Tag Archives: Lucy Mangan

Young Anne by Dorothy Whipple

Dorothy Whipple is one of those twentieth century writers, often female, whose work was at risk of disappearing into the place where neglected writers’ books go: library stacks, second-hand shops, recycling bins? But she has been rescued and restored by Persephone Books and gained justified popularity through word of mouth and bloggers’ admiration.

Young Anne was her first novel and some of it may have been based on her early life. But it is all her own writing with its strong storyline pulling you forward from the infant Anne to the moment when she resolves a dilemma about her future. How has she gained this maturity? Who were her guides?

Young Anne

Young Anne was born in a northern town at the end of the nineteenth century. She lives with her two parents and two brothers. Anne is the youngest. Two things determine her early life: her gender and the comparative lack of money in the family. Her father’s strictness and insistence that things are done right and her mother’s casual lack of interest in her children mean that Anne lives a restricted life with little encouragement. She is bright, independent and her only support at home is the housemaid Emily. 

The first school she attends is closed suddenly when one of the teachers dies of starvation. Anne is then sent to a convent to have discipline instilled in her. She comes to enjoy the comforts and security of the nuns and her friends but rejects Catholicism.

Soon after she leaves school her father dies and her mother moves away to become a permanent guest in other people’s homes. Anne becomes dependent upon Great Aunt Orchard, a fearsome figure who regards Anne as fortunate to be living under her roof, although she pays for this by having to darn her combinations (already 50 years old) and seek her permission for everything. Fortunately Emily transfers to the household as well. 

Anne had a youthful love affair with George Yates, but abruptly ended it when a poisonous cousin suggested her parents had to marry. This produces a crisis in Anne for she now believes her father to have been a hypocrite. Moreover intimate physical relations revolt and horrify her.

When the first world war comes George enlists and Anne gets a job in a Medical Office during the war and marries the chief administrator. He is much older. When peace comes she has nothing much to occupy herself and becomes very bored, despite Richard’s gift of a fancy new fiat car. A crisis comes when George returns and she is torn between her old feelings for him, the excitement of a passionate affair, and what she has with Richard. The turning point is her treatment of Emily, faithful but unable to help her. When Anne sees she could have lost her lifelong friend she pays attention to her sense of what is right.

Dorothy Whipple

Dorothy Whipple

Born in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1893, Dorothy Whipple wrote 8 novels and several collections of short stories. She was popular between the wars. Two of her novels were made into films in the 1940s. But she gradually fell out of favour until Persephone Books restored her reputation and recommended her to new readers. She died in 1966

The new edition has an excellent preface by Lucy Mangan. She points out how Dorothy Whipple’s prose is easy to read, yet how she has depth to her novels, always pointing to the difference between the lives of men and women in her writing. HeavenAli, in her review, notes how all characters are well-rounded. In this novel there are several horrors, Great Aunt Orchard, the poisonous cousin and Muriel Yates a childhood friend. The father is dire as well. We are under no illusion that it is Emily who provides the greatest support for young Anne and the strong moral sense of Anne herself that allows her to develop into a mature young woman.

Summer Flowers by Sundown, silk and linen furnishing fabric. Endpaper

Young Anne by Dorothy Whipple, first published in 1927. I used the edition published in 2018 by Persephone. 292 pp

Other posts about Dorothy Whipple’s Novels

They were Sisters  (May 2017)

Greenbanks  (October 2013)

Young Anne  on HeavenAli’s blog

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The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I did not read The Phantom Tollbooth  as a child for the simple reasons that I missed its publication and was soon too old. So when I read Lucy Mangan’s enthusiastic comments in Bookworm I decided to see what I had missed. She described her delight when it was read to the class by her primary teacher and how she longed for the daily readings. From this experience she found that …

… words weren’t just markings on a page to be passively absorbed and enjoyed but could be tools, treasures and toys all in one. (219 in Bookworm by Lucy Mangan)

What a gift from Norton Juster! She recalled Milo ‘the first unlikeable central character’ she had ever come across. But recalled also the pace, wit, invention, action and wordplay which fell from the pages ‘like sweets tumbling from a bag.’ This, I thought, I should read.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Milo is introduced as follows.

There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always. (13)

Milo is clever and has lots of books and toys but he has no friends and does not settle to anything, is not interested in what he learns at school and sees ‘the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time at all’. Until one day he finds a package containing a tollbooth in his room and in his toy car he pays his toll and sets out on a journey to Dictionopolis, which is marked on the map that was supplied with the booth.

He arrives in Expectations where he meets the Whether Man and soon finds himself in the Doldrums. He is rescued by the Watchdog called Tock, who will not let him kill or waste time and joins him on his adventures. Later they meet Humbug. They find problems in the land that arise from the banishment of the princesses Rhyme and Reason by two warring brothers. The princesses were banished for refusing to adjudicate between the relative importance of numbers and words.

Our three heroes set off to rescue the princesses, [it is the early ‘60s and the second wave of feminism had not yet broken] meeting on the way such characters as the Spelling Bee, Officer (Short) Shrift, Faintly Macabre the Official Which, Dischord and Dynne and musicians who play colours, the .58 of a child from the average family which had 2.58 children, the Senses Taker and so on. They visited both Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, and when they return with the princesses harmony is restored, although squabbling breaks out as soon as Milo makes his farewells.

