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Archive for the ‘Jane Brocket’ Category

“Still Life with Books and Flowers” by Ethel Sands

I adore November.  It is probably my third favourite month, though I have only ever bothered to rank the top three (in case you’re wondering: 1. February, 2. April, 3. November).  Vancouverites will tell you that November is the most miserable month here, as it rains every single day and the sun never emerges.  This, I think, is what makes it so wonderful.  I get a little grumpy if the sun tries to stick around more than an hour or two a day this time of year.  There is nothing I like more than going out into the woods on a rainy day and walking about for a few hours.  And to be inside afterwards, warm and dry, curled up with a book while you listen to the rain…heaven.  The rest of the city is resentfully going into hibernation but I find myself more energetic than ever.

And I will need energy if I’m going to do what I’m thinking about doing.  I want to learn how to quilt, which would also mean having to learn how to use a sewing machine again.  I reread Jane Brocket’s The Gentle Art of Domesticity a few weeks ago and was so drawn to the bits on quilting that I immediately placed a library hold on Jane’s The Gentle Art of Quilt-making.  I sat down with it Saturday night, planning to flip through it in front of the television but it wasn’t long before I had abandoned my show (a rerun of As Time Goes By – forgive me Judi Dench) and had focused all my attention on the book.  Now, I know next to nothing about quilting so almost everything I read was new to me and it was all enthralling.  In the introduction, Jane talks about “how much I loved quilts and how much I wanted to make one, but…I was convinced it was all rules and regulations and…I thought it would be too difficult.”  A friend convinced her that there was no need to feel intimidated and then that was that.  After a weekend course on the basics of quilting, which you better believe I am already on the lookout for in my area, off she went.

The book focuses on 15 of Jane’s quilts and the inspiration behind their designs.  Because I am a total geek and information-hungry beginner, I found the actual directions even more interesting that the stories.  I went to bed Saturday night dreaming of fabric combinations and quilt patterns.  It was all very obsessive and very wonderful.  On Sunday afternoon, still feeling inspired, I decided to root through one of our chests and pull out some of the old family quilts.

Most of the quilts we have were made by my great-grandmother during the 1930s or my grandmother during the 1950s and 1960s.  Some are falling apart and stained while others are still in perfect condition but all of them use the most amazing patterned fabrics.  These old patterns always make me think of the endpapers in Persephone books.  I found these three particularly striking:

My only other completed reading this week was done on the go – a volume of Maeve Binchy short stories read while travelling around the city by bus.  I could not have had a more appropriate book to keep me company this busy weekend since the London-set Victoria Line, Central Line stories are focused around characters who also travel by public transit.  Victoria Line was originally published in 1978 and Central Line in 1980, making this the earliest of Binchy’s work that I’ve read; until now, I had only tried her novels.  Most of the stories aren’t particularly memorable – though there are a few exceptions, mostly for the stories with more sinister tones – and all seem to revolve around women with unstable but rarely addressed romantic relationships but they were enjoyable to read and made for a pleasant way to pass the time on my travels.

I am still working away at Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther by Elizabeth von Arnim and am falling more and more in love with the heroine with every page.  It is an epistolary novel so I am reading it one letter at a time, savouring the gnädiges Fräulein’s every thought, almost all of which (in the way of von Arnim) are worth remembering.  Being the same age as Fräulein Schmidt, I particularly loved this sentiment:

Dear Mr Anstruther, — It is kind of you to want to contradict what I said in my last letter about the outward appearance of my life, but really you know I am past my first youth.  At twenty-six I cannot pretend to be what is known as a young girl, and I don’t want to.  Not for anything would I be seventeen or eighteen again.  I like to be a woman grown, to have entered into the full possession of whatever faculties I am to have, to know what I want, to look at things in their true proportions.  I don’t know that eighteen has anything that compensates for that.  It is such a rudderless sort of age.  It may be more charming to the beholder, but it is not half so nice to the person herself.

How could I not love a book with such a heroine?

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Between work and a newfound passion for the marvellous Borgen, I have not done a lot of reading the last week or so.  By day I have laboured and by night I have obsessed over two season’s worth of fictional Danish politics.  I know many of my British readers will have seen the show and now I can finally agree with you that yes, it is amazing.  I have always loved shows focused on politics but this is the best I’ve ever seen, by far.  Writing realistic strong female characters can be difficult – it is certainly a discussion that comes up on book blogs often enough – but Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg is the best one I have come across in a long time and all the other characters are equally compelling.  But now I am finished Season Two (thank you, Internet) and have to wait until spring for the next installment.

In addition to work and Danish television, there’s been the usual mix of friends, family and volunteering filling my time and last night I was at the theatre to see She Stoops to Conquer.  I’ve got another theatre date for next week so am doing my bit to support the arts here!

Even though I haven’t been reading in earnest, I have been dipping in and out of The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket again.  I love this book and find it both comforting and inspiring.  It is just so eclectic and positive, full of appreciation for all the little domestic details that can bring one so much pleasure.

I always love rereading her book recommendations, perhaps because she focuses on books I already love, like The Home-Maker and The Diary of a Provincial Lady, or am eagerly anticipating reading, like They Knew Mr Knight.  I also really enjoy the selection of paintings she highlights, especially Summer in Cumberland by James Durden, which Brocket likens to “the domestic novels of Angela Thirkell with their tennis parties, rectories and lovely mothers…”  Well, that clearly explains why I was drawn to it!

I was also amused to come across a photo of bright pink and yellow fondant fancies that are a clear reminder of what those tiny cakes should look like – unlike the sloppy specimens presented on The Great British Bake Off finale earlier this week.  Though how you can get them looking that precise when making them at home (Brocket’s were wisely store-bought), I have no idea.

Right now though, what I am really drawn to are Brocket’s handcrafts – specifically her quilting, knitting and crocheting.  Maybe it is just the sudden onset of autumn that is making me long to take up such cosy, productive activities but I cannot deny the allure.  Technically, I do know how to crochet but it has been years since I made anything and I don’t even know where my hooks are after the last two moves.  I have absolutely no sewing skills but for some reason quilting seems the most attractive activity in the entire book.  My house is full of crocheted blankets (they are in every room and more are stored in every chest of drawers) but there are no quilts anymore.  The ones we have from my grandmother, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers are all too fragile for everyday use.  And I love quilts.  I don’t think I could live with the brightly coloured, dizzyingly patterned beauties that Brocket creates but I admire them nonetheless.  Maybe it is time to take up a new hobby…

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