Near the Dead Sea

Near the Dead Sea, probably in En Gedi Nature Reserve and National Park, Israel.

Though I don’t pretend to know anything about photography, I love to take pictures. I will be posting a picture once a week to share with you.

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At the Fortress Marienberg in Würzburg, Germany

At the Fortress Marienberg in Würzburg, Germany.

Though I don’t pretend to know anything about photography, I love to take pictures. I will be posting a picture once a week to share with you.

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Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

Persephone Reading Weekend Button

I was excited to read Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary by Ruby Ferguson, because it looked like a light, cozy read. Though I did not get a Persephone edition of this book through inter-library loan but a 1963 edition of this 1937 book, Persephone Books has printed this novel, and I usually enjoy their titles. Though I hate to be a wet blanket and give a negative review during Persephone Reading Weekend, I have to be honest; when I finished it on the 17th, I felt the first part was light, but sadly, the last part of this novel was not my cup of tea.

Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary begins with Mr. and Mrs. Dacre, two English tourists, and an American, Mr. Van Elsen, visiting the beautiful Scottish estate of Keepsfield during the Inter-War period. They are shown around by Mrs. Memmary, supposed, by the tourists, to be the old caretaker. The estate has fallen from its glory days in the Victorian period, and now, only Mrs. Memmary is left living in the house. The story switches between the tourists’ experience of the estate and the story of Lady Rose, the Countess of Lochlule and the owner of Keepsfield.

An illustration on page 23 by Sylvia Salisbury. The caption reads, "A LITTLE GIRL WOKE ON A MAY MORNING".

Lady Rose was a happy little girl, rejoicing in the beauty of her home, Keepsfield. Mrs. Memmary describes her thus, ‘”What you’d notice most about Lady Rose was her happiness. She was that kind of child; everything was lovely to her. She always found something new to wonder at and delight in”‘ (57). Lady Rose was a captivating child, and it was enjoyable to read about her sixth birthday, her meeting with a famous author, and her presentation to Queen Victoria when she grew up.

The author describes the kind of childhood of which many little girls dream, depicting the life of a privileged aristocratic child, glad to be alive and living in her Scottish home. Keepsfield was the perfect setting for such a childhood. The narrator describes Helen Dacre’s experience of the estate thus:

This place was exercising over her a strange magic; so far from the world, so remote form the dusty ways of life to which she was accustomed. This was a faery land, a realm of pure, bright colour, of blander sunlight and richer air. Not peaceful exactly, for there was a kind of tingling excitement in the air, a sparkling flavour that you drew in with every breath. It soothed you and yet thrilled you, because all your senses were equally delighted at one and the same time; all your five senses blessed with the loveliness of heaven and earth, colour and scent, soughing sound of tree boughs and murmuring song of bees, taste of the sea-tang on your tongue, cool, gracious pattern of the marble balustrade under your hand, flowing classic lines of the white mansion under the flax-blue sky (55).

As I read the first part of the book, I was enthralled by Keepsfield, and I was enchanted with this child who was so happy and pleased with the beauty which surrounded her.

Being part of the aristocracy, though, had its responsibilities and was not only a life of luxury and beauty. It is impressed upon the reader that among the aristocracy, people did not marry for love but in order to maintain their class. Lady Rose’s parents engineered her marriage, and she married a man who had a title, family, money, and land close to her own. When her father died suddenly without a male heir, Queen Victoria granted her the title of Countess of Lochlule. Therefore, she and her husband lived at Keepsfield, and her husband was not pleased that his wife had her own title as the Countess, owned her own estate, and was seen by the servants to be in charge of them even though, as her husband, he had the last say with them.

When her husband died suddenly, Lady Rose was freed from an unhappy marriage. On the surface, they had kept up the façade of a good marriage. Yet, her husband had been cold and checked her exuberant nature. At this point, Lady Rose could have led a quiet life with her children on her estate. Yet, in Edinburgh, she made a decision that changed her life.

I have wrestled with myself over my feelings regarding the last part of the book; I want to be charitable towards Lady Rose, but when it comes down to it, my generosity is limited. I have also pondered how I could possibly describe my feelings in a review without ruining the book for anyone who might want to read it. Therefore, I’m sorry ahead of time that I reveal spoilers. I have tried to make some events in the later part of the book vague, but not everything could be sufficiently masked. If you do not care about spoilers, read on. On the other hand, if you do not want to know anything about what happens in the later part of this book, please do not read the rest of this review. Though the first part of this novel is a light, charming tale, I will say that the author’s depiction of Lady Rose’s selfish behaviour left me unhappy with the book at the end.

