Saturday, 18 July 2015

"The Proper Place" and MY proper place

"My" Scotland"

When I first came to Scotland, it was to Edinburgh and I was almost immediately under the spell of the town. I loved the monuments, the dour nature of the most ancient buildings, the darkness of some of them, their severity and austerity, the richness of the museums and the culture... and the number of bookshops where I spent many happy hours! I disliked the drunkenness and the week-end outings in pubs with people being sick in the streets, and kept cowardly to the flat at these moments. But I understood that drinking beer or ale could be necessary sometimes under such climates; I was to find the same later in Norway and Sweden. Life is rough and hard for some.

One morning, I awoke late to find that it was still dark and thought that I had some time before getting up. I had forgotten that when autumn comes, light shows itself seldom. The day was to pass in semi-darkness and clouds. There was an area of bare land I had not visited and I spent the end of the morning and part of the afternoon there. 

There was no noise. There was short grass. There were hills. There was no one. I felt slightly frightened. It seemed I had come to the very beginning of the world when it was created and not yet populated by animals and men. It was eerie and of striking beauty.

Until today, this day spent in the hills so close to the city and yet so remote stands as one of my most precious memories and as an epiphany of the love and link one may have with one's country and roots.

Scottish literature and arts are full to the brim of this love. For the French, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott are the most well-known of Scotland writers. But as I have started last week to talk about O. Douglas, let us return to her once more and take the story of Lady Jane Rutherfurd and her daughter Nicole at the beginning, since circumstances have led me to speak of the sequel, "The Day of Small Things", first.

What could be Rutherfurd House

We first meet Nicole in Rutherfurd Place playing guide of the house to Mrs Jackson from Glasgow. And, as in "The Day of Small Things", the explanation of the title and the development of the novel is given in the first few lines:

"In one of Hans Andersen's tales he tells how, at a dinner party, one of the guests blew on a flute made from a willow in the ditch, and behold, everyone was immediately wafted to his or her proper place. 'Everything in its proper place' sang the flute, and the bumptious host flew into the herdsman's cottage. But in the dining room, the young baroness flew to the upper-end of the table, and the tutor got the seat next to her and there the two sat as if they were a newly married couple. An old count, one of the oldest families in the country, remained unchanged in the seat of honour [...] a rich merchant and his family who were driving a coach and four were blown right out of the coach, and could not even find a place behind it, two rich farmers who had grown too rich to look after their fields were blown into the ditch. It was a dangerous flute!
Fortunately, it burst at the first note, and it was a good thing: it was put back in the player's pocket again, and everything was in its proper place."

The title of the tale is very simply "Everything in its proper place" and was written in 1853.

When watched closely, the tale as described above is twofold. From a given situation where people are living in a social sphere that does not seem to be questioned, a piper puts, by a long note, "everything (that is everybody) in its (his or her) proper place". This revolutionary act is in fact rather conservative as, apart from the "old count, one of the oldest families in the country, [who] remained unchanged in the seat of honour", the whole world turns topsy-turvy and the "nouveaux riches" climb down for their places to recover their former humble stations in life. This is quite comic as in the tale "The Emperor's New Clothes" and as chilling as "The Pied Piper of Hamelin". Only two young people see their prospects improved: "the young baroness flew to the upper-end of the table, and the tutor got the seat next to her and there the two sat as if they were a newly married couple."

However mainly conservative, the tale may sound, society takes its course again and it is reassuring for the "middle class" climbing bourgeois to see at the end that even if "It was a dangerous flute!" indeed. "Fortunately, it burst at the first note, and it was a good thing: it was put back in the player's pocket again, and everything was in its proper place."

But it leaves the reader in some quandary: which is the proper place? Is it the old order where the flute put people back or is it the new order that reigned at the beginning and is restored at the end of the tale?

O. Douglas seems very often to be writing sweet, sentimental romances formerly read by young ladies and well-thinking ladies, today by ladies nostalgic of their younger years, but this novel is more astringent that it seems at first sight, since it boldly deals under a coat of sugar of the "proper places" of people after WWI.

