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Family Roundabout - Richmal Crompton

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I've no idea if anyone outside the UK, or even outside of a certain age group in the UK, would know who Richmal Crompton is. As the author of the Just William books, written, I suppose, in the 30s, 40s and 50s, she is incredibly well known here but whether today's children read them, I've no idea. The books do, I'm sure, still have a huge fanbase of middle aged folk who love them and reread them regularly. Anyway, the fact of the matter is that Crompton also wrote an awful lot of books for adults as well as for children and Family Roundabout is one of them. I bought it recently from Persephone as a birthday pressie to myself and for some reason felt compelled to read it quickly.

So, what's it about? Well, it's set in the years 1920 to 1939 and, as the title suggests, is about *families*. Two in particular, the Fowlers and the Willoughbys - both middle-class, both have five children a piece, but who are in reality very different to each other. This is due mostly to the mothers - both now widows - and their style of parenting. Mrs. Fowler is bright and witty but became someone else in order to catch the husband she wanted. She became vague and pretended stupidity basically, her style of mothering being laid back, 'let the children do as they will' kind of thing. Mrs. Willoughby on the other hand was a frightening woman, an organiser, who ruled the household totally.

"Everything in the Willoughby house was massive and solid and expensive, and, judged by modern standards, ugly. Mrs. Willoughby herself might be said to be massive, solid, expensive and ugly."

The Willoughbys were the 'doers' in the town, they owned the local mill, sat on committees, the husband was a mayor etc. The Fowlers did none of these things, preferring a quiet life. The two families have very little to do with each other, in fact, until one of the Fowler girls, Helen, marries the eldest Willoughby boy, Max. Thus, the families become inextricably linked. We learn what happens to all ten children, who they fall in love with, who they marry, the scandals, and so forth. The two mothers are central to the story, the different ways in which they deal with a crisis, how they are with their offspring and grandchildren and so on. And times are changing, there's a war coming and the role of women is about to alter drastically.

This book might not seem to be about very much. It's very much a woman's book I would suggest, dealing with women's issues long before feminism became popular. I couldn't put it down - I actually forgot to put tea on yesterday afternoon because I was so engrossed. I got wrapped up in what was happening to each member of the family, their tragedies, their triumphs and so on. Crompton makes them all come alive, especially the formidable Mrs. Willoughby. The book is also food for thought. Does it really make any difference how you bring your children up? Do you dominate or do you let them do as they please? Judging by this book the answers are not as clear-cut as they might seem. Crompton tells this story with gentle humour and a great deal of perception and I absolutely loved it.

The illustration, btw, is not the book cover, which is the usual dove grey, but is the pic used to illustrate the book on the Persephone site. I thought it rather evocative.

Comments

Yay for Persephone! :-)
Seconded. I'm becoming an addict already. A new one arrived this morning off e.Bay - one you recommended, Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski. Not sure how often they come up on e.Bay but I was really surprised to see it there and it's in perfect condition.
I've never found a Persephone book on eBay! I do/will pick up any I see in charity shops - even if I have the book myself, I'm sure I can always find someone who's happy to give it a new home :D
Crikey, I must have been very lucky to catch that one Persephone on eBay then. I didn't think it could be a very common occurance. I've kept an eye out in charity shops but have yet to see one. We're off to London in a couple of weeks so I'm planning a visit to the shop. :-D
I don't know if you have Persephone no. 53, Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary but it's for sale on eBay at the moment. It's not one I'm too bothered about but I wondered if you might be. The starting price is £4.99.
Ah - I do have that one - but thanks for the heads-up :D
That's okay. :-)
AMP is my friend :-)
LOL! ;-)))
I love Richmal's Just William books - I find them a complete joy to read and re-read, but I must confess, I didnt realise she had written books for adults, and based in the same period as the JW books too. Thanks for this; going to try and find them now.
I had no idea she wrote for adults either. 41 books apparently! Seeing how many William books she wrote, she was obviously very prolific. I'm going to do the opposite to you, I'm going to get some Just William books as I haven't read them for years and fancy a reread now. :-)
Sigh....! As you may have realised by now, Caffy, where books are concerned, I can resist anything except temptation. So I'm not at all sure it's doing me any favours to introduce me to a new source of beautiful and interesting books. Persephone?
And, as for pointing out that there might be the odd one on e-bay....
I must not buy any more books. Repeat after me, Rosie, ... I must not buy any more books, I must not...
But I suppose I could just peek at the website....... *bg*
And I do hope you'll let us know what the bookshop is like!
Persphone publish out of print books from female authors who might have been forgotten or, like Richmal Crompton, wrote adult books that no one knows about because her children's books took over the world. Their books are a real luxury, so gorgeous looking and carefully chosen by the publishers. They're £10 each so not cheap but I shall be buying several each year probably and will keep an eye on eBay to try and pick up the odd one here and there. Oh yes, I shall certainly let you know about the bookshop.

Travel safely today. :-)
Thanks Caffy, just off now, hoping for a leisurely journey!

Richmal Crompton

I have quite a few of Richmal Crompton books on my shelves most of which I have tracked down on Alibris or Abe Books. Sadly, they are nearly all out of print. She is a wonderful writer and once you pick one of her books up, difficult to put down. Frost at Morning is particularly excellent. If you are into Persephone (and I have about 50 on my shelves) may I recommend any by Dorothy Whipple, simply wonderful and the two Frances Hodgson Burnett books

Re: Richmal Crompton

Yes please, recommend away! (I've just bought Needle in the Blood because you recced it so highly on your book blog.) I've made a note of Frost at Morning... will check eBay, you never know I might strike lucky. I've just started to collect Persephones. I found Saplings by Noel Streatfeild in the library, read it, and was instantly converted. I've only got five so far but hope gradually to add to that number and end up with a good collection. So it's good to get some idea of what and what not to buy.

Your book blog is one of my favourites, by the way, always interesting and entertaining.