Lady Rose made a decision which went against her responsibilities towards her class and class distinctions, and society turned against her and a loved one. Subsequently, her relatives denied her access to her children, and the Countess of Lochlule decided to leave her home. I think the strict class responsibilities placed upon Lady Rose and the class distinctions made at this time were terrible. First, because of these, Lady Rose entered into a cold marriage. Marriage here was not about a loving relationship between husband and wife, about companionship, about producing and raising children in a caring atmosphere. Instead, it was about maintaining a class. Lady Rose’s decision in Edinburgh went against these class distinctions and responsibilities, and society lashed out against her. Her decision to disregard society was courageous, and I applaud it.

An illustration on page 153 by Sylvia Salisbury. The caption reads, "SHE READ IN A CLEAR, LILTING VOICE".

At the same time, Lady Rose did not seem affected enough by what happened to her children as a consequence of her decision. I tried hard to give Lady Rose the benefit of the doubt, though. I could not tell whether she foresaw what would occur to her children; she said at one point that she did foresee what society would do, speaking here in a general way regarding how others would react to her decision and not speaking particularly of what would happen to her children. Someone else said that though she did foresee some of what would happen, she did not foresee the full extent of society’s actions, so hopefully, she did not contemplate ahead of time what would happen to her children. Regardless, she did attempt to thwart society’s wishes regarding her children but did not push the point once she was unsuccessful, seeing the futility of doing so; maybe, it would have been futile. Though she knew her relatives would prevent her children from receiving her letters, she wrote to them and obviously still cared for them.

Lady Rose, however, lived quite happily without her children which astonished me. Lady Rose was a loving and caring mother, and I felt her reaction to how her children were affected by society’s actions was both unrealistic and without sufficient feeling. It seemed unbelievable to me how a mother who loved her children as Lady Rose did could not miss them more after they were taken from her. Helen Dacre conjectures that she may have had regrets but in a general way and not particularly about her children, and the author never definitively states that she did. Also, she left Keepsfield, a home she had loved since childhood, and it amazed me how she could depart without more of a fight; she may not have had a choice if she wanted freedom from society’s disrespect against her and her loved one, but she did not battle against society. She lived happily with the decision she made in Edinburgh and did not seem affected enough by her losses.

Even though Mrs. Memmary says she can understand a part of both society’s position against the Countess of Lochlule and Lady Rose’s decision in Edinburgh, I felt the author attempts to engender contempt against these class distinctions which I did feel. At the same time, the author shows too much sympathy towards the Countess of Lochlule regarding her behaviour subsequent to society’s reaction. As far as I can remember, no criticism was given of Lady Rose’s behaviour after society lashes out against her by anyone, and Mrs. Dacre lauds her decision in Edinburgh and provides no criticism of her conduct after society’s reaction to it, except maybe mentioning that she may have had regrets as stated above. I ended up feeling more indignant at Lady Rose’s lack of feeling concerning her losses and the author’s portrayal of her at this point than angry at society’s actions against her.

Sadly, this book did not hit the spot for me. I enjoyed the enchanting qualities of the first part of the book, and I loved the happy, beauty loving nature of Lady Rose. Yet, I thought her behaviour after society lashed out against her was unrealistic and selfish. I did feel outraged towards the British society of the Victorian period, but the novel also left me feeling angry at Lady Rose’s behaviour.

MLA Citation:

Ferguson, Ruby. Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary. London: Hodder and Stoughton, Limited, 1963. Print.

See cardigangirlverity and Paperback Reader for more information on Persephone Reading Weekend.

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Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton

Persephone Reading Weekend ButtonPersephone Reading Weekend, hosted by Paperback Reader and cardigangirlverity, is going on right now, and I encourage everyone to join and pick up a Persephone

I finished Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton at the beginning of February, and I am excited to participate in the weekend by posting this review today. It’s a great novel, and I highly recommend it.

Family Roundabout is the story of two families, intertwined by a marriage, a friendship, and a relationship. The Fowlers are county gentry, while the Willoughbys are the prosperous middle-class owners of the local mill; until their children come in contact with one another, the two families have little to do with each other because of the class divide. The patriarchs of both died before the novel begins, and the matriarchs are the focus of the novel. Mrs. Fowler is a gentle, unassuming mother, never telling her adult children and teenage daughter what to do but always there for them when they make mistakes. Mrs. Willoughby, on the other hand, is controlling, always there to tell each of her children, their spouses, and her grandchildren exactly how to live their lives. Mrs. Willoughby often resents Mrs. Fowler because she somehow is able to influence situations without lifting a finger, just by being herself, while Mrs. Willoughby has to be on hand constantly to guide every situation. Mrs. Fowler, though, while feeling a bit disdainful of Mrs. Willoughby, envies her ability to make quick decisions and wonders whether it would not have been better to give her children a little bit more advice. When her husband courted her, she suppressed her personality to become the unassertive woman he wanted, and she now fluctuates between saying sarcastic things to herself about her children and going with the flow.

