How did your Nan cook Christmas dinner?

By Val Hewson

In December 2021, I gave a talk in Sheffield Central Library about what vintage recipe books can tell us about our heritage, both individual and shared. Here are my slides and notes from our Events page, along with a related paper written for the Inheriting the Family project on Research.     

During the talk I asked the audience to recall the cookery books important to them. About 20 people responded on cards, anonymously – an unscientific, but interesting, survey. They quoted a wide range of books, from Mrs Beeton to Nigella, domestic goddesses both, from the 19th to the 21st centuries, from kitchen ranges to smart ovens.

The cards suggest that we identify recipe books with their authors – Delia Smith, Mary Berry, Marguerite Patten and the rest. The recalled titles are often not quite right, half-forgotten while the authors stick in our minds. They are acquaintances, if not friends.

Marguerite Patten (1915-2015), for instance, appears twice on the cards. She worked for the Ministry of Food during World War Two and then became a regular on radio and television.   

My first recipe book was by Marguerite Patten. Everyday Cook Book in Colour.[i] Sold second hand by the local library! Started a lifelong love of cookery.   

Marguerite Patten. WW2 Home front / Rationing recipes (not exact title). Could be Victory Cookbook. Has many recipes for non-meat meals/vegetarian meals.[ii]

The Observer journalist, Katherine Whitehorn (1928-2021), conjures up for a whole generation memories of leaving home, being a student, the first job, getting married and making do:

Cooking in a Bedsitter by Katherine Whitehorn.[iii] Given to me late 1960s or early 1970. I had left university and was working and flat sharing in London. This is the 1st cookery book I owned.

Cooking in a Bedsitter, often reprinted, must have been tucked into suitcases by many anxious parents.

Then we have Elizabeth David (1913-1992), whose championship of French and Italian cuisine fired a revolution in British food.    

Elizabeth David. French Provincial Cooking.[iv] This is more than just recipes – can sense the location and smells and sights and people.

To illustrate the point:

… the most enjoyable of French country meals; unexacting ones, ordered and served with the minimum of fuss. An omelette, perhaps, followed by the sausages which were a speciality of the local butcher, a vegetable dish and some cheese; or perhaps snails and a homely stew, intended probably for the patron’s own dinner but gracefully surrendered; or a vegetable soup, a slice or two of country-cured ham and a beautiful big green artichoke; and on another occasion, a langouste with a mayonnaise which was among the best I have ever tasted, because of the fine quality of the Provençal oil which had gone into it, and which was followed by a dish of tender young string beans of that intense green and delicate flavour which only southern-grown beans seem to acquire.

Elizabeth David, French Provincial Cooking, introduction (Kindle edition).

Unsurprisingly, Delia Smith, Mary Berry and Nigella Lawson all feature on the cards too. They are among our most familiar television cooks, with Delia and Nigella, if not Mary, needing only first names. Delia gets three mentions altogether, more than anyone else.

Mary Berry. Her recipes are straightforward and easy to follow.

Have bought lots of cookery books over the years but the one I always go to and is my favourite is Delia’s Cookery Course. I also have Mary Berry’s Cakes, which I use often.[v]

Nigella Lawson, How to be a Domestic Goddess.[vi]

The first of all celebrity cooks is named just once, still an icon 160 years after the publication of her Book of Household Management.[vii] Often imagined as an old lady in black bombazine, another Queen Victoria, Isabella Beeton died from complications in childbirth in 1865, aged 28, and never knew of her fame.   

Isabella Beeton, by Maull & Polyblank, 1857 (National Portrait Gallery, Creative Commons licence).
Engraved title page of Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Wellcome Library copy, 1861 (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Mrs Beeton – lots of plain, uncomplicated recipes which don’t require a huge range of ingredients (unlike many of the modern, contemporary ones!)

At this point, you may be asking where the men are. On the whole, they are absent.   

1000 Recipe Cook Book. Delia Christmas Book. Nigel Slater’s 30 minute Recipes.[viii]

Not all the books quoted are by celebrity cooks. Good Housekeeping has published dozens of books, ranging from the encyclopaedic to the pamphlet, since it was founded in the USA in 1885 and the UK in 1922. Here we have (along with an honourable mention for Woman’s Weekly).

Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.[ix] Bought by my mother-in-law when first married in 1973. The book I used with really good instructions which I used a lot when I was young was Woman’s Weekly.

and the unfortunately unidentifiable:

Good Housekeeping book.   

Three more books which are warmly recommended are:

Readers Digest Farmhouse Cookery Book.[x] They give information and the background of the different recipes. Lots of different categories, so a simple index.

Marks & Spencer c 1971/2.[xi] Can’t remember title! A4 paperback. Now has no cover, stored in a ring file binder. Used every week!

1970. Dairy Book of Cooking.[xii] From the milkman. Also remember Be-Ro.

Ah yes. Be-Ro. The books of baking recipes produced since the 1920s by this flour manufacturer are by some way the most popular with the Central Library audience.

Thomas Bell founded a wholesale grocery firm near the Tyne quays and railway station in Newcastle in the 1880s. Among his top-selling brands were ‘Bells Royal’ baking powder and a self raising flour. Following the death of Edward VII, it became illegal to use the Royal name. As a result, Bell decided to take the first couple of letters from the each of the two words of the brand name and turn them into the more catchy sounding ‘Be-Ro’.

Be-Ro – Home

Be-Ro ran demonstration events to promote their products and, when people asked for the recipes, the recipe books were written. There have been about 40 editions so far, and they seem to be both well-remembered and loved.

Be-Ro Home Recipes, published 1978. I bought this when I got married. The only recipe book I have kept after 7 house moves. Simple ingredients available. Recipes can be adapted – ingredients added. All you need to feed a small family.

The Be Ro Cookery Book. I was born in 1957. The Love of Cooking.[xiii] Sonia Allison. Bought for me in 1970s by my aunt as a good basic cookbook and still used today. Also loved by my daughter.

Be-Ro book. Good Housekeeping complete. 1975ish. Foodaid Book, celebrity contributed. (Terry Wogan, Delia Smith)

BeRo. Still my ‘go to‘ for basic recipes.

The Be-Ro cookery book. I still have one of my mums books, which I use regularly for scones and pastry – I love it!

It is at this point that I admit to fellow feeling. The Be-Ro book published around 1957 is the only cookery book I associate with my mum, and the gingham-aproned girl pictured on the cover has always been secure in my memory.

Once again, I realise that recipe books have a remarkable ability to awaken memories and to start conversations.


[i] Patten, Marguerite, Everyday Cook Book in Colour (London, Hamlyn Books, 1969).

[ii] Patten, Marguerite, The Victory Cookbook (London, Hamlyn, 1995).

