Thursday, 10 December 2015
Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive
[Narrator Evelyn is at an Edwardian houseparty in the country, with many other children]
The children were getting ready to go out, a weary process in nursery days.
You would have laughed at the clothes which we wore for playing in the garden. They were last year’s Sunday ones and were not at all suitable. My hat was a huge object made of velvet. The brim was lined with pleated satin and was trimmed with a wreath of big satin roses. My coat had a floppy collar and we wore button-boots which took a long time to do up and let in the water. However, we did not think that we looked funny, and as we had never heard of dungarees or gumboots or pixy hoods, we didn’t want them.
We were getting ready to go downstairs [to see the parents, grandparents and other adults]… Betty and Rosamund always wore either pink or blue sashes on their white frocks, and Rosamund had dressed first and had put on the pink sash which had been laid ready for her. Suddenly Betty said that she couldn’t wear pink, she wouldn’t wear pink, nothing in the world would make her wear pink. Nana Savage would probably have given in, only Rosamund would not, of course, change to blue, and if they had gone downstairs with different sashes awkward questions would have been asked.
The dresses were hideously over-decorated according to modern ideas.
commentary: Last year I did a post on my favourite Xmas books, and the response to the list was so overwhelming that I then did a piece on readers’ best Xmas books. One of those suggestions was from blog favourite and friend Lissa Evans, who said of Christmas with the Savages: ‘it's perfect in every way (the story of a prim little girl at an Edwardian house party - funny, original, touching), and also perfect for Clothes in Books.' So obviously I ordered it straight away. Lissa asked me recently why I hadn’t featured it yet, but then worked out for herself that I was saving it for a Christmas entry – so here it is, Lissa.
She was (of course) absolutely right: it’s a wonderful book, and it captured me instantly. Mary Clive was one of the Longford/Pakenham family, and the book is a fictionalized memoir about her childhood Christmases, drawn into one story of the only child Evelyn, 8, who lands up in a rather grand English houseparty at Christmas, among three other families of very wild children.
It is hard to describe why the book is so hilarious, and so perfect. Perhaps it is because these are very posh, wealthy children of 100 years ago, growing up to inherit the earth, but Clive gives them that universality – you recognized that yes, this is how children behave, and most writers simply don’t do that. There is a randomness and an inconsequentiality about them: they take up crazes and excitements, they fight, they make friends, they make plans. They climb up to the attics, and farther, inviting danger and trouble. There are great unfairnesses in the way they are treated, but all are related in a matter-of-fact way.
One thing that’s nice is the Christmas festivities are described in great detail, and sound fabulous, but there is no trace of sentimentality: Clive really writes as if Evelyn is describing them, not an adult looking back.
And in fact there will have to be another Christmas-y entry on this book.
And thank you, yet again, to Lissa Evans.