The cover of the first edition

The Rutherfurds are an aristocratic family, landed aristocracy, father, mother (Lady Jane), two sons and a little daughter (Nicole) plus an adopted niece (Barbara) - of not so aristocratic background. Unfortunately, WWI has killed the two sons in their prime and the father, having done his duty to his country until the end, returned to the family seat to die of sorrow for the loss of his boys. Lady Jane, Nicole and Barbara, who are young girls around twenty, are left alone and understand soon with the help of their lawyer that they cannot afford to live in this great house. The solution is to sell it and live in a small place. Their small place reminds me of an acerbic comment made once by a critic or blogger about the Dashwoods in "Sense and Sensibility""they went to a small cottage with only ten rooms". Anyway, this is evil spirit and we must remember that the conditions of life were not the same then as they are today.

The three ladies decide to leave entirely the Borders, their friends, their habits, everything that would remind them of the past and to start afresh. Nicole and Barbara go house hunting and Nicole falls in love with a house in the harbour town of Kirkmeikle, in Fife, not in the genteel area up on the hill but right in the middle of the fishermen houses, right near the sea. The deal is quickly done almost in a day. And the Rutherfurds move quickly to their new abode.

A Fife village that could be Kirkmeikle

The novel deftly interweaves various strands and while the Rutherfurds arrive in Kirkmeikle, we know more about the family who has bought their ancestral seat. This family comes from Glasgow. Mr Jackson is a self-made man who has started at the lowest rung and gone up the social ladder by his industry. He now thinks he needs to be "county" and to have a house in the country from which he will commute every day to go to work in Glasgow. Mrs Jackson, at first sight, is a vulgar woman who tries to pass as a lady. But one discovers quite quickly that she is embodied motherhood, has a heart of gold, knows clearly her limits, does her best to be up to the situation and willing to learn from the Rutherfurds and their friends in the Borders. Her whole life is devoted to "Father" and to Andy, her son. Andy is already less lower class and already middle class. He is a nice fellow and one guesses easily that, failing to be an aristocrat, he will learn to be a good squire.

Of course, the Glaswegian friends of Mrs Jackson are both envious and spiteful before such a rise from their ranks and the Rutherfurds' friends are quite reticent to accept these "nobodies" in their own ranks even if some are interested by the many changes brought for best and worst to the great house. Its backbone remains loyal because of Lady Jane and Nicole, and butler, Cook, housemaids, parlour maids and gardeners stay in the old pile to help the Jacksons to acclimatise to their new surroundings.

Meanwhile in Kirkmeikle, we observe the moving in of the Rutherfurds and their first contacts with the population. I have said in the previous blog about "The Day of Small Things"  that Lady Jane reminded me of a concoction of Angela Thirkell's characters in her "Chronicles of Barset": she has something from Lady Emily Leslie and Mrs Brandon except the flirtatious side, from Agnes Graham and Mrs Dean. But she seems more energetic in this novel than in its sequel. Barbara is ... snob. She is a good girl, a very good housekeeper, has great common sense but not much true blue blood in her veins, which makes her snob. She will seek distractions of a higher quality than that of fishermen and their wives or gentilized but hopelessly middle class population. Nicole is the true heroine, dancing like the flame of a lamp, hungry to live, laughing even when sad, putting on a brave front, good daughter, loving, born to be happy whatever the circumstances.

We are shown essentially two groups of people: the lower class with the servants, the fishermen's wives and Old Betsy; and the genteel population either resident and "professional classes" and the middle class.

The recent edition by Geyladies
(the same illustration is included in the new jacket)

The Rutherfurds have almost immediately a very good relationship with their immediate neighbours on the sea front. We are visiting with Nicole and Lady Jane, Mrs Brodie and her family of numerous children, old Betsy whose great friend is Agnes Martin, the Rutherfurds' cook. Old Betsy pines for the Borders where she has been born and raised and spent her youth before marrying a Fife man. In fact she comes from a place close to this of the Rutherfurds and a strong link is established between them. As Mrs Brodie is quite happy with her place, as Old Betsy is discontented. She is not in her proper place according to her, even with all Nicole's and Lady Jane's coaxing. The proper place can be the place where you live or don't live.