[iii] Whitehorn, Katherine, Kitchen in the Corner: a Complete Guide to Bedsitter Cookery (London, Macgibbon & Kee, 1961). Re-titled and re-published: Cooking in a Bedsitter (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1963). 

[iv] David, Elizabeth, French Provincial Cooking (London, Michael Joseph, 1960).

[v] Smith, Delia, Delia’s Complete Cookery Course (London, BBC, 1982). Mary Berry has written several books of cake recipes including: Fast Cakes: Easy Bakes in Minutes (London, Headline Home, 2018); My Kitchen Table – 100 Cakes & Bakes (London, BBC Books, 2011); and Mary Berry’s Simple Cakes (London, BBC Books, 2014).

[vi] Lawson, Nigella, How to be a domestic goddess : baking and the art of comfort cooking (London, Chatto & Windus, 2014).

[vii] Beeton, Isabella, Beeton’s Book of Household Management (London, S O Beeton Publishing, 1861).

[viii] Barrett, Isabelle and Harrop, Jane (eds), 1000 Recipe Cookbook: Recipes for all occasions (London, Octopus, 1960). Smith, Delia, Delia Smith’s Christmas (London, BBC Books, 1990). Slater, Nigel, The 30-Minute Cook: The Best of the World’s Quick Cooking (London, Michael Joseph, 1994).

[ix] Good Housekeeping Institute, Good Housekeeping Cookery Book (London, Ebury Press, 1972).

[x] Reader’s Digest Association (ed), Farmhouse cookery: recipes from the country kitchen (London, The Association, 1980).

[xi] Hard to identify. The Marks and Spencer archive lists several cookery books from 1977 onwards, including: Wright, Jeni, St Michael Cookery Library: Cooking for Special Occasions (Sundial Books Ltd, 1977) and Selden, Elizabeth, St Michael Cookery Library: Family Meals (Sundial Books, 1977).

[xii] Allison, Sonia, The Dairy Book of Home Cookery (London, Wolfe Publishing, 1968). For the Milk Marketing Board? Sonia Allison rates a second mention below.

[xiii] Allison, Sonia, The Love of Cooking (London, Collins, 1972).

Chris Hopkins’ Reading Journey, part 2: Milly-Molly-Mandy, a Giant Reading Cushion, and a Book Sale

By Chris Hopkins

Chris Hopkins is an Emeritus Professor of Sheffield Hallam University. An expert on the British novel in the first half of the twentieth century, he is the author of Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film (Liverpool University Press, 2018) and editor of the Walter Greenwood: Not Just Love on the Dole web/blogsite. The first part of his reading journey is here.

In Part 1, I recalled a more-or-less specific reading memory about one time and place where I read, and about one publication, Treasure. Part 2 will range across three separate reading memories, centring more on libraries, books, and bookshops from the nineteen-sixties until the nineteen-seventies. Each memory is sharp at the centre, but fuzzy round the edges.

When I was reading Treasure, and I’m sure before, I certainly recall going often in the afternoon to East Sheen Public Library with my younger sister and mother. I recall that my younger sister liked to borrow the Milly-Molly-Mandy books by Joyce Lankester Brisley to be read from at bedtime. I also recall that this was not a favourite with my mother because she disliked having to read out the strings of cumulative repetition which are a key device in the books, and which also inevitably involve frequent readings out of Milly-Molly-Mandy’s own name. For example, in the first story (‘Milly-Molly-Mandy Goes Errands’) of the first book (Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories,1928), Milly-Molly-Mandy is asked to do more and more errands by her family all in one trip to the village, and she has to keep repeating them in her head to make sure she remembers them. After four pages of accumulation Milly-Molly-Mandy has arrived at this string:

Trowel for Farver, eggs for Muvver, string for Grandpa, red wool for Grandma, chicken-feed for Uncle, needles for Aunty, and I do hope there won’t be anything else!

Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories (1928), p.5, Macmillan Children’s Books, kindle edition.

Of course, these repetitions are the entertaining things about the story-telling in these books, and I know that many people have fond memories of them. Lucy Mangan in her own excellent reading journey article in the Guardian (15/2/2018) has indeed rightly argued that every Milly-Molly-Mandy story is a virtuoso exercise in structure and sequenced detail: My life as a bookworm: what children can teach us about how to read | Children and teenagers | The Guardian .

Nevertheless, my memory is that my mother did not enjoy reading them aloud, though generally I’m pretty certain she enjoyed reading aloud and was herself certainly a keen reader. I would much rather recall a different memory of bed-time reading, but sadly this is the only one I can find in my head. I am absolutely sure I would have had my choice of bed-time story too, but I cannot recall a single choice I made! Still, below I have a more characteristic memory of my mother and books.

I think my next reading memory is of my GIANT READING CUSHION. My elder sister bought that for me, I think because she thought my habitual lying-on-my-stomach-on-the-floor-reading-position (see my reading journey Part 1) must be uncomfortable. I’m not sure this had bothered me, but I was quickly converted to the giant reading cushion, and did most of my reading stomach-down on it for the next ten years or so. It was a square brown cushion, comfortably stuffed, measuring about three feet by three feet, and it came from Habitat. My mother thought the brown colour was a bit dull, so in a project which must have taken some time and dedication, she made it a cover of brightly coloured and patterned patchwork squares. That brightened it up (though again I don’t think I was bothered that much by the brown – oh dear was I completely aesthetically insensitive in those days? – but did appreciate the energy put into personalising my reading environment). I certainly took it to university with me, and did much of my reading on my BA (Eng. Lit, of course) on its comforting base. By the time of my MA (Eng. Lit again …), I seem to have parted company with it, but I don’t remember when or where. Perhaps it just fell apart from age and was humanely disposed of? Anyway, it wouldn’t have fitted into my MA study-bedroom, which was distinctly smaller than my undergrad ones. I wish I had a photo, but I don’t think one exists.

My third and final reading memory for this part of my reading journey is of W.H. Smith’s sales table near the front entrance in the branch in Richmond-upon-Thames (it’s still there and in business). I don’t know whether Smith’s had a permanent sale in those days (early nineteen-seventies), but in my memory there seemed to be a book-sale every time we went to Richmond. We were certainly still users of public libraries in East Sheen and Richmond, and I was a keen user of my school library, but nevertheless my mother would generally buy me my choice of book from the table – well, anything up to about 35 pence (this may not be a correct memory, but I think then that non-sale paperbacks often cost something like 50 to 75 pence).  I usually went for archaeology (before I was gratefully received into Eng. Lit, I was going to be an archaeologist – an interest I retain), though I sometimes wandered into zoology. I remember buying and reading with great pleasure a book on Przewalski’s Horse – I suspect translated from Polish. I think I would remember the cover photograph, but searches on online booksellers have not so far turned up anything I recognised (for an account of this noble creature see for starters the Wikipedia entry: Przewalski’s horse – Wikipedia).

