collection (all in the lovely grey spines).