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click here.This family saga is probably my favourite of Streatfeild's novels for adults. I don't usually write ultra-detailed plot summaries in my reviews, but since the only other summary of this novel I've seen (in Nancy Huse's critical work on Streatfeild) gets some of the details wrong, it seems worthwhile to spell it all out.
The novel begins with James Torrys and his newly married wife, and then follows their oldest daughter, Caroline, from her birth in the 1870s to her death in the 1930s. The TorrysThis family saga is probably my favourite of Streatfeild's novels for adults. I don't usually write ultra-detailed plot summaries in my reviews, but since the only other summary of this novel I've seen (in Nancy Huse's critical work on Streatfeild) gets some of the details wrong, it seems worthwhile to spell it all out.
The novel begins with James Torrys and his newly married wife, and then follows their oldest daughter, Caroline, from her birth in the 1870s to her death in the 1930s. The Torrys family is hidebound, traditional, and proud of its unbroken patriline and house that goes back to the Elizabethan period. Caroline's mother is loving but physically weak, worn out by attempts to provide the son necessary to continue the family name. Due both to her mother's illness and Victorian upper-class customs, Caroline is kept away from her parents for much of her childhood, raised mostly by a violently abusive nurse whose tyranny crushes the girl's spirit. Caroline finds this treatment eventually made bearable first by her father, who in lieu of a son teaches her the family history and traditions, and later by her mother's family, who lavish her with the affection and attention she's starved for. She meets a young writer of lower-middle-class background at a party thrown for her by relatives, falls in love with him, and with the connivance of her governess and a kind uncle manages to elope with him. The Torrys side of the family, including her beloved father, cut her off without a word.
The second (and longest) part of the book details Caroline's life as a wife and mother. She and her husband love one another, but differences in temperament cause trouble; she wants nothing more than a cozy domestic life, whereas he demands both absolute peace for his writing, and also wants a glittering social life to help him feel that he's overcome his 'common' roots. Caroline, meanwhile, is absorbed by her children, whom she wants to give all of the attention & affection she was denied -- to mixed results, as only her oldest child wants a loving, attentive mother. Having reconciled with her father right before his death, she is also deeply concerned about the fate of the family property; the son her mother died giving birth to is emotionally fragile (and most likely homosexual, although this is never directly addressed) and unable to fulfill the role of a country squire, instead living in Paris with artistic male friends.
Things between Caroline and her husband come to a breaking point when his first play has a successful first night and she's too wrapped up in her own concerns to celebrate. He asks her to be a "good wife" and make him the primary focus of her life, rather than the children and the Torrys estate, and she agrees -- but secretly continues to donate time and money to keeping up the property. Years later, when her children are close to adulthood, she reminds her husband that she's kept her end of the bargain, & asks him in exchange to allow their oldest son to give up college & instead follow his heart in becoming manage of the Torrys estate. Everything would end happily right there, but it's 1911, so Caroline has to suffer not only the death of her beloved son in combat, but also the death of her husband from pneumonia. Throughout this section of the novel Caroline's view of the world is contrasted with that of her husband and her various children; the oldest son adores her and the Torrys heritage, the oldest daughter is unsentimental and self-absorbed, the second daughter is a sensual flirt, and the youngest son artistically talented but not very good at performing Edwardian masculinity. Each has a different perspective on their parents, the Torrys estate, & so forth.
The final portion of the book looks at Caroline as a grandmother; she is living in a small cottage with two faithful servants, gardening and listening to the radio. The Torrys property has been sold in the post-war economic depression, and Caroline mourns it, along with her husband and son -- but unlike so many books of the periods, she isn't portrayed as having let the grief destroy her life. She feels like she's still 20, even though she's 60 and has been very ill with bronchitis. She dies speaking of the happiness she's had in her life, leaving her daughters -- who see Caroline as miserable and her life wasted -- completely mystified.