However, I do still have on my book-shelves two books my mother kindly bought me from that Smith’s table. Here they are (both published in 1973, both hardbacks, and with a non-sale price of £1.50!). I still think they are nice books and am pleased to have kept them.

Whan thǣt hit bee Yeol

By Val Hewson

More on literary food. Here is the tale of Sheffield Literary Club’s Christmas dinners.

Whan thǣt hit bee Yeol? Yes, well may you pause. It means ‘when it’s Christmas’. Notice ‘Yeol’, which is more usually written as ‘Yule’. The phrase is taken from the menu for a Christmas feast organised by the Sheffield Literary Club in the early 1930s. ‘Feast’ is the operative word: this was no simple roast dinner.

The Literary Club started life as the ‘Sheffield Poetry Club’ in 1923 and, with the change of name perhaps recording wider interests, lasted until the 1960s. It was a largely female and middle-class group, with members having to pay an annual subscription of at least 5/-. The Club had high ideals. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1923 commented:

Here is an opportunity for Sheffielders to refute the ancient taunt that Sheffield is unliterary, that it is ‘at the very nadir of culture’.

The original prospectus promised that:

… poetical plays will be read by lovers of drama; recitals will be given by elocutionists, of the less known good poetry; papers, and discussion on them will cultivate the essay form and encourage debate; original verse-making will be encouraged by inviting the authors to read their works.

The Club’s literary tastes were conservative. In the early years members discussed Austen, Byron, Milton and Tennyson at meetings. They shunned the avant-garde. This all deserves a blog of its own (and one day I will write it) but for now let’s focus on Christmas.  

As my colleague Mary Grover has observed, ‘nostalgia for a pre-industrial world was central to the Club’s original identity’.[i] Perhaps it was even nostalgia for a world which never existed. The 1923 prospectus promised a Christmas supper ‘at which all the beautiful English customs will be revived’ and Club papers show that there was an Old Customs committee. It was ‘Merrie England’ with a vengeance, reminiscent of the ideas beloved of Professor Welch and mocked by his subordinate Jim Dixon in Kingsley Amis’ novel Lucky Jim (1954):

‘The point about Merrie England is that it was about the most un-Merrie period in our history. It’s only the home-made pottery crowd, the organic husbandry crowd, the recorder-playing crowd, the Esperanto…’ He paused and swayed …His head seemed to be swelling and growing lighter …

Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (1954), Kindle edition, loc 4151.

The first Christmas supper in 1923 seems to have been modest enough but through the 1920s and 1930s the celebrations got more and more elaborate. The event was usually described as ‘ye soper æt Cristenmæsse of ye witenayemot and clubbe of lettres’ [the Christmas dinner of the literary club and its committee], and there were toasts, mummers, a gesteur, the Mayster of Ye Feste, Fader Cristenmæsse and more.

Here is the menu, with appropriate Shakespearean quotations, from around 1935:

Hu Thei Don in Cutlerstoune [Sheffield] Whan thǣt hit bee Yeol

Fare

(‘Dost thou understand thus much English?’)

Fortune speed us! Thus set we on.

Sewe [Soup]

‘He is pure air and fire.’

‘He’s of the colour of the nutmeg.’ And of the heat of ginger.’

‘Good sooth, she is the queen of curds and cream.’

Fisch [fish]

‘Must I bite?’                                     ‘Yes, certainly.’

Turkey

’Tis no matter for his swellings nor his turkey-cocks, God pless you, Aunchient Pistol! You scurvy, lousy knave, God pless you!’

Ye Heved of Ye Boore [The Boar’s Head]

‘Whose tushes never sheathed, he whetteth still.’

‘Why, I pray you, is not pig great? The pig or the great, or the mighty, or the huge, or the magnanimous, are all one reckonings, save the phrase is a little variations.’

Plume-poding [plum pudding]

‘Why then comes in the sweet o’ the year.’

‘I cannot do’t without counters. Let me see: Three pound of sugar; five pound of currants; rice – what will this sister of mine do with rice? But my father hath made her mistress of the feast, and she lays it on. I must have saffron to colour the warden pies; mace; dates; none, that’s out of my notes; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many raisins o’ the sun.’

‘O that ever I was born!’

Sherries – Sack                                                  Ale – posset      

‘Shall I have some water? Come Kate and wash!’

‘Desist, and drink.’

‘I could not find him at the Elephant,

Yet there he was!’

‘Ye Heved of Ye Boore’, ‘plume-poding’ and the rest were all part of a performance in which the members played a part. At the start,

Ye gests and clubbefelawen schal standen, eche behindan hys siege, and ye Mayster of ye Feste schal pronownce ye Bletsung … And all ye companinie schal seyen ‘AMEN, AMEN, and AMEN! … [The guests and club members will stand behind their chairs, and the Master of the Feast will give the blessing … and the company will say ‘Amen, Amen and Amen!’]

In time Fader Cristenmæsse arrives. The Uschere sing:

A jolly wassail Bowl,

A wassail of good ale

Well fare the butler’s soul

That setteth this for sale!

Our jolly wassail! Our jolly wassail!’

‘I have many towns and countries to visit and must start with Cutlerstoune,’ says Cristenmæsse, and goes on, no doubt to popular acclaim in Yorkshire:

Nay, but to cry truce with jesting, I do love the North

Hath not our greatest trouvère,

Your own poet of Somersby [Tennyson], written

‘That bright and fierce and fickle is the South

And dark and true and tender is the North.

Say to her I do but wanton in the South

But in the North long since my nest is made.’

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Princess: O Swallow.

The Feste finally ends after a short break ‘for a man somewhæt to strechen his shanken’ [for everyone to stretch their legs] and a Toast to ‘Absent Friends’.

Presumably it was the Old Customs committee that lovingly and happily researched, composed and argued over this. There is ritual, bell-ringing, singing, quotations from Shakespeare and other Greats, Latin tags and Elizabethan, Middle and Old and – surely! – cod English. ‘Clubbefelawen’? ‘Erthenobbes?’ [Club members and potatoes to you.]

As might be expected, World War II put a stop to all this, and the custom was never revived in post-war austerity. By then the general sentiment was for making the new world, rather than re-making the old. What did the Club members feel about the Festes? I like to think that some enjoyed the playacting, while others took the evening desperately seriously and still others groaned at the thought of it.

Clubbefelawen with Ye Mayster of Ye Feste (City Librarian, J P Lamb) 4th from the left. No-one looks very jolly.

[i] Mary Grover, unpublished notes.

Reading Agatha Christie today

By Amelia Finley

Amelia is the last of our guest bloggers from Sheffield Hallam University, and she has chosen to write about Agatha Christie.

