Saturday, September 25, 2010

Goodbye to Lark Rise

Goodbye to Lark Rise

    What a pleasure to spend my summer at Lark Rise. Lark Rise is the fictional name of the hamlet of Flora Thompson’s childhood. Who is Flora Thompson? She was an Englishwoman, wife and mother of three children. I invite you to read her biography online. She never attended high school, married early and loved to read. In the last decade of her life she wrote an account of her childhood (1880-1890s) in three volumes. Today these volumes are published as, Lark Rise to Candleford – A Trilogy.

     Lark Rise to Candleford isn’t found on a list of important autobiographies. Criticized for having no plot you won’t find it on a list of great novels, either. It is, however, a minor classic. With no bloody crime, deep remorse, nervous suspense, fast action, hanky-panky or any other worrisome conflict, many will find its pages a refreshing change of pace.  

BBC Series

    Dean and I were browsing a bargain bookstore when I came across it.  Reading the back cover I thought, “This sounds lovely. I’ve never heard of this before.” A year later my book was still unread. It was packed in a box for our household move. The next winter the BBC television series “Lark Rise to Candleford” was being aired. I had remembered the title of my unread book and went searching for it. Yes, it was the same author on which the series was based. 

 Flora is Laura

    For the sake of entertainment the story plots of the TV series were invented. Without the stories what’s left? You might be wondering. Descriptions of the end of an era, of a way of life in England that was crumbling away to make room for modern conveniences, assembly line manufacturing, mass transportation, prepackaged food products, etc. Flora remembers what life in the 19th century was like. Calling herself “Laura” she describes it all by way of a cherished memory.

Neat and Tidy Poor People

    I can clearly see the “poor people’s houses” and where Laura lived in the “end house.” I can see Laura’s parents, siblings, neighbors, the clothes they wore and the work they did. I can hear the children’s songs (she supplies the words) and outdoor games. I can smell her mother’s stew simmering on a wood burning stove in the stuffy atmosphere of their tiny cottage swept spotlessly clean and yet so meagerly furnished and so dimly lit by its few windows.

A Country Neighborhood

    Nature surrounded the hamlet and was always changing. Laura, in childlike newness, takes in all the beauty of the plowed fields, the meadows, woodlands, birds, and wildflowers, missing none of their charms. Much of her time was spent outdoors in the fresh air keeping watch over her younger sisters and observing the goings-ons of the tight little hamlet. 


A Village Post Office

    At sixteen Laura was sent to work in the post office with Miss Lane in the village of Candleford Green eight miles from her home. She visits her relatives and describes a whole village of characters she gets to know during post office hours and outside them. Through the eyes of the “growing up” Laura we become privy to her social commentary. 
(The brown building to the right is a British post office one hundred years ago.)

In No Rush

    I was in no rush to say goodbye to Lark Rise. Now that I’m finished I feel I’ve been left with a possession. I know something about the world I didn’t know before. I’d like to think that looking at life through the eyes of another has enlarged my sympathies. I would have read aloud portions of Lark Rise to my highschoolers had I known about it then. Alas, this is another book they’ll have to pick up themselves.

A click on Lark Rise will take you to CBD.

A Bone to Pick    

The BBC series adds mysticism and makes the country folk out to be far more superstitious than Flora Thompson ever implies. One Christian character is ludicrous. In her writings Flora (an Anglican) shows respect for Christian, non-Christian, conservative and liberal alike.

Until next time,

Karen Andreola 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Sampler in Memoriam

A Sampler in Memoriam  

    Did you know that Jane Austen took pride and pleasure in handiwork? In the book, Jane Austen’s World, Maggie Lane says that Jane “applied the same high standards to the production of her needle as to those of her pen.” This is evident in the beauty of the patchwork quilt made by Jane, her mother and her sister Cassandra together. The quilt uses sixty-four different fabrics in diamond shapes on a dotted white background. In 1811, in a letter to Cassandra, Jane asked, “Have you remembered to collect pieces for the patchwork?” The ladies were discriminating collectors of floral chintz in pleasing pinks, red, tan and sky blue. You can see the quilt on the website of Jane Austen’s House museum when taking the virtual tour.


In the center of Jane’s quilt is a large diamond with a basket of flowers. In photographs I’ve seen of antique samplers from the 19th century, the maker of a sampler (usually a young girl acquiring skill) often includes a vase or a basket of flowers, or two baskets because many a sampler is stitched in symmetry.

    The sampler I stitched over the summer has flowers in symmetry and also a larger vase of flowers at its center. It is a reproduction of an antique sampler purchased on e-bay by the ladies of Blackbird Designs. It is featured in their booklet, Honeysuckle Manor. Louisa Bell stitched it in approximately 1804 (Jane’s day) or earlier, judging by the choice of lettering she used.


