Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston #1954Club

Title: The Children of Green Knowe
Author: L.M. Boston
Illustrator: Peter Boston
Publication: Harcourt, paperback, originally published in 1954
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Setting: 20th century Cambridgeshire
Description: As the story begins, Toseland is on a train (alone at 7 years old; times have certainly changed) going to visit his great-grandmother after the autumn term at school. It is December and there is flooding at the station: he is picked up by taxi but then taken by boat by the family retainer, Boggis, to a manor house that is lit up against the darkness. His grandmother is kind, nicknames him Tolly, and welcomes him to the family home, which seems like a castle to the child. The next morning, he sees a portrait of a 17th-century family of three children and two ladies: two handsome boys and an irrepressible girl, Linnet (also his mother’s name). Through his grandmother’s stories about the house, these children come alive to the lonely boy – and to the reader, in this first book about Green Knowe.
My Impression: Lucy Boston based Green Knowe on her own home, a twelfth-century manor house beside a river which, memorably, has flooded at the beginning of this book, accentuating the isolation – Tolly and his great-grandmother are virtually alone (with a few servants) in a mysterious house that is populated by children of long ago. Mrs. Oldknow is comfortable with these shadows as they have been her companions for many years but it is interesting how readily young Tolly embraces his new home and its inhabitants. He has been starved of affection since his mother died and has attended boarding school at a young age as British children of his class did, especially if their parents worked overseas.

“If history and costume fiction gave way to a new kind of psychological novel in such work as Rosemary Sutlciff’s, it also gave place to fantasy. Two strands of fiction in particular can be seen to emerge in the post-war years” historical fantasy and time travel (Children’s Literature, An Illustrated History, p. 267). This quote seems appropriate given that yesterday’s review was The Eagle of the Ninth and these authors go on to say that “major fantasies” were created during this period by Lucy M. Boston, Philippa Pearce, Penelope Lively, William Mayne, and Penelope Farmer, all influenced by E. Nesbit. Nothing we didn’t know already but it’s nice when the experts agree with us and like the same books!
I am not sure whether children whose first fantasy experience is Harry Potter will appreciate the nuanced landscape of Green Knowe, which is a great pity. It is one of the most atmospheric stories I have ever read but it is primarily about Tolly’s experience in the house and there is not a lot of dramatic action. Happily, it is still in print and my paperback retains the illustrations of Mrs. Boston’s son Peter (sometimes publishers discard the original illustrations in a misguided attempt to save money or modernize a book). During this reread, I was much more conscious of Mrs. Oldknow’s relationship to the long-ago children, Toby, Alexander, and Linnet, and the comfort they must have provided to her when she lost her husband, son (whom Tolly resembles), and granddaughter (Tolly’s mother). In my mind, Mrs. Oldknow and Lucy Boston are interchangeable, as I know now that Mrs. Boston bought the house before WWII and restored it herself, long before imagining the book. By the way, how did Mrs. Oldknow manage with no staff except Boggis who works on the grounds? In the daydreams where I acquire a manor house, it is full of servants!
This review is for the #1954Club, hosted by StuckinaBook and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, in which bloggers are invited to read and review books that were published in a chosen year.  
Very curious about this!
Source and Other: Personal copy. Loved this review of a visit to the real Green Knowe that I found online when looking for a photo of the Manor, at Hemingford Grey. I own but have not yet read Memory in a House, Mrs. Boston's book about the restoration of the Manor.  The photo above of the Manor is copyright to TripAdvisor.  


TracyK said...

This sounds like an interesting series, I will see if any books in it show up at the book sale. I have never had luck with children's books at the book sale though, either people hold on to the ones I want or they are very popular and the supply is decimated early. Not sure.

I agree, how could one maintain a manor house alone without more staff than someone who cares for the grounds. That is part of the fantasy aspect I suppose.

Cath said...

This is one of those books that I can't remember whether I've read or not. (Rebecca is another one, crazy as that might seem.) I rather think I must have as a child but that's 60-ish years ago and life has happened in the meantime. But as I liked the first Chalet School book so much I might also enjoy this one, OAP that I am, as I suspect it will seem like a new read.

CLM said...

Tracy, I suppose the author did not want to detract from the relationship between Tolly and his grandmother and the house with extra characters. The outdoor groundskeeper-type was the descendant of previous family retainers so fit it. I suppose there would have been dailies to come to the cleaning, although I bet they didn't show up by boat during floods. I think the house must be set in fens like those in The Nine Tailors.

Cath, you would definitely like this one for its atmospheric description of the Norman manor.

kaggsysbookishramblings said...

I loved this series of books when I was younger - so subtle, so mysterious and strange. Definitely one I would have liked to revisit this year!

Simon T - StuckinaBook said...

How have I never read this one? I'm sure I'd love it.

CLM said...

Who lives near Cambridgeshire? I want someone to accompany me to visit the Manor in June. It wouldn't be fun alone!

Lory said...

I wish I could come! I have been there once and it was wonderful.

Ms. Yingling said...

I still have the whole series, reissued in the early 2000s. Doesn't circulate much, but I haven't been able to get rid of them. I still need to see the movie!

Valinora Troy said...

I read all the Green Knowe books as a child but the one I liked best was An Enemy at Green Knowe. I think a re-read is on order, I suspect I would enjoy it more now!

Mallika@ LiteraryPotpourri said...

I am still to read these books, though I've been wanting to, but one look at the picture of that house, and I know it's a book for me. Thanks for mentioning the illustrations, I'll be sure to check when I get a copy

Deniz Bevan said...

I love this series! I came to it quite late, though. I wonder if I would have enjoyed it as much if I'd read it when younger...