September 11th, 2013

Young Mrs. Clarke

Digging through the books: Edith Olivier

Edith Olivier wrote a strange and wonderful short novel called "The Love Child" about the relationship between a young woman and the imaginary friend of her childhood who comes alive years later; it was reprinted by Virago in the 1980s, which is when I discovered it. She wrote some other books, none of which I'd ever read, until, just now, as I was going through my too-many volumes, I came across her memoirs, "Without Knowing Mr Walkley." I wasn't really sure why I had it, and thought I might get rid of it -- but of course I could not do that without having read it, so I began.

Right away, I came across something rather wonderful -- it reminded me of so many of my favourite children's books from the past, but it also made me wonder if any children today could possibly live like this. Bear in mind, she was one of 10 children and grew up in an English rectory in Wiltshire:

...the Rectory was, like all houses, far bigger for the children than for the grown-ups. Children use parts of the house which are hardly even seen by their elders. There were at Wilton Rectory long secret passages in the roof, which were entered from the attic through bolted doors. Here we stepped, in semi-darkness, from beam to beam, over spaces where lay a hollow plaster floor; and now and again we came upon a complicated barricade of interlacing roof supports which had to be got through somehow.....Then there were numbers of cupboards in the walls, in which we spent our afternoons when it was too wet to go out. In every house, an immense amount of space is lost to the grown-up people who never sit in cupboards.

But the best bit of the book, and obviously the reason I had to buy it in the first place, are the chapters called "Revenants of the Plain" and "Things Past Explaining." Not only was Edith Olivier related to the famous Miss Moberley (one of the "two ladies " who famously time-slipped at Versailles, and wrote about it in "An Adventure") but she had her own time-slip adventure at -- of all the wonderful places -- Avebury. She also had some other odd and interesting things happen to her, although I admit I did skim-read much of the book.

My copy is only an old "Reader's Union" reprint from 1939, so it doesn't have the lovely Rex Whistler title page of the original Faber edition. But even that one does not seem to be wanted; I notice that someone tried to sell their first edition on e-Bay last month -- 99pence as the opening bid, no reserve -- and did not get a single offer.