Though I had not until now ever read one of her many works, I can’t recall a time in my life that I was unfamiliar with Agatha Christie. The televised versions of the adventures of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple always seemed to be airing on television in the early afternoon throughout my younger years, though my first real introduction to the illustrious author likely came via one of my other childhood interests: Doctor Who. The 2008 episode The Unicorn and the Wasp, features Fenella Woolgar starring as Christie and the episode chronicles a mystery similar to that which you would find in one of her own novels. Truthfully, many of my preconceptions of the author stem from this fictional portrayal of her and the many references to her life and works throughout the episode. Woolgar’s portrayal was that of a shy but brilliant woman struggling with her impending divorce and pressure of fame. Through my research I found that this was largely accurate, Christie’s obituary in The Times newspaper reads: ‘She was a shy person: she disliked public appearances: but she was friendly and sharp-witted to meet.’ (1976, p. 16). My next encounter with Christie’s infamous tales came in the form of the 2015 BBC miniseries And Then There Were None, an adaption of the novel of the same name. It was after watching this series, that was said to be the most accurate adaption of the novel ever made, that fully ignited my interest in Christie. I went on to watch and adore both Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974) soon after, though I still had not personally read any of the source material. When I discovered that Christie was on the list of authors we could choose from to study for this module, I was quick to select her and begin my research. Christie’s large cultural impact and her novels’ abilities to be relevant decades after their publication and be reimagined in so many different forms remain fascinating to me.

And Then There Were None is widely perceived to be Christie’s most successful novel, reportedly having sold over 100 million copies since its publication in 1939 (Grabianowski, 2009). However, the book and its author are not without its controversy. The novel was first published under the name Ten Little N***** Boys in the United Kingdom, a reference to the poem that the plot of the novel takes much inspiration from, with each character dying in a similar manner to one of the ‘boys’ in the poem’s narrative. The poem was originally published in 1868 as a counting rhyme for children, used in minstrel shows. Minstrel shows were a form of American entertainment which relied on the deeply racist donning of blackface by white performers who would portray black people as ‘lazy, easily frightened, chronically idle, inarticulate, [buffoonish]’ (Pilgrim, 2000) in the name of comedy. The novel was never published under this name in America due to perceived sensitivity surrounding the poem and the racial slur, instead always going by And Then There Were None, in reference to the final line of the poem. Over the years the novel has had many name changes to remove the slur, replacing it with ‘Indian; or ‘soldier’, in the name of censorship. Though I have mixed views on censorship overall, I think the removal of the slur from the novel is a perfect example of using censorship to protect readers and better the source material. In this instance, the slur is in no way central to the novel like it may perhaps be in a narrative that directly concerns itself with themes of racism, therefore its removal has no damaging affect on the story or its message and avoids the use of harmful racist language. Furthermore, the title And Then There Were None, in my opinion is far more fitting in tone for a mystery thriller novel than any of the variations on the ‘Ten Little’ names are, creating more of an atmosphere of foreboding. Fortunately, the controversy doesn’t seem to have affected the success of the book nor any of its many adaptations, censorship in this case working to enhance the experience rather than take away from it, with the book reportedly being the sixth best selling novel of all time (Grabianowski, 2009).

Agatha Christie (Creative Commons Licence, National Portrait Gallery)

Bibliography

Grabianowski, E (2009) The 21 Best-selling Books of All Time. Retrieved from: https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/literature/21-best-sellers.htm

Pilgrim, D. (2000) The Coon Caricature. Retrieved from: https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/coon/

Christie, A. (1939) And Then There Were None. Retrieved from: http://pustaka.unp.ac.id/file/abstrak_kki/EBOOKS/And%20Then%20There%20Were%20None.pdf

Harper, G. (2008) The Unicorn and the Wasp [Television programme]. United Kingdom: BBC.

Viveiros, C. (2015) And Then There Were None [Television Series]. United Kingdom: BBC.

Hamilton, G. (1982) Evil Under the Sun [Film]

Lumet, S. (1974) Murder on the Orient Express [Film]

(1976) Obituary: Dame Agatha Christie. The Times. January 13th, page 16.

Amelia’s Reading Journey

By Amelia Finley

Amelia is the last of our guest bloggers from Sheffield Hallam University. Here she tells us about what reading means to her.

Hi, my name is Amelia Finley and I was born and raised in Leeds. The village that I live in is a stone’s throw away from the city centre and is a historically working-class area due to being known for its fabric mill however in recent years it has seen an influx of young middle-class families moving to the area. I have been an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction books for as long as I can remember. Most of my immediate family share my love of reading so I was read to and encouraged to read from a very young age. Some of my earliest memories are of being taught to read by my family, I vividly recall reading A Visit from St. Nicholas (though we always called it ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) every Christmas Eve with my Mum. As a young child I was always drawn to fantasy stories about magic or any story primarily about animals, The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C S Lewis comes to mind as one of my early favourites as it was a perfect combination of the two. I would often be caught awake with my bedside lamp on reading past my bedtime or even wide-awake listening to audiobooks on loop played from my old stereo, typically Roald Dahl novels like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I would frequently spend birthday money or gift cards in Waterstones for new books but my favourite way of finding new reading material was going to car boot sales with my grandparents. Aside from being able to spend precious time with my grandma and grandad, I enjoyed hunting for books on my wish list and finding affordable books that I’d perhaps never heard of before. Now in my early twenties I still enjoy shopping sustainably and second-hand for books for the same reasons, I often frequent the charity shops near my university house and online vintage shops for new reads.

Although I enjoy reading new books, I must admit that I have the tendency to reread old favourites instead of exploring new stories. Since picking up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time in primary school I must have read the Harry Potter series at least ten times over, if not more. I imagine that this is because I find familiar stories comforting, and enjoy the nostalgia of revisiting particular books that I have fond memories of reading. I also love revisiting old favourites over the years as I find my opinions on certain characters or plot points often change over time as I grow up, I find that new perspectives can reinvigorate my love for each novel and allow me to enjoy it in ways I couldn’t in my youth. I find myself frequently drawn to young adult fantasy or sci-fi novels like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, especially throughout Year 7 and 8 of high school, largely because I was lucky enough to have friends that shared my love of books and popular franchises were accessible and intriguing to all of us.

As I entered my GSCE years in high school I developed more of an interest in exploring novels outside of the current trends and delving more into classic literature. As someone with a late October birthday I frequently had Halloween themed parties and loved anything spooky so I naturally started with what is now probably my favourite book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This not only sparked my love of Gothic fiction as a genre but also other early literary icons like Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde. My love of these works also seems to transcend from the page of the novel into other forms of media, one of my favourite bands being named for Angela Carter’s Gothic short story Wolf Alice and several of my favourite films being adaptions of classic literature, probably most notably Clueless as an adaption of Jane Austen’s Emma. I find it fascinating that such old texts manage to maintain relevancy in the 21st century and hope that they continue to do so.

