Michael's Reviews > Precious Bane

Precious Bane by Mary Webb
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May 29, 2012

it was amazing

Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm (made into a wonderful film with a very young Kate Beckinsale) is a parody of a genre that no longer really exists, a sort of Rural English Gothic. When I learned this--I forgot how I did--I set out to find some examples, figuring I'd read a few pages and have a good laugh. Sure enough, when I pulled Precious Bane off a library shelf I did have a bit of a chuckle at the elaborate yokelism, and at how accurately Gibbons had captured it in CCF. Then I read the next page, and the next, and by the time I looked up again I was hooked.

Precious Bane is the story of Pru Sarn, cursed with a harelip (and as a result frequently accused of being a witch), and her obsessively ambitious brother Gideon; of how Pru finds love and Gideon ruin. But their stories are incidental to the real strength of the book, its immersive atmosphere. Whether early-eighteenth-century Shropshire and its dialect were at all like Mrs Webb portrays them I don't know and I don't really care. The point is that the language, yokelisms and all, draws you in to Pru's world and keeps you there. It does what all historical novels strive for and few achieve.

A bit more here and here.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Laurie (new) - added it

Laurie I've added this title to my bookshelf. Thanks for the review! Reading the description makes me think a little of South Riding by Winifred Holtby. I read it last year before the show on PBS and really enjoyed both.


Michael Hi Laurie--I saw the first part of the BBC/PBS South Riding but for some reason never finished it; never read the book. I can see where the sound similar, and maybe they are, but I'm guessing Precious Bane is much more sui generis. Let me know what you think!

The other author I remember cited as being parodied by Cold Comfort Farm is Sheila Kaye-Smith. Gail likes her, but I could never stay interested in any of her books past the first page. I would like to see the old movie of Joanna Godden, mostly because it has music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.


Michael Oh, and there's a BBC movie of Precious Bane, with young Janet McTeer and Clive Owen(!), which looks worth seeing, but that I've only found in crappy multi-part youtube form.


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