When the three friends meet the princesses Reason explains the importance of learning, from experience, from mistakes, and for its own sake. When Milo complains about what he has to learn in school having so little significance now she explains,

‘…for whatever you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.’ (234)

And when he returns home and finds that the tollbooth has disappeared, he realises that his books will open doors to other worlds, and there is so much to do.

Here’s Lucy Mangan’s assessment:

It remains a masterfully wrought, glorious, hilarious, life affirming read – a celebration of words, ideas, sense, nonsense, cleverness and silliness but also a love of learning for its own sake. I suspect, in a world in which education is increasingly being reduced to futile box-ticking and forcible rendering into measurable quantities that which can never be made tangible, this is a message that will only become more revelatory and valuable to those lucky enough to hear it. (221 in Bookworm by Lucy Mangan)

Norton Juster

Norton Juster was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1929. When he wrote this book he was trying to write one for children about cities, having trained as an architect. Apparently he had not, at that point, read Lewis Carroll, which is surprising because Alice in Wonderland is precisely what came to mind when I read it.

Famously he also shared an apartment building with Jules Feiffer, who was just making his name as a draughtsman. Jules Feiffer’s illustrations are an integral part of The Phantom Tollbooth.He captures Milo’s innocence and pre-adolescent energy perfectly.

Norton Juster went on to make a career as an architect and an academic, and he also published more books, some of them for children. None seem to have met with the acclaim of this one. It is, with justification, known as a classic. It is also great fun.

Bookwormby Lucy Mangan reviewed on Bookword in July 2018.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton JusterFirst published in the US in 1961. I used the Harper Collins 50thAnniversary Edition (Essential Modern Classics). 256pp. Illustrations by Jules Feiffer.

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Bookworm: a Memoir of childhood reading by Lucy Mangan

What is this strange pleasure of reading about people’s reading habits? It’s as good as talking with people about books and reading, and yet it has its own pleasures. In writing about her childhood reading obsession, Lucy Mangan has captured much of what I felt as a child as I escaped again and again into books. She has also given me some new books to read and so provided some new pleasures in anticipation.

Bookworm

Lucy Mangan describes the pleasures of discovering books and being read to, and takes us all the way through her reading historyto her late teenage years. She focuses on book for children, but I am sure she would be as interesting on the subject of adult reading. I hope she will write more.

From the very first, reading was her chief pleasure, shared with her father and indulged in in the public and school libraries of her childhood. Brought up in Catford in the 1980s, she read all the books I read plus those that my daughter read.

She too had an Enid Blyton binge and loved Noel Streatfield and noticed the large output of the Pulleins. My own Enid Blyton binge lasted about two months. I had been sent away to boarding school when I discovered a huge collection of her stories on the shelves of Judy Lovell who had not yet joined us after the holidays because she was ill. Her absence allowed me to wallow. We had a theory about how these books were churned out, and it turns out we were not far off the idea of the Sweet Valley High production line.

She [Francine Pascal] is named as author of the first two of what would become a 143-strong core series plus innumerable spin-offs. The rest were entirely produced by a host of freelance ghostwriters.  … They used a bible (notes on themes, character, settings, and so on, compiled by Pascal) to ensure consistency, and worked to outlines she provided. They were a band of typing postgrad monkeys stretching from sea to shining sea, producing for a fixed fee 140 pages every six to eight weeks. (284)

We believed that that was exactly how Enid Blyton produced so many repetitive books, only I think we believed her writers were elves.

She found some books that I have not read: for example The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – and spurred on by her I believe it should be read. It was only published in 1961 and I might have thought I was too old for it.

Other delights she refers to I only discovered in my 30s. I came across MacDonalds, Charlotte’s Web and The BFG. My pleasure in finding the chips and the milkshakes has not endured, but my delight in EB White’s classic spider/pig story and all of Roald Dahl has lasted well. Not only did I share it with my daughter but Roald Dahl’s books are a favourite with my grandchildren.

In her assessment of her reading material and habits she explores the importance of reading to children, to develop a sense of change, otherness and other worlds. And, of course, the importance of libraries to support these.

Once a bookworm …

There is so much pleasure to revisit here and with such an accomplished and amusing writer. I’ve wanted to read this since I first saw it announced.

It has reminded me how I want to reread books, many from my childhood. And to reclaim others, such as At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, a book that frightened and enthralled me at the same time. The illustrations (I think they were by Arthur Rackham) terrified me. It was a gift from my grandfather and I treasured it through the first months of my life at boarding school.

And, unlike Lucy Mangan, I loved historical fiction, especially Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece before moving on to Georgette Heyer. Like her, I read every moment I could, especially with a torch under the bedclothes at night, or in the toilet. It was there that I consumed most of Oliver Twist and even today can never contemplate Dickens without thinking of the cold floor and the ridge on my cold bottom.

Perhaps I’ll institute a new series on Bookword: rereading childhood favourites. What do you think? And what would you recommend?

Bookworm: a Memoir of childhood reading by Lucy Mangan. Published in 2018 as a hardback by Square Peg 322pp

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