Author: Elfrida Vipont
Publication: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, hardcover, 1970 (original UK publication 1948)
Genre: Middle grade fiction/series
|UK paperback edition|
My Impressions: Kit is an appealing although at times exasperating heroine. She is always in a dream and is much more passive than a modern heroine, especially with regard to domineering Cousin Laura who moved into the Haverard household when Kit’s mother died and has bullied everyone in sight since. Kit’s older brothers escaped to Marston, the brother school of Heryot, but Laura has prevented Kit from having a real relationship with her absent-minded professor father, who is well-meaning but clueless. What the modern reader may forget is that English children of this era did not have a lot of say in their upbringing. Although Kit’s peers tell her to stick up for herself she is quiet and inarticulate and it takes a lot of growing up for her even to be able to identify what she wants.
The Lark in the Morn basically has three different parts: home, Manningleigh, and boarding school. In the first section, Kit plays pretending games with two local Quaker friends slightly older than she, studious Helen and competitive Pony, and rebels against her bossy cousin Laura’s autocratic rule. Her brothers mostly ignore her but Pony’s parents, pillars of the community, provide some of the compassion and insight that is missing in her own family. When Kit studies for an exam that would give her a “double remove” and allow her to skip a grade, she overworks and collapses, so that even though she wins she is not allowed to take the promotion (I thought this was so unfair when I read it, including that no one bothered to tell her for weeks). Laura wants her to go to the seaside to recuperate in a strange boarding house but Kit insists on going to Manningleigh, the old fashioned town where her mother grew up (somewhere near the coast? but which coast?).
None of the Haverards has visited the Kitson family since their mother died twelve years ago. Kit’s great aunts are elderly but welcoming: wise Aunt Maria and kind but silly Aunt Priscilla, while on the top floor, a little like Mrs. Rochester, is eccentric Aunt Henrietta, a singer like Kit’s mother. And Kit is welcomed by second cousins she didn’t know existed: Philip, Milly, and Sheila, who tell her about the family business, Kitsons, tea and grocery merchants. The Kitson cousins have all the freedom and self-assurance that Kit has only dreamed of. Their father and older brother manage one of the stores (in the books, it sounds much grander than running a grocery and by the fifth book an old fashioned, high quality merchant is becoming unprofitable) and their warm, easy going mother Brenda, a writer who is the daughter of a famous composer, Sir Hugh Cathcart (he plays an important role later). The uncritical love of her elderly aunts and the easy companionship of her cousins are exactly what Kit needs as she recuperates from her illness. On a dare from Milly, Kit even encounters Aunt Henrietta, now an embittered old woman who was discouraged by her family from pursuing a musical career. Then, at a family supper on her last evening, Kit meets Sir Hugh himself; Papa Andreas, her mother’s old music maestro; and Terry, his promising student. Although shy, she sings the Angel Trio with her cousins, and those listening think, hmm, maybe she did inherit her mother’s voice.
When she returns home, Kit learns she won’t be allowed to use her double remove but instead will go to Heryot, the boarding school (imagine a world where a family can submit an application to school without even telling the student, let alone exams and interviews) at which Laura was a star field hockey player, along with her friend Pony who is a complete jerk for most of this book. Pony immediately finds cooler friends than Kit and (even worse) allows them to torment Kit. Things are slightly better when Helen arrives the second year, and later on cousins Milly and Sheila, but Kit yearns for quiet time alone, which leads her to a secluded chapel in nearby Heryot Cathedral where she is befriended by Sir Geoffrey Chauntesinger, a noted architect. His family turns out to be important to her growth to maturity. By the end of the book, Kit recognizes that singing is part of her effort to find and be true to her inner self and that she wants to study music professionally.
This book and its sequel, The Lark on the Wing, have been two of my favorite books since I found them at the Brighton Library when I was 11 or 12, and I have reread them many times since. That branch owned these two and a third book, The Pavilion, which takes place a generation later. Twenty-five years later I learned there were two additional books that take place in the middle but were never published in the US. This is the first time I have read all five in chronological order. The first two books include a much-needed family tree, perhaps the first time I had encountered one. Vipont’s Quaker doctrine informs the book but like the Heryot motto, “Walk cheerfully over the world,” does not come across as overly preachy. In fact, one really admires these five young women who pursue careers in the next book at a time when that was unusual.
Stradivarius: There is an episode where Kit saves a visiting musician’s Stradivarius from a thief. The girls who bully her are jealous that her valor is written up in the newspaper. I was reminded of this not long ago when a Stradivarius worth $5 million that had been stolen from Nina Totenberg’s father was recovered after 35 years.
|The stolen Strad - recovered! (AFP/Getty Images)|