The lovely endpaper of Persephone Book No. 24. When I received it as an inter-library loan, I was so excited to get a Persephone edition. To learn about the endpaper, just click on the image.

I found myself feeling much more inclined towards Mrs. Fowler. I thought her gentle care for her children and her willingness to let them make their own choices even if she feared they’d make mistakes was probably the better tact to take as a parent. At the same time, I found myself saying to her, “Just tell your daughter not to marry that man!,” or, “Tell that one to get over her jealousy.” Though there were times when she did bring out her opinion in extreme situations, I began to feel that her children would have been far happier if they’d been given a bit more guidance instead of always the gentle, comforting bosom on which to cry. And as Juliet Aykroyd states in her “Preface” to the book in the 2001 Persephone edition, “Mrs. Willoughby also shifts in our estimation. Her nurturing is to say the least unimaginative, but ‘tempered by genuine kindness.’ She is formidable but never malicious” (ix-x). Mrs. Willoughby may bully her children, but she does mean well. Her mode of parenting isn’t the best, but neither is Mrs. Fowler’s.

The two matriarchs are not the only subjects of this book. Family Roundabout follows the course of the two families from 1920 to the eve of the outbreak of World War II. Through a third person narrator, we hear from each of the children, sometimes their spouses, and the grandchildren. Crompton describes a situation or a character well, using very few words so that we know immediately who he/she is or what is going on.

The parenting of Mrs. Fowler’s and Mrs. Willoughby’s children is often explored. To put forward just two examples, one mother is controlling like Mrs. Willoughby, and a wife nags her husband, affecting their children. In these situations and others, the author shows the complexity of family relationships well. Crompton is adept at portraying grown children who were once raised in two very different manners who run into problems later in life, showing that all of them are liable to make mistakes.

All the adults have issues stemming from their childhoods, affecting their parenting, and it made me wonder if adding a couple who had sufficiently dealt with their issues and who were, on the whole, good parents though not infallible would have made a difference to the novel. On second thought, though, I don’t think it would because even children raised in good homes make poor choices later in life. After all, it’s part of being human to fail sometimes. Furthermore, probably nobody sufficiently deals with their issues enough so that they don’t affect any children they may have.

Overall, I really enjoyed Family Roundabout, and I highly recommend it.

MLA Citations:

Crompton, Richmal. Family Roundabout. London: Persephone Books Ltd, 2001. Print.

Aykroyd, Juliet. Preface. Family Roundabout. By Richmal Crompton. 1948. London: Persephone Books Ltd, 2001. v-xviii. Print.

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Boats in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Boats in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Though I don’t pretend to know anything about photography, I love to take pictures. I will be posting a picture once a week to share with you.

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Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Though I don’t pretend to know anything about photography, I love to take pictures. I will be posting a picture once a week to share with you.

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From Prairies to Corn Fields to Riverboats and Back Again

Southern Saskatchewan is very flat. This picture was taken on the outskirts of Weyburn, SK.

In September, my dad and I took a road trip home to the Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, Area. I grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, but I haven’t lived there for almost ten years. This trip was my first time home in four years, so I was excited to see family and friends.

An old barn in Minnesota.

I’d never traveled through most of this part of the US, so I was also enthusiastic about the road trip itself. I didn’t mind the long drive at all or anticipate getting bored. With a few books in my backpack, how could I? I actually didn’t do a whole lot of reading on the four day trip down to Cincinnati; I think I finished one book and started another one. I was too busy watching the changing landscape and taking pictures of it.

I did think that Saskatchewan and the US Mid-West would be one uninteresting, flat expanse of fields, but I was wrong. Yes, there were a lot of farms, but the countryside changed considerably from one region to another. We went from bushy central Saskatchewan to flat (and I mean flat) southern Saskatchewan to the valleys with few trees of North Dakota. We saw forests and well kept farms in Minnesota and great expanses of corn fields and rolling hills in Iowa. When we crossed the Mississippi River, the landscape of Illinois was more familiar to me as it resembled, to a large extent, the flat farmland of central Ohio. Yet, in southern Indiana, the landscape changed to lush, tree covered hills. Finally, we arrived at our destination. By the time we got there, I was antsy, ready to get out of the car, and anxious to see my family.