The Rutherfurds also come to visit the Kirkmeikle society. In a letter to a friend, Nicole tells her who they meet - and the fishermen wives and Old Betsy are not named: one may read condescension in the Rutherfurds' attitude to the lower class. Charity is still common and usual at that time, during the interwar: it is one of the duties of the gentry and gratitude is expected from those who receive the ladies bountiful. I was reminded there of the third trilogy of the Forsytes when Dinny wonders what will happen to her family and class who have been the backbone of England for so long a time by helping and visiting the poor, for instance. And I was reminded of my own family and my own childhood when I was taught to visit the sick and the farmers and the people in the home for the elderly and to take care of all who were less fortunate than we were. I was taught to thank God for his bounties towards us and never to complain that we could be richer: that would have been vulgar. Nowadays, at least in France, the Providence State has replaced the individual helper who has been turned into an object of derision, and charity is now almost an insult - no longer part of the LOVE in Greek as Caritas and Agape. The Rutherfurds of nowadays have no proper place here anymore.

As to the Kirkmeikle society, it is composed of the Doctor and his sister, Miss Kilgour, gruff and kind and always available; of the Reverend and Mrs Lambert (who has "a face transparent like a sea anamone") and their children who live sparingly in the manse. All do good work and if with financial difficulties and lack of intellectual congeniality with close neighbours, they may be said to be in their proper place.

A manse then

Then, on top of the hill, up over Kirkmeikle, are the villas belonging to the gentility: Mrs Heggie who asks everyone in for a meal and gossip, has a heart of gold and looks like Mrs Jackson (remember the Jacksons who have bought Rutherfurd House?) and a daughter, Joan, who writes poetry, is bored and aspires to write a "serious" novel with social issues - no need to say there are frictions between mother and daughter. In the second villa, Miss Symington and her nephew, Alastair, are different. Miss Symington is rich, very rich, a wealth acquired by her father who was a rigid churchman, for whom beauty and laugh and pleasures are sins and her house bleak and as not inhabited, lives only for the Saturdays and Sundays, when lay preachers come to talk to villagers, the Presbyterian Reverend Mr Lambert having been thought lax in reading Shakespeare. Alastair is brought up but not really loved. He finds this love with a young gentleman, Simon Beckett, who lives in a guest house nearby - more rightly in a cottage whose owner (that we never see - no class for her -) is in need of more money and rents a room. But before talking of Simon Beckett, the third villa is occupied by a retired Anglo-Indian civil servant and his wife who are obsessed by servants and the regrets of their former life in India. 

All these people are clearly climbing middle-class and not in their proper place. All are ill at ease and it will be the Rutherfurds' mission to redeem them in putting them at ease and reorganise their lives by small touches, innuendoes, and good moves.

Let us now turn to Simon Beckett. He is a mountaineer and has climbed the Everest - or almost climbed it as his friend and companion died in the last effort to reach the summit and Simon had to go back down alone. He is recording the expedition and in between times of writing, he takes care of Alastair, Miss Symington's nephew, in need of affection, with his nurse, Gentle Annie. Alastair is but six and already hurt by life as Simon has been hurt by his friend's death. They are like two wounded birds, Alastair being nicknamed "The Bat" because of his over great cloak. Nicole will find them on the shore, one day of storm and tempest and all will come to the Harbour House for a magnificent and luscious tea. From then on, solid friendship will be made between the two solitary young "men" and Lady Jane and her daughter. In a way, they can be said to have found their proper place.

Another village that could be Kirkmeikle Harbour

Barbara is not forgotten. Through common acquaintances, she has met rich and suitable people, the Erskine with whom she spends lots of time. And one day...

One day, a letter arrives for Nicole. Mrs Jackson is going to give a formal dinner and a dance at Rutherfurd House and she is badly in need of Nicole's help. Unfortunately, Nicole has a cold, is in bed and cannot go. Barbara will.

To say more, would be to spoil your pleasure of reading the novel. The plot would be unmasked and what is a comedy of manner without the plot?

