The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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June 3, 2018

Persephone no. 125: Guard Your Daughters

      We went back to the see-saw, and Cressida sat on it, and I faced her on the swing. 'When you read a new novel,' I said, 'and it describes a garden, what garden do you see?'
      'This one, of course. Don't you?'
      'Yes always, though it sometimes takes a bit of doing to fit in lakes and mazes and things. And a drawing-room? Do you always see the Room?'
      'Yes, of course I do. And if there's a hall mentioned — even if it's a big room with antlers and things, and a fireplace — I somehow manage to enlarge our hall for it. I mean the room might look quite different but I'd still know the kitchen would be in that direction and the dining-room there, and the stairs would still go up from the far end.'
     I laughed. 'Yes, and unless you remember to make special arrangements all the food has to go through the hall, with plenty of time to get cool on the way. Do you suppose we shall always see it like this? What about Pandora? Does she she her little house now, do you suppose?'
      'Perhaps she does; how queer!  It would do quite well for a lot of cosy magazine stories, but not for these long chronicles about a noble family who live for generations in the same house.'
      'We must ask her,' I said. 'Cressida, we'd better go and arrange these, hadn't we?'
      'I don't believe,' said Cressida, standing up and gathering the pussy-willow to her bosom, 'that I shall ever feel like this about any other house and garden. I do love it, Morgan.'
      'She looked rather tragic about it, and I laughed and said:  'Of course! We all do. But it's all right, stupid, no one's going to take you away from it unless you want to go.'
      Cressida sighed deeply. 'That's true,' she said.

The daughters are the five Harvey sisters:  Pandora, Thisbe, Morgan, Cressida and Teresa {'Mother chose them all except Teresa, and by then she'd got tired, so Father had a go.'}  Four of them live with their parents in a large country house;  Pandora, the eldest, lives in London and is married to kind, ordinary James, but only because she met him, the nephew of a neighbor, when she was teaching Sunday school, something her sisters can't expect will happen to them. The ones who guard them are their beautiful, emotional, worn mother, and their father, a noted writer of mystery novels who protects his delicate wife from any upsets.  What this means is that the girls have been taught, ineffectively, at home; they don't go to London or to parties, or have friends in to tea, and although they squabble as sisters do, they all come together, willingly, to take care of their parents and each other. Thisbe writes poetry, Morgan practice the piano, Cressida grows vegetables and cooks, and they all go out into the muddy garden to play French cricket, in an attempt to give Teresa some semblance of going to school.

In the scintillating plot :), a handsome young man's car breaks down and he asks to use the phone ...
I found Cressida in the kitchen, piling cups on to a big tray, so apparently it wasn't my turn today. 'I'll help you, Cress,' I said, grabbing the bread knife , and noticing with approval that the kettle was singing already. 'We've got a young man to tea.'
      Cressida's sea-green eyes bulged. 'A what?'
      'Not a Loch Ness monster, pet. Quite an ordinary young man.' I switched on the grill and went on cutting bread.
A hundred pages later, Thisbe and Morgan are finally allowed to go to a cocktail party, where Thisbe is mortified to find that she is wearing the same dress as the dowdy, matronly lady of the manor {who comes back, later, for one of the book's best scenes}.

So, for the most part, we're just allowed to spend time with these delightful, well-drawn characters. There are changes, and a reckoning, but what happens fits in so perfectly with what we have come to know about them that I would much rather let you come to the ending yourselves.

This book was funny, and lovely, and wise, and I'm sure it will always rank among my favorite Persephones (as will its endpaper...).

Guard Your Daughters, by Diana Tutton
Persephone Books  (originally published in 1953)
Borrowed from the college library


heavenali said...

It is a wonderful book, I'm glad you loved it too. I know it's one I'll read again.

JoAnn said...

Another Persephone for my list!

Cosy Books said...

You've convinced me, Audrey!

Thank you for visiting!

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