I first became interested in reading works of non-fiction when I was introduced to National Geographic by my grandad at a young age due to my obsession with wildlife. I often read his copies of the magazine when I could and later started my own subscription. Reading National Geographic and hearing my grandparents’ stories from their many travels definitely inspired me to become more interested in travelling myself to as many places far and wide as I can imagine. I also think it’s fair to say that this was also probably my earliest introduction to the world of politics outside of fiction which I have become quite passionate about in later life, going on to study Government and Politics at A Level alongside History and, naturally, English Literature. I’m also deeply interested in feminist and queer theory, that non-fiction genre that occupies most of my bookshelf today. I tend to gravitate more towards anthologies such as I Call Myself a Feminist that contain a series of essays or thought pieces from the perspective of women and gender non-conforming people from all walks of life. When looking through the Reading Sheffield site I came across the Reading Journey of Florence Cowood. Florence’s story stood out to me as, although we were born almost 80 years apart from one another, our journeys and relationship with books share some similarities. A large portion of the books she recalls reading in her childhood also happened to be favourites of mine – in her interview she mentioned Black Beauty by Anna Sewell that was one of the earliest books I remember reading to myself and thoroughly enjoying. Interestingly, she also mentioned What Katy Did, a 1872 children’s book that I only became familiar with a few weeks ago as I am currently studying a Jaqueline Wilson retelling for my Writing for Children module of my degree. Though she had lived in Sheffield for most of her life, Florence was born in Huddersfield and had close family in Leeds – two places I am very familiar with. Florence says that it was her grandfather, a headteacher living and working in my hometown of Leeds, that encouraged her to read and provided her with money for books, reminding me of my own grandparents who I have always associated with my love of reading. One difference I did note however is that though Florence and myself cite receiving books as gifts from family members as a key source of our reading materials in our youth, Florence and many of the other Reading Sheffield interviewees often talk about going to the library for books. In her interview she said “my idea of heaven, if I had to be shut anywhere, would be a library full of books,” and I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with her, though I couldn’t for the life of me remember the last time I had read a library book for fun. Out of curiosity I asked a few of my friends when the last time they visited a public library and it transpired that that neither me nor any of my peers had checked a book out of a library for leisure in at least ten years, if not longer. Although university libraries still garner heavy footfall during term time, it seems that public libraries seem to be becoming more of a thing of the past, which in truth I find quite sad. Recently I came across a trend online where people posted the subtle and often overlooked kind things that humans do that reminds them that humanity is really not all that bad, an example that comes to mind is a TikTok user that said they loved it when people waved or smiled at babies to make them smile even if they didn’t know them, and it made me think immediately about libraries. There’s something about borrowing a book for a short time and passing it on again so a complete stranger could have an opportunity read a story and feel what you felt seems very innocent and selfless. I think especially now, when many things are needlessly mass produced and the ongoing pandemic has put a strain on many people’s sense of community, it’s easy to look back on something as simple as borrowing a library book and almost begin to feel melancholic. Though the small library in my village has been closed for quite some time now thanks to the ongoing pandemic, I was happy to discover that for several many months now a small team of people have been designing and building miniature libraries and putting them up around Leeds. They encourage people to walk to their nearest ‘little library’ to pick up a book and leave one of their own they no longer have use for in its place. There happens to be one in the middle of my village that I intend to visit, I think it’s a wonderful project that promotes sustainability and a great sense of community especially in such uncertain times. I hope to see it replicated in more places.

Popular fiction: Georgette Heyer

By Lauren Hurst

For her review of an author popular with our first interviewees, born in the mid-20th century, Sheffield Hallam student Lauren Hurst has chosen Georgette Heyer.

Georgette Heyer began her writing career in 1921 with The Black Moth, originally written at the age of seventeen as entertainment for her brother (The Times, 1974).  She is recognised today as the creator of the Regency genre of historical fiction, having over fifty published books.  After finding out which of Heyer’s books were most popular, I decided to begin my research by reading her first published novel and I must admit I was disappointed.  It seemed from what very little I knew that her novels were quite popular, but I felt that this book was lacking substance and I was unable to connect with the story.  My following research proved that opinions on Georgette Heyer are mixed.

After her writing debut with The Black Moth, Heyer’s name appears frequently in various newspapers (including The Sunday Times, Daily Mail and Aberdeen Journal) advertising her newly published books, suggesting that her novels were widely read and commendable from the 1920s onwards.  In various articles throughout the ’20s, her writing is praised for its historical reconstruction.  One article promoting her new novel Simon The Coldheart in 1925 commends it as ‘a well-written and most interesting medieval fiction’ (Daily Mail, 1925).  The Times Literary Supplement describes the same novel as ‘above the average of the former class of romance,’ and praises Heyer’s talent for reconstruction of past times withal (Falls, 1925).

An article in The Literary Times Supplement, 1929, compliments Heyer’s Pastel as a pleasant novel however goes on to say, ‘the book remains readable to the end but as soon as we begin to suspect the author’s disinterestedness our belief in the story wavers’ (Bailey, 1929).  Overall, in the first decade of her career, Heyer’s books were a success, praised for their enjoyability and delicate reconstruction of the past.  They did not, however, receive acclaim for sincere or influential content.

In most newspaper articles, Heyer’s novels are advertised as readable stories but never as thought-provoking masterpieces.  It seems that her novels were enjoyable as a consumable product and not valued as anything more than trivial stories.  For example, The Sunday Times called Heyer’s novel The Unfinished Clue a ‘stereotype’ and ‘vain,’ but noted that it was still an enjoyable read as ‘good writing would often carry a poor plot’ (Sayers, 1934).  While Heyer’s novels were well-written and pleasant, she failed to inspire her readers further.

Fortunately, Heyer’s writing improved with time; her 1935 novel Death in The Stocks was described as ‘refreshing’ in The Times Literary Supplement (Hayward, 1935). The Sunday Times also described this new novel as ‘a great advance in plausibility’ upon her earlier novel The Unfinished Clue (Sayers, 1935). Furthermore, Regency Buck received praise, ‘another careful piece of reconstruction for those who enjoy escaping from the present to the novelist’s past’ (MacKenzie, 1935).  Again, Heyer’s talent for creating historically accurate fictions is noted.

Fourteen years after Heyer’s first publication, the reviews still echoed the same sentiments.  The Literary Times Supplement recognised that Heyer always had an ‘attention to accuracy which is admirable’ in the creation of her historical backdrops.  However, her novel ‘flags’ and ‘there is the feeling that the novelist has changed places with the social historian’ (The Times Literary Supplement, 1935). This feeling I relate to, as when reading Heyer’s novels I found that they concentrated more so on historical accuracy than the building up of an intriguing plot.

