Accidentally, or unconsciously, I’ve spent the autumn and winter months reading my way through the first three decades of the twentieth century. It started by visiting Anne Blythe (née Shirley) and continued by detecting crimes alongside Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. Of all the books on my shelves and all the books on library and book store shelves I’m not sure why I thumbed these yellowed and crumbling paperbacks.
It was only earlier this week that I realized Dorothy Sayers picks up in time where L.M. Montgomery ends. The break occurs at the end of The Great War — now, unfortunately, known as World War I. Though I’m not convinced that even existed as a subconscious motive. Neither author worries much about motive, so I’ll stop too.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever read separate books by separate people and thought of them as sort of continuing on with the story. Once I saw these tied together I couldn’t keep them apart. Sure we change continents, decades, socioeconomic circles, and genres, but in my head their lives moved on — back and forth, past and future.
Everything is kind of wrapped up happily by the end of each series. Kind of because I know what happens next. Did Anne ever find Fairyland again? I hope so. I hope she visited Walter there. How did Peter — so changed from the first — survive World War II? His and Harriet’s sons were too young and Peter was too old to fight, but not too old to continue as a diplomat. Their nephews and nieces…what happened to them?
If jumbling up these character’s lives wasn’t enough I started to jumble present life in too. The conclusive bow formed from this knot was that surprisingly little has changed. We’ve been having the same conversations on women’s rights, child rearing, distribution of wealth, xenophobia, duty, propriety, and religious fervor and giving ourselves the same pats on the backs for all the same and more for a hundred years. Things — Lord Peter’s voice recognition software is a gramophone and a record — have changed. But, a statement like “‘When I was a girl it wasn’t considered lady-like to know anything about Mathematics, but times have changed.'” shouldn’t sound so familiar.
Shouldn’t our throats and backs be raw by now? Making any kind of blanket declaration on any of it makes me as guilty of the charge I’m accusing us all of. Is there really nothing else to talk about? No?
“‘Oh!–well, all right. But it all sounds so dreary and exhausting,’ said Harriet, and burst idiotically into tears.”
There is, fortunately, fantasy and nonsense. I never get tired of that.
Charged with writerly crimes I’ll confess that I almost never follow an author’s name. I’ll say “wonder if that person who wrote Book Title wrote anything else good” instead of “ooh — I’m so excited Author Name has another book coming out.” If I need to fit in I can pull out a few author names. Except it usually clothes me in some skirt that is out of date with frayed stitching.
Along the same line these women who made their livelihood from their names deserve their private lives. I’d hate to be rude and prying…but, Maud and Dorothy have got me very intrigued. A little bit of prying makes it seem like both have had their lives scrubbed clean into a bright polish. I don’t want to quiz them or break down their public persona. I’m only asking for one friendly, neighborly conversation. They are, of course, both dead. So no chance of that happening.
I did want to honor their characters. I think that Anne, Peter, and Harriet would all approve of a Cranberry Cornmeal Skillet Cake (recipe from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson). Though often times modern in their ideas and clothing they were all a little old-fashioned. Especially when it came to food. They are always eating. It makes me forlornly hungry.
A skillet cake is not Anne’s “toothsome concoction iced with pink icing” nor is it what comes to mind when Harriet describes a seaside rock giving rest to a dead man as a slice of cake. It is however, exactly what I picture them taking on one of their many picnics.