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.