By the mid-1960s, Heyer had become a global phenomenon, going on to write eleven detective novels and, whilst they might be an improvement upon her earliest romances, I don’t think I will be reading any more of her works. On the Reading Sheffield website I found that opinions were mixed, Rosalie Huzzard enjoyed reading Georgette Heyer whilst Joan C says, ‘I didn’t like Georgette Heyer, she was too frivolous’ (Reading Sheffield).

Jennifer Kloester, writer of the 2013 biography on Heyer, believes that her novels ‘continue to inspire readers and writers around the world,’ (Bartlet, 2012) and whilst I agree that critics and those with a particular interest in the Regency period of literature may take interest in her work, I would argue that younger readers will not continue this tradition.

Georgette Heyer was not a bad writer; in her time, she entertained many readers, ‘from all levels of society,’ (The Times, 1974) with her historically accurate fiction.  However, without any consequential content, her novels have failed to stay relevant and encapsulate readers outside of her own generation.  Readers of today find that her writing is too stylised and her plots insubstantial.

Bibliography

Bartlet, K. (2012). Kloester, Jennifer. Georgette Heyer [Review of Kloester, Jennifer. Georgette Heyer]. Library Journal, 137(17), 76–. Library Journals, LLC.

Cabbage as an Entree about the New Books. (1925, October 20). Daily Mail, 15.

Falls, C. B., & Falls, C. (1925, November 19). Simon the Coldheart. The Times Literary Supplement, (1244), 770.

Bailey, R., & BAILEY, R. (1929, June 13). Pastel. The Times Literary Supplement, (1428), 472.

Sayers, D. L. (1934, April 1). Crime Methods in Contrast. Sunday Times, 9.

Hayward, J. D., & Hayward (AKA). (1935, April 18). Death in the Stocks. The Times Literary Supplement, (1733), 256.

Sayers, D. L. (1935, April 21). Pleasant People in a Crime Novel. Sunday Times, 7.

Mackenzie, C. (1935, September 19). Novelist Calls a Spade a Spade. Daily Mail, 4.

Other New Books. (1935, September 26). The Times Literary Supplement, (1756), 597+.

Mr. Punch’s Staff of Learned Clerks. (1935, October 2). Our Booking-Office. Punch, 189(4948), 390+.

West, D. (1936, May 28). First White Woman in a land of Desert Wars. Daily Mail, 20.

Kennedy, M. (1936, May 31). A Dram of Poison. Sunday Times, 9.

Miss Georgette Heyer. (1974, July 6). Times, 14.

Lauren’s Reading Journey

By Lauren Hurst

Now it’s the turn of Sheffield Hallam University student Lauren Hurst to write her reading journey for us.

My mum always provided me with lots of books from an early age.  She would read to me and my brother every night before bed and always encouraged us to join in and read to her aloud.  Every birthday or Christmas she gave me at least a couple of books to encourage me to keep reading.  We also had lots of books that were hers when she was young, such as an extensive collection of Ladybird books and a very tattered illustrated copy of The Magic Finger which I remember fondly.  Thus, growing up, we had a library full of books, new and old, so that we always had plenty of things to read and inspire our imaginations.

Upon asking her of her reasoning for this encouragement, my mum told me that she thought reading was an integral part of my education and development, and that it would help me in my future.  I feel very fortunate to have been brought up in this way, particularly after learning from others’ blogs that this was not the experience of many fellow readers in past generations, whose parents did not read to them or take them to the library.  For me, these experiences were a key bonding time between me and my mum.

On car journeys we would always listen to audiobooks.  The glovebox of my mother’s car always kept a collection of children’s stories on cassette tapes.  I have lived in Sheffield all my life and, from around the age of two, my mother regularly took me and my brother to our local library at Greenhill where we held special membership cards.  We were free to roam the children’s section which was sizable and nearly always free of other children.  Here I read lots of Jacqueline Wilson books from which I learned a lot about topics that were not normally commented on in children’s literature, such as eating disorders and divorce.  Later, I graduated to the adult section which was four times the size, although perhaps prematurely as I did not enjoy the experience of the library as I had before; the space was less colourful and didn’t feel as welcoming.

In primary school we had a system in which our reading was recorded in reading logs, this included every session of reading we did, reading to teachers’ assistants during school time and to our parents at home.  We could pick the books we read from allocated shelves in the school library, though I never had much interest in any of the books there.  Having to choose from this selection and thus spending all my reading time on books I didn’t enjoy prevented me from reading the books that I used to pick out at my local library.  This did create for me a somewhat negative experience with reading.  At this age I also spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house and even lived there for a while and, whilst they had their own bookcase and could have read to us from the books they had, my grandad chose to make up his own stories.  He was very inventive and came up with some very strange tales to tell me and my brother.

As I got older, I procured an affinity for poems; the first time I knew I loved poetry was after being read The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes in school.  I remember thinking I had never heard anything like it. I loved The Highwayman: the way it sounded, the way it flowed, the imagery it used and the way it was darker than anything I had been able to read before. 

In secondary school I stopped reading as many books as it was not conventional amongst my peers to read in one’s spare time.  However, I always found the time to read a few young adult novels in the summer holidays and, at the age of fourteen, I took up reading as a hobby again.  I had a hard time in school and reading was great escapism for me.  After looking at the other blogs on Reading Sheffield where some readers have described growing up without the ease of access to books that I was fortunate enough to have, I regret having pushed my love for reading aside. 

English literature was my favourite subject in school and unlike my friends I enjoyed reading the set texts, particularly Romeo and Juliet.  I enjoyed learning about the context of the literature and looking closely at the meanings of the texts.  Whilst studying English literature at A-level, I was surrounded by others with the same interests as well as enthusiastic teachers, and I found a whole new passion for literature.  This was the first time I could share my like for reading with others.  My A-level teachers introduced me to many new books such as Movern Callar by Alan Warner and The Secret History by Donna Tartt which really helped further my interest in reading outside of school. Since beginning my A-levels at age sixteen, I have enjoyed scouring second-hand bookshops and building my own personal library of vintage and preloved books.  Some novels that really inspired me were Lolita and A Clockwork Orange; I was immersed in these writing styles and intrigued by the taboo subjects.  Now my favourites are Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, who inspire me to write my own private poetry.

Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice

By Jason Flowers

Sheffield Hallam University student Jason Flowers encounters the novelist Nevil Shute for the first time. Nevil Shute was hugely popular with our original readers, all born in the mid-20th century, and it’s great to get a 21st century view.

