Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A London Child of the 1870s



A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes (#61) was the book I read yesterday for Persephone Reading Week. Historically insightful, the short novel provides a look at the childhood of Molly Hughes (this being the first in a series of autobiographical works) in Victorian London. Often sympathetic (when published in 1934, sympathy for Victorian times was unpopular) and nostalgic, with frequent comparisons to present 1930s childhood, Hughes' intention was "to show that Victorian children did not have such a dull time as is usually supposed" and in her intent, she succeeded. The events of the novel run from 1870-9, her early memories until her "happy childhood was abruptly ended"; I won't spoil the circumstances in which her childhood ended although beware that it is cited in the Persephone bio of the author.

I was interested in the historical representation of London and the era was well captured; in some respects I was reminded of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, without the intense pathos of that classic novel, as they are set in a similar time period. Molly, however, is the one girl with four older brothers but is integrated into their play and manages to get herself into scrapes just as easily as the March sisters; I was also reminded of Enid Blyton novels, especially when Molly's family spend one summer with their relatives in Cornwall (a startling contrast to the city).

The London Child of the 1870s renders the period and a child's daily life superbly well but I wasn't engaged; my mood yesterday sought something gripping and compelling and regretfully this isn't that type of Persephone novel. I do love though that each Persephone Book has something unique to offer and I enjoyed this for its historical perspective and descriptions of Victorian London, although Victorian London doesn't sound too different from the London on 130 years later.

None but an old Londoner can understand the attraction of the town. After the music of the words 'London only' at Reading, we gave ourselves up to the nil admirari spirit. The size and importance of the terminus might alarm a timid fellow passenger, but were nothing to us. The wet streets (for it invariably seemed to rain on our return), the reflections from the street lamps and the shops, the utter indifference of everybody to us and our concerns-why was it fascinating to a child? I suppose we took on that feeling of superiority to all the world, the idea of finality, that London gives. No sign-posts to other towns are to be seen. Here's London. Here you are. We are almost of the same mind as the old Cornish farm-labourer who could not be made to believe that there was anything beyond London.





10 comments:

verity said...

I'm sorry you weren't gripped, but you're right about the uniqueness of each P book. Hopefully whatever you read today will grip you more. I did really love the book, but perhaps it just depends on timing...

Paperback Reader said...

I think so, Verity; I wanted to love it but my heart wasn't in it.

Darlene said...

I browsed through this one the other day and to me it had the feeling of a Christmas read about it.

Christy, Lil Bit Brit Lit said...

I started to reread this book yesterday and began a posting of photos, I will post it later in the week. My favourite is the middle book of the trilogy.

To love a book also has to do with ones mood, circumstance and where one is, in the day, in the year, in ones life.

Christy

Danielle said...

This is one of my recent purchases--after Darlene mentioned how it seemed like a perfect holiday read I thought I would save it as well!

Paperback Reader said...

Darlene, it would make a lovely Christmas read and there are mentions of Christmas, albeit relatively brief.

Christy, I'm looking forward to your photos!

I wholeheartedly agree about the making of favourites; I just didn't feel it, for whatever reason.

Danielle, it would make for very light and pleasant festive reading.

Nymeth said...

The historical perspective definitely interests me. I'll make sure I'm in the right mood for something a bit slower if I do pick it up.

Paperback Reader said...

Ana, it makes good reading for the historical insight and perfect for a more gentler reading need.

Merenia said...

LOVE that quote at the end of your review. It sums up London so well. I have this book in Penguin version, and yes its one to pick up and put down and read in an unhurried way. Its a memoir, so not an action packed ripping yarn, but very beautiful.

Paperback Reader said...

Merenia, the quote is spot on! It was lovely and such a well-written, engaging memoir that reads like fiction but is historically precise too.