But this is more than a "gentle comedy of manner". It has been written in 1926, in the aftermath of the Great War and its consequences are pregnant here. Not only because of the deaths, widowhoods, lack of young men, but also because of the changes that are happening in society. Soon, the aristocracy will not have enough money to keep its great places, industrials will take their place (sometimes in the best of cases will return to suburbia...), middle classes will grow; servants will want to work in shops or factories. The whole fabric of life is changing and no one knows where his or her proper place stands.

Nicole and a hint of the end of the novel

Therefore, under the cover of a delicate and very conventional novel, O. Douglas shows realities as in Andersen's tale. Where is The Proper place? In the new established order? In the old one? Should we go back to the old or stay in the new, as with the piper of the tale? This novel belongs to the long string of re-discovered fiction written by neglected women, in between Jane Austen and Barbara Pym, who wrote so eloquently and with such insight of the everyday life.

It has also questioned me about my proper place. In terms of geography and activities, do I belong to Paris and my former life or to the country, The Village and The Little Family? In terms of activites, do I belong to the life I had dreamt of intellectuals and senior civil servants or in the tasks of a housekeeper and loving "Big Sister"? In terms of social activities, are the days of visiting the less fortunate than me over? Has the State taken all this and is there no more Caritas to be?
I think that all readers may question their lives when the book is closed and rests in their lap. And it needs re-reading and thinking again about each of us and the society, the world we are creating.

Special thanks to Greyladies, the publishing house in Edinburgh to rehabilitate and give us such gems.

The Fife at sunrise

Thursday, 16 July 2015


This summer, I had decided with the Little Family that the blog would have two permanent entries:

  • One would be entirely mine and would talk about books and how reading affects my life or how my life affects my reading; it would be posted on Sundays or Mondays.
  • One would be written with the help of the Little Family who has lots of documents and postcards and maps and books and magazines; it would be lazy holiday making with you around the Dordogne since you know The Village but there are so many beautiful landscapes and monuments and traces of human life in the Dordogne; it would be posted either on Thursdays or Fridays.
But this week is already different: I had small problems on Sunday and the National Day on the 14 July was an entry belonging to the life in the Dordogne in itself. So the timetable has been put upside down since the blog about life and reading was posted today!

We shall try to keep our schedule in the weeks to come. Promise.

Now, you mut know something about the Little Family. They are two ladies of nearly 56 and nearly 20 (next week) who are my wards as they are "affected" by Down Syndrome and have no parents left. I am their closest next of kin. We live together sometimes happily, sometimes more "stormily" with flashes and thunder but everything must be forgiven and forgotten when they go to bed. They are my reason for living in the country and in this house. I take care of them and, in a way, they take care of me.

So the holiday making blog done with them will be also an exercise in geography, history, research, articulation of ideas, and internet. 

May I beg you to be lenient towards us? Thank you.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

14 juillet : Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

Yesterday was our National Day in France. I have learnt from my English speaking friends that it is called abroad "Bastille Day" but for us, the 14 juillet is the Fête nationale and it is more linked with France as a State and Republic with its main values: "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" than with the Bastille and the Revolution.

Perhaps because the Revolution is a very confused time. There was the King, Louis XVI, and the Queen, Marie-Antoinette, and the evil aristocracy from which we were soon relieved; there was the clergy and the Church which were distinct and intermingled at the same time and from which we wanted and did not want to be relieved; there was the enthusiasm of the beginnings, the wars, the civil war, the guillotine, the horrors of the end ... and when was the end? With the death of Robespierre? What happened afterwards? There is a blank of a few years from which springs fully armured so to speak, Napoleon and the Empire and Waterloo and then the return of the Kings and more unsettled periods and revolutions with the rise of the bourgeoisie  and the industrialisation, the pauperisation of the poor and capitalism, and another Empire and war with the Prussians in 1870 and the Commune and another five years blank and then, at last la République. 

Almost one century, from 1789 until 1875 to give birth to our State, to Democracy, to the République. Followed with feuds in families, in communities, with wars, with colonialism and decolonialism and post-colonialism and still capitalism and profit. With the turmoil of economic changes. This is difficult but this argues well in favour of a Fête nationale, national festivities, not of a "Bastille Day".