Nevil Shute was a new author to me. My previous knowledge of his writing and literary career was merely an idea of the novels he penned and a small bit of trivia. Perhaps this is why I selected A Town Like Alice as my novel for this blog; the title itself seemed embedded in my brain but I had never read the book. I decided to read the novel as I would if I were reading it for pleasure and leave the introduction until I had finished the narrative to avoid spoilers. As such, I had no preconceptions of the book I was about to read. My first impressions of the writing style were positive. I found the way Shute established his characters clearly and set out a few characteristics for each engaging and reader-friendly. I did however note that that the book was very much of its time first noticing this as a quirk of a 21st-century reader seeing the First World War described as the 1914-1918 war. However, as the novel progresses these quirks of antiquity became somewhat more unpleasant as ethnicity was often used to diminish certain characters and a very pro-colonialism view was evident. The same is true about the novel’s treatment of women. Despite the main character being a quite extraordinary woman her accomplishments are met with wonder by most of the characters, not because of their merit but because they were performed by a woman. 

Aside from these elements that are not excused by the age of the book but can perhaps be understood, I was quite taken aback by the format of the novel. It struck me that the structure of the narrative was written perfectly to suit the medium of cinema. The opening chapter introduces our narrator and mode of viewing the tale, this narrator establishes his meeting with the story’s main character, said character then reveals the narrative’s problems to overcome via flashback, before we then see a resolution to the tale by the end. It therefore didn’t surprise me to see that the book was indeed made for cinema release six years after its publishing. Whilst impressed with the aptness of the book for adaptation it would be remiss to not comment on its merits as a piece of literature also. I have already mentioned the way that the book approaches ethnicity and gender jars a modern reader but on further research, the postcolonialism school of thought had its earliest roots in the ’60s but could be credited as late as 1978 with Edward Said’s Orientalism. So in viewing this novel as written significantly before issues such as postcolonialism were in the consciousness of the literary critics and the feminist theory was more concerned with the politics of female authorship than the treatment of women in prose, it is possible to view the problematic issues in this novel as a relic of an era without concerns for these issues. As such the book’s strengths lie in its characterization and relationships between characters. It speaks to the writing that we can witness a hopeless pilgrimage across Malaya and become accustomed to the frequent death of characters yet the death of Joe can still hit the reader so hard with its brutality.

Shute also imbues the novel with strong themes, perhaps the most significant being the resilience of humanity to the horrors that generation witnessed during the two world wars. The wartime experience clings to this book like a shadow and even once the war is over in the narrative the characters are still so intrinsically linked to it that their time during that period seems more significant to their identity than their actions in the present. Whilst reading I was drawn to thinking about the label that appeared often in the news lately with the passing of Sir Captain Tom Moore – the greatest generation –  and I think this book does compliment that description well. Although I think the book would suggest that it should rather be the greatest generations plural because we observe a shifting in generations between our narrator Strachan and our main character Jean. However both share similar experiences across their respective world wars and both show a huge admiration for the other.

As I finished the book I turned to the introduction I had earlier skipped and was surprised to discover that the trek across Malaya was in fact written based on the true story of a party of 80 European women forced to do the same journey. It offers an interesting reread of the journey these women undertook in the novel to understand that this unlikely plight was in fact based in regrettably true circumstances. With this final thought on the novel, I considered what the interviewees of Reading Sheffield might think of the work. I was not shocked that Nevil Shute appeared in a lot of the interviews and most had a very high opinion of his works in particular I noted that Chris F credited him as his favourite all-time author, and I think on the strength of that recommendation I’ll order Requiem for a Wren as my next read.

Nevil Shute

Jason’s Reading Journey

By Jason Flowers

This time it is the turn of Sheffield Hallam University student Jason Flowers to tell us about his reading journey.

The earliest books I can remember being read to me are still vividly alive in my memory. My mum read me the collected stories of Winnie the Pooh and we used to take the opportunity to race Pooh sticks at the local park whenever we could. According to my mum, it was easy to read to me because I was always interested and my imagination was captured by the whimsical. But my experience with reading had always been family-led. Experiences with reading at school always stuck me quite negatively since from a young age I was a quick reader. I was scolded at a parents’ evening in middle school because we were reading a book called Buddy in class but I had finished it early at home and on my request, my mum had got me the sequels from the library which I had also finished before we had completed the reading in class. Looking back at this experience now as an adult I suppose I may have been an early adopter of what we now call spoilers – I can understand why my teachers might have been frustrated at me telling all my classmates what happens two books down the line!

My reading journey started at the same time as the Harry Potter books were being written. They were definitely an encouragement to me being read to and taking over myself. My parents started reading the books to me at around five or six but I soon started reading it to them aloud and before long I wanted to read the stories all the time whilst my parents were busy so I read them on my own. Being able to grow up whilst those books were still being released was tremendously exciting and in general, the early 2000s was a great time for a young reader. My dad took me to see The Return of the King in 2003 and a lifelong infatuation with the works of Tolkien was born. All the fantasy elements of Harry Potter that I loved were present but even more intricate and bigger! The Lord of the Rings has been my favourite book since I was nine and I still read it at least once yearly now. As a child every time I reread it a little older the more I understood, the deeper the meaning and the more delicately woven the story seemed. By 12 I had conquered the Silmarillion for the first time and around ten years later I felt I finally understood it. My Dad witnessing how much taking me to see that film had influenced my reading and seeing that older more complex works seemed more suitable to me now started showing me the books he was interested in. As a very busy man who took barely 15 minutes for his lunch daily, my Dad liked books that followed in a series so he knew the characters already and didn’t have to establish a whole new set of personalities every time he picked up a book. So Dad started showing me Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe series and Simon Scarrow’s Eagle of the Empire series. Both sets of books had a historical element and realism to the writing that wasn’t as present in my preferred fantasy genre but the more mature nature of the writing and the accompanying real-world events showed me the breadth and impact of writing and opened up chapters and chapters of books to read – as well as giving me a good grounding for the soon to come Game of Thrones hype.

By this time my favourite books had got me through middle school and the prospect of going to secondary school was looming. Reading had become my main hobby by this point and I already had a blossoming book collection. Despite being fortunate enough to be able to buy books every now and then I still relished the opportunity to visit the public library and the prospect of the secondary school having its own library was one of the few things I was looking forward to about moving on from middle school. As it turned out being a fairly standard comprehensive school the library was a bit of a let down, none the less I carried on reading at home and using the local library to read whatever I could get my hands on. As I started becoming interested in other things and started going out with friends a bit more my time spent reading dwindled – that was until when needing a Saturday job I was lucky enough to be employed by my Auntie Lin who just happened to run a few independent bookshops. Suddenly I spent most of my weekends surrounded by books and I had a bit of money coming in – so at the end of my shift I tended to buy a few books for the week between shifts. It must have been a pretty good deal for my auntie because she paid me and I spent that money in her shop! As I started getting back into reading a series by Terry Pratchett caught my attention; the Discworld novels are a set of loosely connected whimsical satires on various topics and were the perfect length for the train journeys to and from work – to this day I tend to carry at least one of the series in any bag I have with me. From working in the shops I started not just being a reader but also a collector and all my old favourites started making frequent additions to my bookshelves, nice copies of Tolkien and Rowling alongside my newly found Pratchett. In fact my journey to loving books had such a profound impact on my life that when as a mature student I decided I’d like to apply to university there was only ever one course that was going to tempt me because of my history with reading and as such I’m now a student of English Literature.