Birds rising out of an Iowa corn field.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Most of the trip was filled with visiting family and friends, but we did get to do a little sight-seeing. When you are from a place, you aren’t necessarily interested in “seeing the sights,” but I was keen on visiting two different ones while I was home. First, we went to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a spectacular museum. The museum details the history the Underground Railroad, and Cincinnati was a site on it. This museum was opened after I moved away from the city. I really wanted to visit it, and it was definitely worth the trip. We were only able to see the film, Suite for Freedom, and walk through less than half of “From Slavery to Freedom” which detailed the history of slavery and its eradication in America. We just weren’t able to take in all the information jam packed into the exhibit. Other exhibits were also open in the museum, and I would have liked to have had several days to explore them all. If you ever visit Cincinnati, I would highly recommend it.

Me with my sasparilla in front of the Rabbit Hash General Store.

Yes, the mayor of Rabbit Hash is a dog.

We also were able to visit Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, a small village on the Ohio River. The Greater Cincinnati Area is filled with people and traffic, and it was nice to get away to this village. It’s a bit of a tourist attraction because it’s quirky, but it’s not overrun by tourists, either (at least it wasn’t when we were there). Why is it quirky, you might ask? Well, it has an old-fashioned general store, a pig crossing, and… a dog as its mayor. Her name is Lucy Lou, and we got to see her when we visited. It’s also right on the River and has great views of Rising Sun, Indiana, on the other side of it. I definitely recommend a visit, and if you go to the general store, buy some sasparilla; it tastes good and has a cool name.

The Ohio River taken from Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, with Rising Sun, Indiana, on the left bank.

Cincinnati, Ohio, seen from Newport, Kentucky, at sunset.

As mentioned, an escape to Rabbit Hash was needed, because I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of traffic and urban sprawl in the Greater Cincinnati Area. Since leaving the region, I’ve lived in a small town and cities of various sizes, and I haven’t traveled to suburbs all that much. It’s a different way of life from the one I’ve led in the last nine years, and the huge amounts of cars on the roads disconcerted me. Yet, there were times when I was taken off guard by the beauty of Cincinnati. At one point,  in Newport, Kentucky, I saw a river boat passing by the skyscrapers of Downtown Cincinnati on the other side of the River as the sun set. When you grow up in a place, you don’t always recognize its beauty, and the lush, tree covered hills of the Ohio River can be breath taking.

Prairie grasses, shrubs, and trees at a rest stop in Illinois.

The dugout display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.

A map of most of Laura Ingalls Wilder's moves throughout her life at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.








We couldn’t stay forever, though, and we had to make the four day drive back to Saskatchewan. On the way back, we were able to visit Walnut Grove, Minnesota, a very small town close to the original site where Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Ingalls family lived, and see the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. When I was little, I read some of her books and watched Little House on the Prairie, and even now when I’m in a sappy, nostalgic mood and want something comforting, I’ll watch it. On the way to Cincinnati, I noticed that we were passing through Redwood Falls, and I saw that Mankato and Sleepy Eye, all place names I recognized from the TV show, were relatively close by, too. I, then, looked for Walnut Grove, and sure enough, it was not that far out of our way. When we got to the hotel that night, through the Internet, I found out that a museum about Laura Ingalls Wilder existed in Walunt Grove. My very kind father agreed that we could stop there on the way back to Saskatchewan, and I was really excited.  It was not a fancy museum, but it gave me an idea of what it was like for the first settlers on the Prairies. The museum’s dugout display impressed upon me how limited their means really were and how little space they had.

Cattle grazing in South Dakota.

The RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, SK.

We soon had to leave Walnut Grove, and we traveled through South Dakota and North Dakota. Next, we crossed the Canadian border into Saskatchewan. When we arrived in Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, we visited the RCMP Heritage Centre. It is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited, and I encourage anyone who ever goes to Regina to see it. The displays were well done with plenty of information but not an overwhelming amount. There was enough there to keep us occupied for a few hours but not so much that days were required to see it all. I appreciate big museums like the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, but ones that have just the right amount of information exhibited really impress me, especially since I had a terrible time editing my papers when I was in university. The displays covered such things as the history of the RCMP in Canada, how to become a member of the Mounted Police, and how the RCMP solves crimes today using modern technology. It was definitely worth the visit.

The RCMP Moose and I at the RCMP Heritage Centre.

Finally, we made our way back to Prince Albert. It was now early October, and we had experienced an amazing trip through the Mid-Western US and Saskatchewan, not one that I will forget anytime soon.

Empty railway cars in southern Saskatchewan.

© Virginia Wilmhoff 2011

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