One of my great-grand-fathers used to say that summer began on 14 July and ended on 15 August. He was right: this is the high season for heat, holidays (since 1936), for the reaping of the agricultural products, for the sun and water, for the children plays.

So on this first day of summer according to my great-grand-father, I went early shopping for fresh bread and croissants that are the symbol of extra-ordinary days, ice cream and strawberries. The Litle Family was left at home as  they were still half asleep and would have enough work waking and setting the breakfast table!

Tuesday is market day in The Village and Fête nationale or not Fête nationale, market there is. It is established on both sides of the church, leaving the main square to the ministrations of the employés municipaux, the Village employees and roadmen who water the flowers, sweep the square, empty the rubbish, and prepare the seats and places of the officials in front of the War Memorial.

At nine thirty, the bells were ringing the great peal of bells "saved" for Christmas and Easter services, Whitsunday and  Assuption Day. Peace is definitely set between Church and Republic when it comes to the 14 juillet! It was also ringing for a special service for those who wanted to assist and participate.

But before ebeleven o'clock, most of the feminine population is busy on the market square and in the shops - even in the beloved and / or hated Intermarche supermarket.

 In any case, going to the market after eleven o'clock is considered slothful and is left to the tourists: it is too hot, the best produces are sold and gone, and every housewife is back at home behind half closed shutters, cooking lunch and attending to her duties.

At eleven o'clock, on the 14 July, the main square in front of the church at one end and at the opposite end in front of the monument aux morts (the War Memorial), is empty and waiting for the officials, the Veterans of the last wars (WWII, Indochine and Algérie) with their flags, the fanfare (brass band), and the population almost reduced to the tourists (as an attraction) and the men. We are in the South-West and men are still uppermost in this kind of celebrations linked in the collective imagination to war and death.

 The florist who has been bought the sheaf with the ribbon with the three colours (blue, white and red) is giving a last spray of water to the flowers that will soon wilt under the sun of July and giving it (with the invoice) to the councilwoman who will then transfer it to the Mayor.

And soon all is ready.

The Mayor is here.

 The Town councillors are here. The gendarmes are here. The firemen are here. The veterans and their flags are here. The headmasters and headmistresses of the schools are here. All the people who count in the life of The Village are here.

The brass band plays a little military march. The Mayor says a few words about the République une et indivisible (one and indivisible: this is important in our way to think of it and of the State - fundamental nowadays), reminds the audience that our main values are la Liberté, l'Egalité et la Fraternité and that our glorious history is the fruit of our ancestors' sacrifices until death. The sheaf of flowers is passed to him. He sets it down right in the middle before the War Memorial, The band plays la sonnerie aux morts and links it immediately with la Marseillaise, the flags and the heads bow in a silence pregnant and rustling of memories of the past.

And now to serious matters! Once again, do not forget that we are in the South-West of France and that it is the middle of July. Therefore, first, the apéritif. Everybody is invited and may join: it is free and offered by the Town Council. Pastis, Pinault, a little of Bergerac moelleux ... and orange juice for teetoallers, soda for the youngsters who know absolutely nothing about wine and gastronomy! 

Second, le déjeuner. The lunch is paid in advance by those who want to participate and trestles have been dressed quickly under la halle (the main covered area for the market). This meal has been called le repas des sans-culottes (the sansculotte meal) in honour of the people during the Revolution who had no Court dress and were wearing trousers instead of breeches. And le déjeuner is composed of the delicacies of the area. 

Foie gras, oignons confits, grapes, figues fraîches et pain de seigle
Confit de canard, pommes de terre sarladaises aux cèpes
Strawberries from le Village!
Never tell people that it is not the best cuisine in the world! That would be sacrilegious. All contemplation and pious memories are now shed and sent over windmills. There is but the clatter of forks and knives and the wagging of tongues with roars of laughter. Any anthropologist (even those of Barbara Pym) would consider this as a ritual communion during which the groupreasserts itself and proves its unity. This would look to comics writers (think of Astérix) as the famous banquet of the Gauls, never truly vanquished by Caesar. It is all this and an occasion for people to meet, relax, have fun and revel. The lunch will last long in the afternoon with coffee and pousse-café (liquors). And gossip, jokes, banter as well as deals over which no solution seemed to have never been found.

