Silas Marner – George Eliot

I remember a movie version (VHS) of this book sitting on the shelf in our downstairs cupboard when I was a kid. (I think it had been borrowed from an aunt and took a long time to return. I think it was Ben Kingsley on the front.) It took me a long time to realize that Silas Marner was a name; that is was the name of the main character! I thought it must be an old way of saying something else, something like, “silent mourner.” Just thinking about that now, I realized that I was sort of right.

Silas Marner is a really beautiful story. Shortly after I read Silas Marner for the first time I was at a friend’s house (in England.) Her grandparents were over and they asked me about what I had read lately. I mentioned Silas Marner and her grandfather immediately lit up. He said it was a beautiful book. He has studied it for his A levels and had never forgotten it. He could still tell you all about the book decades later. It stayed with him.

Silas Marner has a gentle, quiet kind of power. It is a simple story but a powerful one. A man turns his back on a world that has treated him cruelly. He cares only for money. He only learns to love again through a child who makes her way into his life; he finds a purpose for his life. Of course, there are many other conflicts involved but primarily it is about a man coming back to life. Silas Marner reminds us of the beauty of human relationships and love.

Now that I think of it, it is very fitting that I am writing this on December 1st. Silas Marner, I think, would be an excellent way to prepare for the holidays!


The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford

I am in the midst of creating a book list and the topic I have chosen is “Girls on the Loose.” This is perhaps not a well known genre but it is one that I particularly enjoy. I was thinking of books I like, that were memorable and engaging reads. My list, to begin with, looked liked this:

  • Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
  • Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate
  • Two Under the Indian Sun
  • The Flame Trees of Thika, The Mottled Lizard, Love Among the Daughters

These books all seem to connect together for me. They are memoirs, they are humourous, they all take place in the early 20th century, they all involve girls that are enjoying the adventures of girlhood. In my head, I called them girls on the loose. They are irrepressible, getting into scraps, enjoying life, and ignoring the boundaries. (Interestingly, all of them involve girls and young women who go on to be authors.) The more I thought about girls on the loose the more books I identified, both fiction and non-fiction, with characters young and old. (Miss Jane Marple you are not fooling anyone! She is most clearly a girl on the loose).

All this is long a way round to an introduction but this is the appeal to me of The Pursuit of Love – the irreverent humour, the sense of nostalgia, irrepressible youth. The satire has bite but it has heart too. Linda is really just a typical girl. She is so silly, so desperately in love with love, but she is still tender and insightful. The people who truly love her love her for a reason. And the family are a riot!

Of course, it’s hard to talk about The Pursuit of Love without mentioning Love in a Cold Climate. It is not a true sequel but a companion piece. There is an excellent miniseries, Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate – the older one, with Judi Dench as Aunt Sadie – that meshes the two together quite wonderfully, because they are concurrent. You really have to read them both to really get a taste for the time and the people, and Mitford. Love in a Cold Climate is a little more biting, a little more glittering. But you can appreciate that Mitford is taking on her whole class in it, not just her family or the times. So here are The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate side by side, if anyone is looking for a true girl on the loose experience.

Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton

Cry, the Beloved Country was published in 1948. I think its a classic.

Cry, the Beloved Country is a novel of South Africa (not to be confused with Cry Freedom). I think it is one of the best portraits of apartheid that there is; it is incredibly real. Interestingly it was published the same year apartheid came into law. The characters feels uncomfortably realistic – blunt, plain, ordinary. Lives are torn apart. It is sad – how could it be otherwise? – but it is not without hope. There is so much compassion for humanity in the writing. I find the  book incredibly evocative and moving. 

I’m not going to go on very long because I’ve realized that it’s been long enough that I don’t remember the story clearly. But I still clearly remember what I felt when I read it.

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him no loved the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, not stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire…. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.” 


Growing Up – Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell is probably not an author a lot of people read much today. She is someone I stumbled across in a thrift shop. The Headmistress was sitting there with a bright pink cover and I just couldn’t leave it there. I loved it from the beginning. Later I came to the realization that this one book belonged to a series of many. Angela published almost a book a year from 1930 to 1960 and most of her books, The Headmistress included, take place in the fictional English county of Barsetshire. Sound familiar? This is the county in which Anthony Trollope set many of his works and Angela has carried it on in her own sort of homage. Her comedy of manners and accounts of the social whirlwind, including the mundane and ordinary, are, I think, delightful.

Growing Up is one of my favourites so far. Set on the home front during WWII – and of course, written at the time – it is both funny and poignant. Beliers Priory, the home of Sir Harry and Lady Waring, has become a convalescent hospital now reside in the servants wing. Between soldiers and house guests and servants, the household bustles. Barsetshire is a respite from the world at large but war cannot always stand at bay – it is a period of growing up.

She truly has a keen eye for how people behave and keen ear for how people speak. You may see yourself in some of these encounters and exchanges.