    As always I began at the top and worked the honeysuckle border down the sides to the bottom. Then I did something unusual. I worked from the bottom up. I wanted the security of knowing the house would be spaced just right. Do you see how the window above the door is off center? This is exactly how Louisa Bell stitched it. Sometimes chart makers preserve irregularities in their reproduction charts. Louisa’s inconsistencies in the honeysuckle border, however, were corrected.  


    Honeysuckle Manor is pretty in soft shades of color. The soft thread colors are meant to simulate a faded antique – the way the sampler looks today. But the book also gives a peek of the back of the sampler. How rich the original colors were - more true to what could be seen on the front when first stitched. I don’t know what came over me. All I know is that eyeing the back of the sampler made me a deserter. I ignored the color list entirely to choose colors closer to Louisa’s. The faintly marbleized linen I chose and the subtle variations of Gentle Art threads (fading red on the house) suggest enough of an antique for me. 

    The chart recommends stitching the name of someone special in place of Louisa Bell. I peeked at one sampler lover’s blog, also an avid reader, and saw that on her Honeysuckle Manor she stitched Jane Austen - 1775. Can you guess the name I chose? 

“I find no adjectives adequate to describe my admiration . . . “ A Charlotte Mason Companion, pg 377

    Honeysuckle Manor is finished. Until it is framed I’ll keep it rolled in a linen towel. 
Do you and your children like making something for the joy it brings or because it is pleasing to the eye? Perhaps you are drawn to making what is useful or needful. At other times the work of your hands may hold an extra special meaning to you.  

    Miss Mason on Handicrafts: 
“The human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is the cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success.” Phil. of Ed. pg 328.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Summer’s Parting Gifts

Summer’s Parting Gifts

“The mind receives knowledge, not in order that it may know, but in order that it may grow, in breadth and depth, in sound judgment and magnanimity; but in order to grow, it must know.” Charlotte Mason, Phil. of Ed., pg 237.
I am adding to my knowledge by savoring summer’s parting gifts. Learning something new is refreshing.

    I can see these pokeberries from our bedroom window. Pokeberries (poisonous) aren’t new to me but I recently heard that ink from the pokeberry was used to write the Declaration of Independence. Dora, one of the characters in Lessons at Blackberry Inn, is a self-taught spinner of wool. The American colonists used pokeberries as a cloth dye and for ink, which must have sparked Dora’s interest. She exclaimed to Carol, “Ooh, look, pokeberries. They’re plump and ripe and will make just the pink I need.”  She began breaking off the stems . . .  “I’ve collected goldenrod for yellow and sassafras root bark for brown. Whenever I go for walks, I keep my eyes open for plant dyes.”

    Doesn’t this toadstool belong in a fairy tale? Dean found it in the grass and got out his camera.


    It opened the next day. Where have I seen a toadstool like this?  On the cover of a Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem - the autumn story - her only “season” story I care for. It isn’t her stories but her detailed illustrations that make her picture books.

    I opened the pages of my Country Diary of an Edwardian and found Edith Holden’s painting of a toadstool (poisonous). I paid closer attention to a detail that I once skimmed over. Her entry reads. “My sister sent me some lovely crimson toadstools with white spots, this morning, from Keston Common.” Were they sent through the mail? Edith says that they were damaged by the journey, the heads severed from their stems, but she still managed to make a sketch of them for her notebook.

    In the 1990s I recommended The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady as a beautiful example of a nature notebook created in 1906. The video, based on the book, is one I can’t part with. It is a calming portrayal of the seasonal wildlife of rural England. Mothers who observe nature to feed their souls, and mothers who lead their children in observation will find inspiration here. I propped up the video in the beehive oven of our fireplace then decorated it with a little pair of antique shoes. (Click photo to enlarge.) One hundred years later the buttons are still intact. I can’t imagine that they were comfortable shoes for a young child. But by the state of the soles they, indeed, were worn.

    I do not recommend the DVD series based on Edith Holden’s life. It is a disappointment. The added footage reveals family conflict and Edith’s country walks with her quiet fiancé. Few conversations take place. Apparently her family prefers talking to the dead round the dinning table. Creepy. The video excludes the unwelcome footage and depicts only Edith’s observations and entries in her notebook. You’ll find it for a few dollars online because videos are passé. 

    A new wildflower, one growing further down the road from the asters, is this spotted orange flower, the touch-me-not. 

    It took me quite a while to locate the name of this five-petal weed that sprang up beside our front walk. It is a cinqfoil but its color is unlike any in my field guides. Sophia was visiting on the Saturday I was searching my guides. She swiftly consulted her “contemporary resource” – her laptop - to goggle images.

    I wish you new knowledge this week, my friend, to add a little surprise and refreshment to your Mother Culture. Learning new things with children, too, makes for pleasant companionship.