4 February 2018

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Were there a Book Six in the Cazalet Chronicles, I would happily take it up today.  But, sadly there is not, so I have decided to completely switch gears with The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani as something of a 'palate cleanser' from 1950s England.  Although, being immersed in that world has been a welcome diversion from our frigid weather.  Cosy reading sessions filled with the Cazalets navigating their way through domestic situations, dressing for nights out, and incredible passages about food have whiled away many indoor hours while we're surrounded by snow.

The last book of this series closes at the end of 1958.  Entering into a new phase of technology and etiquette, it's a world the Brig and the Duchy would have been hesitant to enter into to.  As for the beloved governess Miss Milliment, she has ventured from teaching lessons and inspiring her female pupils towards the benefits of feminism, to requiring the benevolence of one of her former charges.  It was sad to see her will diminish with age but she remained as dear a character as ever, making me laugh when it was reported she thought 'magazines (excepting the Royal Geographic Society's) were generally for people who found reading difficult.'

Read with the perception of a modern age that frowns upon the indulgence of carbs, my eyes widened at the insistence of eating bread....before more bread.  Perhaps portions were smaller, and less sugar was used in recipes, but I never fail to be surprised by the amount of bread and cake consumed in books from this era.  Or is it simply a case of cake being used as a plot device for bringing characters together?  Whatever it may be, I lap up every word of it.

The Lestranges had arrived in time for a late tea in the kitchen, presided over by Nan - a piece of bread and butter before they could go on to jam sandwiches and cake.

There are other edibles with somewhat reduced appeal, such as kidneys, and another dish I'm not likely to forget....thinly sliced cabbage fried with butter and a bit of Marmite.

Whereas the first book featured women giving up their jobs and careers upon marriage, this new generation of Cazalet women strive to retain their independence while in a relationship.  The pursuit of an extra income becomes necessary when the the family's lumber business shows signs of financial weakening.  The realization that belts will have to be tightened translates into a slight change of lifestyle for some, while others have a world of reckoning before them.  And may I say that Elizabeth Jane Howard created a wonderfully vile, spoiled brat of a character in Diana, who offers the suggestion of cutting back the cleaner to once a week for a whopping savings of £2.  Reducing her three vacations a year, family and friends included, is not up for discussion - or so she thinks.  In the end, Edward has made his bed and must lie in it.

One interesting observation to be made is how often the colour green is mentioned.  I began to notice this by the third book...green curtains, green camisoles and knickers, emerald jewellery, green fabric and green dresses.  I plan to read Artemis Cooper's biography A Dangerous Innocence at some point this year so perhaps there will be something of a clue regarding Howard's fondness for the colour green.

Now that I've finished this series and dug around a little bit, there seems to be a divide on whether this last book was necessary.  With eighteen years between books four and five, it's easy to understand the willingness of some readers to leave the characters as they were.  In my case, having all five books to read in quick succession, I'm very glad about having more information about where everyone was headed.  Well, a few characters were left out of this final installment, but as Diana Gabaldon replied at a book talk I attended when someone questioned her about the disappearance of a character.....'they simply went about living their life'.  My only bone of contention was a rather awkward plot line heading towards an incestuous relationship but thankfully, derailed.  And I thoroughly enjoyed a new generation of children and their hilarious antics, especially Georgie with his ever present rat, Rivers.

With a handful of pages to read until the end, I noted a paragraph depicting a scene filled with simple pleasures...

     Clary offered to go and help with it and found Mrs T, as she called her, sitting in her housekeeper's room with her feet up, watching television and eating Black Magic chocolates.  So when Clary said that they would just have sandwiches in the drawing room and that she didn't have to do any more, she realised how tired she was, and when Miss Clary carried the trays for her, she made herself a turkey sandwich, boiled water for her hotty, put all of her presents into a basket then walked over to the cottage and plodded upstairs to the attic.  She was going to eat her sandwich in bed and start one of the Barbara Cartlands that Miss Rachel had given her for Christmas.  What could be more luxurious than that? 

Elizabeth Jane Howard was ninety years-old when she died, shortly after this book was published.  I like to think that a good book and a box of chocolates was not only Mrs Tonbridge's idea of luxury, but the author's as well.

A portrait of Elizabeth Jane Howard by her first husband, Peter Scott, depicting her as Fritha in The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico.  Scott illustrated the book in 1946.

7 comments:

  1. Always glad to read your book observations,Darlene, and always bemused by the connections which seem to turn up among English writers - Peter Scott is the son of Robert Falcon Scott, the famous and tragic Antarctic explorer. I hadn't realized he and EJH were married (and of course she went on to Kingsley Amis among others - her wikipedia page is quite entertaining!)

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    1. This was news to me too, Susan! And I just know that once I get my nose into Cooper's biography, I'll be riveted.

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  2. I think that before central heating, we burned off a lot of carbs just keeping warm. Elderly friends have told me that they used to consume far more than today - cooked breakfasts and potatoes and puddings every day, and everyone took sugar in their tea - but nobody was on a diet or seemed to get fat. Perhaps the big difference is that was all home-cooked, no processed food. And, of course, everyone smoked; did that cut down on snacking?

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    1. I'm sure you're right, especially about the home-cooked food, Mary. There's definitely a correlation between today's robust citizens and the availability of fast food. I only have to look at my elementary school photos....what a bunch of scrawny things we were! And don't even get me started on smoking...my mother smoked throughout her pregnancy. No wonder I was only 6 lbs....

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  3. Don't forget that everyone was very active and getting around was by walking and running. The only vehicles available were bicycles and public transport and in rural areas public transport could be thin on the ground. Housework was so much harder in those days, I recall my Mother's constant battle against coal-dust, it got everywhere and had to be attacked every day. There are so many things that I no longer do that my Mother would feel shocked about - ironing for one thing. Most households would do the whole washing by hand, including bed linen and everything then had to be ironed. Housewifery for my Mother and her contemporaries was never accomplished easily, they all worked very hard indeed, that is why they ate so much and did not need to diet.

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    1. Very true, Toffeeapple. Salad with a bit of fish wouldn't have cut it and your Mother's contemporaries wouldn't have needed a gym membership either, I bet. But can I sell you on the calming effect of ironing pillow slips?

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    2. Hah! Salad was always a lettuce leaf, a tomato cut into 4 and six very thin slices of cucumber, served with Heinz Salad Cream. But I don't recall when that was eaten, possibly only in summer.

      And no, ironing does not soothe me, I always think of more pleasant things that I could be doing.

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