Noel Streatfeild

I love me some Noel Streatfeild.  Turns out, she wrote several fictionalized autobiographical books about her life, and I just read two of them, A Vicarage Family and On Tour.  I think there is one more but my library very unobligingly does not have it.  She was the second of four children, and often felt out of place in her family.  Her older sister, Isobel, had asthma and as they had not yet invented the glory that is Albuterol, she was often an invalid.  The younger sister, Louise, was the beauty of the family and apparently never gave any trouble apart from tattling; and then the youngest one, Dick, was the boy.  Their father came from a posh family (“carriage folk” they used to say), but he was a vicar and there wasn’t much money when they were growing up.

I really felt for Victoria, which is what Noel Streatfeild calls herself in this book.  This passage sums up the general attitude towards her in her childhood:

Granny took Victoria’s other hand and pulled her gently nearer to her.  “Of course I love all my grandchildren, but I have a very special corner in my heart for you, Vicky.”

Victoria was amazed.  “Me!  But nobody likes me best!”

“That is what you think but you ae wrong.  I know somebody else who also keeps a special corner of his heart for you.”

Victoria was sure she knew the answer to that.  “God.”

Granny smiled.  “God loves us all.  No, I was thinking of your father.”

“Daddy!  But I’m the cross he has to bear.  Everybody says so.”

Oh dear.  Imagine growing up with everyone saying that about you.  It is no surprise (to me anyway) that Victoria grows up incredibly sensitive to other people not liking her.  As soon as she suspects an adult might not think well of her, she gets very proud and unfriendly – a bit like Jane in Movie Shoes, if you read Movie Shoes.  She grows up and becomes an actress, but after a while she decides to leave that behind (as she has gotten involved in some rather scandalous affairs about which I WANT TO HEAR MORE), go home, and become a writer instead.  And just as the plot thickens and I want to know all about her becoming a writer, On Tour ends and my library hasn’t got the last book and it’s out of print and I shall never know what happens.

Noel Streatfeild does a wonderful job portraying her family members.  The father is quite saintly and sounds like he would sometimes be very trying to live with – they get prayers and Bible verses to memorize and say when they’ve been bad, and when they get asked to a party during Lent, they’re told they can’t eat any sweets.  No sweets!  And they have to say no thank you to the cake and ask for only bread and butter.  LET ME TELL YOU, it is so uncomfortable when you are little to have dietary restrictions at a party.  I used to be allergic to cheese, and when we had pizza at parties everyone was all, Why are you taking the cheese off? and I felt stupid and I hated it.

And then sometimes things are just funny:

” ‘O come let us sing unto the Lord: Let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation..’ What’s the chances we’ve been asked to her party?  But if we have, bets I, Daddy won’t let us go.  I know he likes Mr. Sedman but he’s never let us go to parties in Lent.”

Victoria had a good ear, and she managed to fit the words perfectly to the plainsong of the Venite.

Isobel…began to giggle now, and to cover it pretended to be choking into her handkerchief.  Her mother looked anxiously at her.  She had seemed all right when they came out; the suspicion did stir in her – was Victoria being naughty? – but if she was there was no sign for there stood Victoria, prayer book properly held in two gloved hands, singing beautifully in her clear, choir-boy voice.  Their mother opened her bag and took out a box of cough lozenges and pushed it towards Isobel, who somehow mastered her giggles while with a shake of the head she denied the need for the lozenges.

“And that was pretty mean,” sang Victoria, “for I like them even if you do not.”

It’s also interesting to see the shifting of class boundaries over the course of the books.  Victoria’s parents – really all the adults in her lives – are extremely class-conscious.  Despite the fact that they can hardly afford dresses for the girls, her family has several servants to cook and clean and mind the children, and they distinguish between themselves and the tradesmen who come to the back (not front!) door.  As the book goes on, and World War I happens, these distinctions start to break down.  Victoria goes on the stage, where they don’t matter at all, and struggles to explain this to her family, who all want to know what sort of people she’s associating with on a day-to-day basis.  I am fascinated by the class thing in England.

Oh why is Noel Streatfeild all out of print?  I yearn and yearn for her books to be put all properly back in print and particularly Movie Shoes, which apparently my copy is heavily abridged and I want the proper version that was published in England, lo these many years ago.  The Book Depository, my new best friend and desperate temptation, has let me down.  By not having all of her books in print.  I guess it is not the Book Depository’s fault.

