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.