I thought this was a beautiful book; Caroline is so clearly a happy woman, not merely deluded into happiness or pretending to be happy. She lives a life which is very painful in places, and she suffers and makes mistakes and is too caught up in her own problems to understand what would be best for her children, but she loves people and makes real connections with them and finds happiness in spite of everything. The fact that her daughters look back on her life and find it miserable just highlights the common humanity in Caroline's mistakes; every generation judges things by its own paradigm and insists that it's right. By Caroline's lights, her protective and attentive mothering was what every child needs; from her daughters' perspective Caroline was a fool who didn't even realise that her husband was having an affair with another woman (she did, and forgave him for it), and who wasted her life worrying about a piece of land that she didn't even own. For me, the book is a powerful argument for judging people's lives by their own standards instead of by our own. Caroline stays with her husband despite his infidelity because she knows (and knows correctly) that he loves and needs her despite his straying; she gives in to his demand that she be a "good wife" and put him first because of the time & place she was born in, and in return he eventually acknowledges that she's made a great sacrifice in setting aside many of her concerns to focus on his needs. Caroline doesn't get the life she'd ideally like -- but hardly anyone does, as Streatfeild takes pains to point out; Laurence is killed in combat, Elizabeth divorces the husband she loves when she finds out he's been unfaithful, and Jim ends up running a garage because it's impossible to live as an artist in the post-war economy. The book problematises certainty, arguing that nobody gets exactly what they want out of life, and that those who can make the best of what they have -- like Caroline and Jim -- should not be pitied for their self-delusion (if self-delusion it is) but rather admired for the strength of will that allows them to make thrive despite hardship. ...more
Mary Noel Streatfeild, known as Noel Streatfeild, was an author best known and loved for her children's books, including Ballet Shoes and Circus Shoes. She was born on Christmas Eve, 1895, the daughter of William Champion Streatfeild and Janet Venn and the second of six children to be born to the couple. Sister Ruth was the oldest, after Noel came Barbara, William ('Bill'), Joyce (who died of TB pMary Noel Streatfeild, known as Noel Streatfeild, was an author best known and loved for her children's books, including Ballet Shoes and Circus Shoes. She was born on Christmas Eve, 1895, the daughter of William Champion Streatfeild and Janet Venn and the second of six children to be born to the couple. Sister Ruth was the oldest, after Noel came Barbara, William ('Bill'), Joyce (who died of TB prior to her second birthday) and Richenda. Ruth and Noel attended Hastings and St. Leonard's Ladies' College in 1910. Upon adulthood, she began theater work, and spent approximately 10 years in the theater.
During the Great War, in 1915 Noel worked firstly as a volunteer in a soldier's hospital kitchen near Eastbourne Vicarage and later produced two plays with her sister Ruth. When things took a turn for the worse on the Front in 1916 she moved to London and obtained a job making munitions in Woolwich Arsenal. At the end of the war in January 1919, Noel enrolled at the Academy of Dramatic Art (later Royal Academy) in London.
In 1930, she began writing her first adult novel, The Whicharts, which was published in 1931. In June 1932, she was elected to membership of PEN. Early in 1936, Mabel Carey, children's editor of J. M. Dent and Sons, asks Noel to write a children's story about the theatre, which led to Noel completing Ballet Shoes in mid-1936. In 28 September 1936, when Ballet Shoes was published, it became an immediate best seller.
According to Angela Bull, Ballet Shoes was a reworked version of The Whicharts. Elder sister Ruth Gervis illustrated the book, which was published on the 28th September, 1936. At the time, the plot and general 'attitude' of the book was highly original, and destined to provide an outline for countless other ballet books down the years until this day. The first known book to be set at a stage school, the first ballet story to be set in London, the first to feature upper middle class society, the first to show the limits of amateurism and possibly the first to show children as self-reliant, able to survive without running to grownups when things went wrong.
In 1937, Noel traveled with Bertram Mills Circus to research The Circus is Coming (also known as Circus Shoes). She won the Carnegie gold medal in February 1939 for this book. In 1940, World War II began, and Noel began war-related work from 1940-1945. During this time, she wrote four adult novels, five children's books, nine romances, and innumerable articles and short stories. On May 10th, 1941, her flat was destroyed by a bomb. Shortly after WWII is over, in 1947, Noel traveled to America to research film studios for her book The Painted Garden. In 1949, she began delivering lectures on children's books. Between 1949 and 1953, her plays, The Bell Family radio serials played on the Children's Hour and were frequently voted top play of the year.
Early in 1960s, she decided to stop writing adult novels, but did write some autobiographical novels, such as A Vicarage Family in 1963. She also had written 12 romance novels under the pen name "Susan Scarlett." Her children's books number at least 58 titles. From July to December 1979, she suffered a series of small strokes and moved into a nursing home. In 1983, she received the honor Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). On 11 September 1986, she passed away in a nursing home....more