Little by little, reluctantly, people will leave and go back home to rest, talk more or go through a belated siesta in the shade of trees or inside the cool houses all closed against the heat.

Time for a light and latish souper and then back to Le Village. There is the ball and fireworks to go through!
Adverts have been displayed for some time in the shops or on the boards.

Time for family dance first.

And at eleven o'clock, fireworks over the River.

 Dance will last late in the night while the temperature will cool and the youngsters will take over with more "modern" music and noise, the more mature citizens coming to their senses after the fun of the day to shake their heads over the follies of contemporary youth.

And what of The Little family during these festivities? A day of quiet and rest. A more soigné luncheon after the breakfast with croissants. Lemon and meringue ice cream some time after lunch. Very light dinner and TV as usual. But while the fireworks were lighting the sky and cracking away, the New Provincial Lady was fighting a very obstinate little bird who had invaded one of the girls' bedroom and did not want to be induced to fly through the open window to join his family. Nothing was able to deter him and he was left the room  to himself why the girl went to sleep in the big bed of the New Provincial Lady after a gallant battle!

This morning, the bird had flown and peace has been re-established at home while another hot sunny day began its blazing course over busy people. Good bye 14 juillet! And yet, if not Bastille Day for the French, you stay all year round with us, on the pediment of the mairie and as the values thanks to which we lead our peaceful lives in le Village.

 Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

Monday, 13 July 2015

Small things

Once again, I wanted to blog about the books I had prepared last week and once again I have switched (slightly) my purpose because of small things.

One member of The Little Family has her birthday on 21 July. And for as long as she has been born, the wheat has been reaped on this very day. The noise, the dust, the scent of the cut straw has always been linked with her birthday cake, the scent of the wax and smoke of the candles, the rustle of the paper covering her presents being torn apart and crumpled, the little cries of delight, and the rush to hug and embrace as she is happy before her discoveries. There is a kind of harmony between these so-different noises, scents and movements Something that binds nature and humanity.

Therefore, I was surprised to hear the noise of the combine yesterday evening, then the dust of the ears shorn and cast down, then the scent. And as it was evening, we were in the sitting room watching TV with our hands folded in our laps, not at all in a festive mood. The smell was the most disturbing element: it was gasoil.

Now, in the past years, the scent of the reaped wheat was of earth, of frost, of days of rain, of mornings of dew and mist, of noons of blaze and sun, of afternoons of doze, of evenings of warm straw long in the air after the first stars, melting with the tang of the river and the heady wine perfume of the roses.

Yesterday, the smell brought no history and no story with it as there was no story nor joy at home.

Small things.

Small things like the sequel of the book about which I had decided to talk. So it will be odd to talk of this follow-up and of the first book afterwards but let's make the unusual step. 

I have read 'The Proper Place" in the re-edition by Greyladies when it came hot from the press and, as the few books by Olivia Douglas, I have enjoyed it straight away. When the sequel was published I bought it almost immediately and became the happy owner of "The Day of Small Things".

The title is a quote from Zechariah - 4:10 and runs thus ( in the King James Authorised Version):  

"For who hath despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord which run to and fro through the whole earth."

I grant you that out of its context, this is rather enigmatic (and even more for a French Provincial Lady who turned to her own Bible in French and found it as enigmatic but for the copious notes that were added for undersanding and clarification).

Fortunately, after having read the book, I decided that the first sentence only was relevant and it is clear enough:
"For who has despised the day of small things?"

For those of you who would happen not to know Olivia Douglas, here is a link to a very short (too short) biography:

Scottish, like D.E. Stevenson who wrote Miss Buncle's Book about which I talked some weeks ago here:

As well acquainted than D.E. Stevenson, with literary connections most prominent and still well-known today thanks to Alfred Hitchcock's' movie even if purists do not agree ... And John Buchan was one of these rare writers for middle-class gentlemen about which Kate Mac Donald, one of my favourite academics in this particular field, has written.