P.S. I went to the game last night, and we won so that was fun, but more importantly!  They honored my most favorite one of all our players, specially, and then right after they had done that he scored a touchdown (hooray!). They were all, the fastest ever player in all of college football, and I was sad because next year he will be gone.  Moreover, we screamed incredibly loudly enough to prevent the other team from getting a touchdown.  I like to feel that I have helped.

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20 thoughts on “Noel Streatfeild

  1. I think that altering words of hymns is one of the favourite pastimes of most pastor’s kids. My siblings and I would did that with a lot of songs, and we usually got our inspiration from our grandmother, who was also a pastor’s kid 🙂

    This sounds like a really intriguing story. Hopefully our library has the books!

  2. I had flashbacks of Saplings while reading your review. She does write brilliantly about family and relationships and the way children feel about things. I’m sad that her books aren’t all in print, because I really want to read them all.

    • I am trying one of her books for grown-ups now, to see how it compares. It’s differentish – so far I’m thinking I like her kids’ books better. I wish I could get Saplings but it’s still not in print here.

  3. i love love love noel streatfeild. i too mourn that so many books are out of print… i have this dream of someday working at a company that will let me reissue them. alas, not at the moment.

    • That would be neat! If you ever do that, I will send you a tin of the most delicious cookies I know how to make. 🙂 I wish my library had more of her stuff – they have a lot of the Shoes books, but I’ve realized now she wrote a bunch of other books. Which I now want and can’t get…

  4. When I found that out about Movie Shoes, I was distraught. Distraught, I tell you!

    It really is such a shame that so many of her books are out of print, and incomprehensible, because they are so very good. Mostly. (Bah, Gemma!)

    There’s some English company (did you tell me about it?) putting a lot of out of print books, especially girls’ books from the twentieth century, back in print.

    Speaking of out of print delights, have you read The Borrowers? I remember loving those, but they’re all out of print now, too. (Note to self: Check the library.)

    Oh, and this does sound like a lot of fun; I’ll have to check these out.

    • I loved the first Borrowers book A LOT. After that, I didn’t care for them as much. I think because they were having outside adventures in the later books (I vaguely remember a boat or something), and I liked it best when they were cozy at home, and having regular-home type adventures.

      Are you thinking of Persephone? I know they are putting a lot of women’s fiction back into print, and I believe they put one of Noel Streatfeild’s adult books into print. Also, some of her Shoes books are back in print in the UK. Not Movie Shoes though. Dammit.

  5. I love Noel Streatfeild too, but my library doesn’t have anything by her at all. American libraries seem to be much better at carrying old books. Mine throws books out once they have got the tiniest bit dogeared!

    Have you read Saplings? Persephone republished it and it is wonderful, about the disintegration of a family during the war years.

    • My library’s been culling books like mad in the past few years, but mostly books that they have multiple copies of and nobody ever checks them out. Which means of course I’ve gotten loads of my favorite books from childhood in hardback for about twenty-five cents.

      I haven’t read Saplings – I’ll have to look for it when I’m at the bookshop next time!

    • I think that On Tour is the American title of the second book, Away from the Vicarage . And Movie Shoes, if I recall correctly, is The Painted Garden and is one of my favorites even with the (grrrr) abridgements. Apple Bough is our Traveling Shoes – which I’m not even sure I read.

  6. Pingback: Wrapping up 2009 « Jenny's Books

  7. Pingback: Review: Beyond the Vicarage, Noel Streatfeild « Jenny's Books

  8. Fascinated by these chats about one of my favourite authors Noel Streatfield. I can’t get either the second or the third autobiography volume here but love the first.

    I have a copy of The Painted Garden (your Movie Shoes). It is rather old and battered paperback, but I could lend it if anyone wants to read it.

    • The first is the best one anyway. She’s at her best when she’s writing about children.

      I’d love to read the proper version of Movie Shoes, but I don’t want you to risk your copy in the mails, especially if it’s old to begin with. I’m going to see if I can get it from a used bookseller online. If I get it for one of my sisters as a gift, it won’t count as spending money on myself, but I’ll still get to read it. :p

  9. Hello – lovely to see fellow Noel Streatfeild fans. I’m also trying to get more of her books, but not the abridged paperbacks. Movie Shoes (Painted Garden) was a completely different book with almost a chapter and a half omitted from the paperback.

    • I was so upset to discover that my version of Movie Shoes was abridged! I want the proper one! Though I’m glad it was only a chapter and a half gone, I’d been envisioning huge swathes of text like somebody abridging The Count of Monte Cristo. :p

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