9 August 2015
Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough
First published in 1942, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay is one of the most delightful accounts of a trip overseas you will ever read. It's also a sigh-inducing peek at the cost of travel in the 1920s. Add in the slide show of charming pen and ink drawings sprinkled throughout the pages and you have a trilogy of reasons to run out and find a copy.
'We had been planning the trip for over a year. Pinching, scraping and going without sodas, we had salvaged from our allowances and the small-time jobs we each had found the preceding vacation the sum of $80.00, which was the cost of a minimum passage on a Canadian Pacific liner of the cabin class.'
Judging by the description of the girls' luggage there doesn't seem to have been a great deal of importance placed on weight allowances. Cornelia and Emily would have been perfectly turned out for every season with their coats, woolies, dresses, shawls, and of course...the obligatory selection of hats which require boxes. Though the girls are horrified by the handmade pouches they're forced to wear by their mothers. Worn under their dresses, these pouches contained vast amounts of cash, a passport, and the very important 'letter of credit'.
Cornelia and Kimberly may have been recent graduates of Bryn Mawr but they were also wide-eyed innocents. Crème de menthe was something you drank a spoonful of after your castor oil and men of thirty were middle-aged. There is also a whiff of snobbery here and there. When the girls finally arrive in London they're less than appreciative of their room in Bloomsbury - a freebie, I might add, from a former Bryn Mawr student studying at the University of London. The landlady is referred to as a 'slavey' and at times when sleep is more important than breakfast they ignore Mrs Higgins efforts, grab the blankets and roll over. Their austere surroundings will be remembered more fondly later on.
Arriving in Paris, there is a hilarious incident (for me, not Cornelia) when an infestation of bedbugs results in a near faint for a pharmacist.
'Miss Orr,'she said. 'we are in terrible trouble.'
'Why, you poor children.' She was still indulgent and kind. 'What's the matter?'
'Well,' - Emily wanted to be explicit, without saying the word - 'it's really Cornelia. She's the one in trouble physically, but I'm in it, too, of course, because we're together.'
'What do you mean?' Miss Orr asked sharply. 'Cornelia's in trouble physically?'
'Well, she was - attacked last night.'
Miss Orr grabbed Emily's arm. 'Where?' she asked hoarsely.
'In bed. We just moved in to the pension yesterday and we didn't know about it.' She meant the bed.
Miss Orr groaned. 'Oh, these French!' She had turned very white.
It wasn't all lambs to the slaughter as Cornelia's parents were enjoying a parallel voyage and European tour. This was the perfect opportunity for the young ladies to pursue exploits to their hearts' content secure in the knowledge that a family member was a mere phone call away.
I spent several afternoons on the patio with this thoroughly charming book and laughed out loud more than a few times. It's being passed on to a twenty-year old who works with me at the library. Megan dreams of visiting London and Paris but her parents refuse to spend their holiday rushing about so they choose lounge chairs in sunny climates. I think Megan is going to love this book, perhaps she'll be inspired to plan her own adventure with a friend.
Thank you, Simon, for blogging about Our Hearts Were Young and Gay and sharing your discovery of Cornelia's entertaining books. I was thrilled to find this book stocked at the library and will be keeping my out for more at second-hand shops.