Gone with the Wind

By Emily Nichols

Here is a second post from our guest blogger Emily from Sheffield Hallam University. Emily took part in our Ideas into Action project with the university. Here she is writing about Gone with the Wind, a very popular novel in the mid-20th century, but viewed very differently today.

Before reading Gone with the Wind I did have many preconceptions regarding the novel and its storyline. I watched and enjoyed the film two years ago and bought a copy of the novel intending to read it eventually. This ease of access was part of why I chose to write about this text. Prior to reading the novel, I flicked through and read a few paragraphs to get a feel of the author’s writing style. I found the most racist sentiments I had yet seen in print, finding separately a black man’s ‘joyful contortions…as ludicrous as those of a mastiff’ (Mitchell, M. 1936. pp.742) to see one of his former owners again, and Scarlett thinking that she could not feel like a lady again ‘until black hands and not white took the cotton from Tara.’ (Mitchell, 1936. pp.578) Racism permeates the novel and is a main cause of modern criticism. One of my lasting impressions of the film is that the three black ‘servants’ featured had names you would expect of pets rather than people.

While writing, I will refer to the famous film which was adapted from Mitchell’s novel in 1939, only three years after the book was published and a reflection of its bestseller status – as you must know, even now a bestselling novel can expect to be adapted for cinema soon after publication. While these novels and adaptations are often forgotten, this has been far from the case for Gone with the Wind, the title is familiar to most in Western society, even without reading or watching the source media. The movie is considered a classic part of American culture.

The novel was very well received in its time, it was a bestseller, and won the Pulitzer Prize (“1937 Pulitzer Prizes”, 2021). Contemporary newspapers called it a ‘remarkable first novel’ (Adams, J.D. 1936). Most information on reception of the story by the public focusses on the film, and how it was received in America. Of course Gone with the Wind would be appreciated differently in America, in a time when the Civil War it is centred around had not left living memory and the children of former slaves were commonplace. The glorification of the antebellum South would be attractive to those who still held grudges against the North.

The African-American community protested the film and its treatment of slavery (Haskell M. 2010. pp. 213-214), which remains highly controversial, so it is reasonable to assume that their reaction to the book was similar. Ideally, I wanted to find how the Black British community of the 1930s responded to the book and film but information about either in 1930s Britain, and indeed the Black community in 1930s Britain, are both very difficult to find. I must assume that the novel was read somewhat widely in the UK, and that any Black readers had similar reactions to their counterparts in the USA, perhaps missing the personal family recollections of the truth of slavery whitewashed in the text.

Because finding information regarding the book in the contemporary UK was challenging, I went through the interviews on the Reading Sheffield website, searching the pages for Gone with the Wind, I found that several of the interviewees, mostly women, had read and enjoyed the novel. One stating ‘we all read that’ (Witten, R. 2012) and another ‘absolutely [adores]’ the film, ‘[watching] it every time it comes on television’ (Grover, M. 2012). Gone with the Wind was usually referred to by both interviewers and interviewees as a romance, and compared to Mills and Boon novels but this comparison was rejected by interviewees. It appeared to me that interviewees had read Gone with the Wind due to its popularity, receiving it as presents or from libraries. Some said that the novel had been referred to as rubbish and disapproved of by older adults. I could also conclude, from the repeated trajectory of the interviews regarding the novel, that Gone with the Wind was on the list of questions provided to interviewers, showing modern perception of its contemporary popularity.

Since its publication, Gone with the Wind has retained its place in popular culture, the novel sells well and screenings of the film are common. However, the racism so prevalent in the text has proven to turn many people away from the story. The worldwide resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 has caused the film to be distributed with a disclaimer concerning its portrayals of black people and slavery (Cranz, A. 2020). It is impossible to say that the story is not racist, with the painfully written dialect of black characters and white characters’ dialogue in plain English, persistently othering non-white individuals. Not to mention some passages from the third person narrator that could be published in KKK recruitment leaflets. The novel and film of Gone with the Wind are still very popular – according to the Great American Read, Gone with the Wind comes sixth in a list of America’s one hundred best loved novels (“Results | The Great American Read | PBS”, 2021). I could not find information concerning its readership within the modern black community. This lack of data to me suggesting a lack of popularity.

Having finished the novel, I can state unequivocally that I did not enjoy the book. Hardly any of the characters are likeable and those that are lost this quality for me when their horrific racism was remembered. The story is a well-constructed and compelling narrative, and I can understand why for many people it is so revered. To me it was overlong with the main romance between Scarlett and Rhett Butler at times disturbing. Mitchell makes some astute observations on the role of women in Southern society, how their only way to gain power and security is through marriage in a manner reminiscent of Jane Austen. To me, it is the racism and unlikeable, immature stupidity of the characters that made me so dislike this novel. Scarlett is obsessively in love with Ashley since she is a teenager, continuing until she is a sequentially married woman with multiple children. She does not realise her mistake until she has lost everything to her selfishness and to me this is hardly the tragedy it is often regarded as, more of a deserved comeuppance.

Bibliography:

1937 Pulitzer Prizes. (2021). Retrieved 12 February 2021, from 1937 Pulitzer Prize Winners & Finalists – The Pulitzer Prizes

Adams, J.D. (1936, July 5th). A Fine Novel of the Civil War. The New York Times, pp. 1.

Cranz, A. (2020). After 84 Years, Gone with the Wind Finally Acknowledged as Racist as Shit. Retrieved 12 February 2021.

Grover, M. (2012, May 3). Gillian Applegate. In Readers’ Voices. Reading Sheffield. https://www.readingsheffield.co.uk/readers-stories-2/gillian-applegate/

Haskell, M. (2010). Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited. Yale University Press: London.

Mitchell, M. (1936), Gone with the Wind. Macmillan: London

Results | The Great American Read | PBS. (2021). Retrieved 12 February 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/results/

Selznick, D. (Producer), & Fleming, V. (Director). (1939). Gone with the Wind [Motion Picture]. United States: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Taylor, H. (1989), Scarlett’s Women: Gone with the Wind and its Female Fans. Virago Press: London.

Witten, R. (2012, July 25). Edna B. In Readers’ Voices. Reading Sheffield. https://www.readingsheffield.co.uk/readers-stories-2/edna-b/