The Latin Spring of Mrs Kirrin

March 21, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Learning Stuff | 3 Comments
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It is officially spring. Saturday marked the vernal equinox, the point at which day and night are of equal length. If the Kirrins worked hard at school after Five Go Adventuring Again (when they needed Mr Roland’s help to translate an old Latin parchment), they would know that this derives from Latin: ver=spring, aequi=equal, nox=night. With state education not being what it was seventy years ago, I confess that I did have to look that up in my Oxford English Dictionary. The Mayor of London has something to say about this – not about me personally, but about Latin and the school curriculum [NB ‘curriculum’, from currere, to run, a course. ‘NB’, nota bene=to note well. Ok, I’ll stop].

Continuing the classical theme, Saturday seemed like an appropriate day for a (soggy) cycle ride to Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street, the vernal equinox being the day on which the mythical Persephone emerges from the Underworld to spend a happy half year above ground before returning to her morbid husband Hades (Incidentally, Enid Blyton’s excellent Tales of Ancient Greece introduced me, as a child, to this terrifying story of abduction, rape and pomegranates).

Persephone Books republishes forgotten and out-of-print works by twentieth century (mainly) women writers. I’ve read about ten of their books so far and have enjoyed every one. Each book is also a thing of beauty, with a dove-grey cover and a carefully chosen patterned endpaper which has some thematic link to the book itself. I decided to indulge my inner Aunt Fanny and bought The Closed Door and Other Stories, a collection of short stories by Dorothy Whipple, a popular writer of the interwar years; something practical – The Country Housewife’s Book, by Lucy H Yates; and Marghanita Laski’s To Bed with Grand Music, which could probably be classed as a ‘racy’ novel for someone of Aunt Fanny’s class and generation.

First published in 1934, The Country Housewife’s Book is full of useful advice on bottling fruits, preserving eggs (brown pickled eggs, egg and lemon curd, egg emulsion and egg wine) and using up gluts of milk (by making clotted cream, cream cheese and junket) [more from this in future posts]. Aunt Fanny would also be able to refer to it when she wanted tips on medicinal herbs or on how to use skimmed milk for ‘cleaning white enamelled furniture, paint, linoleum, or oilcloth’ and for ‘easing sunburn or for removing freckles’.

To Bed with Grand Music, on the other hand, would probably only come out after the children were in bed, or while George was away at school. It was published immediately after the Second World War and tells the story of a woman’s serial unfaithfulness when her husband is posted overseas. There is no bottling of orchard fruit or pickling of eggs here. To Bed instead depicts a world of loose sexual morals, expensive restaurants, black market silk stockings, and discussions of what makes a good mistress. Latin terms probably come into this, but not ones that the Kirrins would be taught at school.



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  1. Saucy Aunt Fanny!

  2. […] Leading image via Bloomsbury Bluestocking Interior image via A Little Bird Books Image via Famous Five Style […]

  3. will definitely check them out :)

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