When I re-read both books, "The Proper Place"and "The Day of Small Things", I had more mixed feelings. Perhaps I have read too many middle-brow novels for middle-classes of the inter-war. I am less immediately enthusiastic and more moderate in my praise. But this fiction is worth reading, thanks to Greyladies printing and publishing house, today.

A sequel is always something difficult to write and to read. We know the characters - or most of them - and we know the pattern of the first book that we have loved.  How to keep readers interested while renewing oneself? Are the characters thick and full enough to resist to a protracted life? Can the pattern be renewed and yet sustaining the attractive traits that were cherished by the readers?

Whatever was in "The Proper Place", the theme and topic of "The Day of Smal Things" is clearly stated in the second chapter - right at the opening of the nove by Nicole, one of the main charactersl:

"I am absurdly pleased with life. Of course things are different now, but once you accept the fact, it's all right. To you and to me is the day of small things - Who said that? Someone in the  Bible, wasn't it? And the small things keep you going wonderfully: the kindness of friends; the fact of being needed; nice meals; books; interesting plays; the funny people in the world; the sea and the space and the wind - not very small, are they, after all?"

Lady Jane Rutherfurd and her daughter Nicole have lost almost everything during and after the Great War of 1914-1918: husband and sons, father and brothers and, for lack of money, the ancestral seat of Rutherfurd in the Borders.

Not wanting to stay close from their former home, former friends, former landscapes, and former station in life, they have decided to leave the Borders to another area of Scotland, the Fife land.

There, there have elected to live in "small" house in the harbour of Kirkmeikle, on the sea front, far from the genteel villas built recently on the hill up the fishing town and they have mingled (they say "made friends") with fishermen and fisher wives, their children and the elders. They have also made friends with the inhabitants of the genteel villas and with the more permanent and older residents of the town: the reverend and his family, the doctor and his sister. 

In The Small Things, we find them again in the same environment endowed with the same characteristics as before. For Angela Thirkell readers, lady Jane will be some sort of Lady Emily Leslie and Mrs Brandon in even less energetic frame of mind and absolutely no flirtatious manners (some sort of Agnes Graham and Mrs Dean, perhaps). She is tired, melancholic, resigned, lamblike, always on the brink of tears but never shedding them, delicate, and full of compassion. Her daughter who has been badly treated by life has the energy her mother has not, tries very hard to be happy and to make others happy according to her views, walks, admires landscapes, reads, talks, arranges little tea parties and luncheons or dinners and allows herself brief moments of dream and melancholy as well.

She describes their lives in the quote made higher: "I am absurdly pleased with life. Of course things are different now, but once you accept the fact it's all right. To you and to me is the day of small things."

However that would make no novel. Therefore, they are soon saddled with a "young bright thing", fresh from London, a bad set and a jilt, by a cousin of theirs who is the aunt of said "bright young thing". The connection, if there is a connection, is extremely tenuous. The whole topic will be to tame the "bright young thing" named Althea and demonstrate the small things are the best. 

Add little boys, permanent and less permanent (Olivia Douglas is very fond of little boys and of children in general: her books are teeming with them) going to school, asking for treats when back home, delighted by "small things", decent suitors, meals with new and old friends, holidays in the isle of Mull:

a return to the Borders:

and a happy ending mixed with some sadness or resolution à la Lily Dale taken from the Chronicles of Barset by Trollope.

To say more more would be to take away the bittersweet taste of the novel and of the tenor of life. There could many ways to analyse this book: I shall try my hand at it when reviewing the first volume "The Proper Place" but this one is too fragile to sustain critics be there positive or negative. Here is the stuff with which our lives are made: births, deaths, friendship, love, dreams... Small things that make our days.

Should one of them come to miss and we are confused, lost. I felt very strongly for Lady Jane and Nicole and all the other protagonists of this novel when the combine came yesterday evening to reap the wheat not at the proper time at all and there was but the smell of gasoil and noise of the machine without the story of the ears and of the straw and of the whole countryside mingled with the family joy of a birthday.

Yes, I am silly as all this will come to pass and life will go on. However, I, for one,  need to remember that " the small things keep you going wonderfully: the kindness of friends; the fact of being needed; nice meals; books; interesting plays; the funny people in the world; the sea and the space and the wind - not very small, are they, after all?"