Dew on the Grass by Eiluned Lewis, (Welsh expertise please...Ay-loo-ned ?) and first published in 1934, has been another happy read and a gorgeous cover from Honno Press.
Unlike my last Honno foray into the writing of Margiad Evans aka Peggy Whistler from Uxbridge, Eiluned Lewis was born and bred in the Welsh countryside in 1900, the daughter of a wealthy Montgomeryshire landowner Hugh Lewis and his wife Eveline.
The family lived in comfortable circumstances at Glan Hafran and Dew on the Grass is another fictional autobiography, a child's eye view of life in Wales in the early twentieth century and offering a very different perspective to the poverty-stricken mining community accounts that I have also been reading.
There are pictures of Glan Hafran and its surroundings but also the visitors, J.M.Barrie and the Lost Boys; Michael and Nicholas Llewellyn Davies were regular guests and joined in all the theatricals of which the young Eiluned, Lucy in the book, is so fond.
Interestingly it was another Lost Boy, Peter Davies, who first published Dew on the Grass in 1934.
Nine-year old Lucy is the younger sister of Delia with six-year old brother Maurice whose measurements are all etched on the stable door along with three year old Miriam
'who ran to width rather than height and barely managed to reach the keyhole.'
What follows is an evocative, enchanting stream-of-consciousness account of a child's life through a child's eyes, a compression of childhood memory released with all those seemingly minor incidents that assume such great significance with the application of a nine-year old mind.
Between them, Lucy and Delia have sufficient imaginative resources to sustain a nation and day after day they are allowed to exercise it with play and make-believe, all occasionally interrupted by education in the shape of a visiting teacher who tries to put the girls through their paces, but largely against the odds when the freedom and adventures of Pengarth (Glan Hafran) beckon. Children's maid Louisa also has her hands full with Lucy's regular dramatic re-enactments of imaginary adventures
'Lucy would begin in a thrilling voice: 'She put her foot on the cold marble step..."
'Don't go putting your bare feet on the washstand." Louisa interrupted
"She looked at the great keep above her." the tragic tale went on; "the rushing moat below. And all around she heard the sound of war and tumult. Then a voice cried:' Mother! Mother' but she answered: 'Daughter! Daughter! What canst I do for thee?'...
'Naught! Naught! I will cast myself into the moat below.' "
"You'll break the springs of the bed if you carry on like that," remarked Louisa folding up the clothes.'
There are all those certainties of childhood, the world that seems to revolve around a child's magnificent flights of imaginative fancy and parents who are able to provide for this to happen; there's no question it's a privileged world with only occasional intrusions from the realities of the poverty of those around them. A fire in an estate cottage and we learn little of what happens to the occupants, Lucy's father much more exercised over how he will rebuild, whilst the arrival of a tramp signifies the destitution and poverty that was blighting the mining communities.
Plenty of timeless childhood moments of nostalgia too.
The counting games to choose who would be 'it' ..."Ip dip sky blue, who's it not you" in my day, Lucy has something far more interesting involving the Virgin Mary.
Then that fishpond game with the rods and lines with the magnets on the end.
What about the way the eyes always came out of a teddy bear (horrors...remember them on great long bits of lethal wire?) and the teddy had to remain eyeless ever after because putting them back in just made them look all wrong.
In fact look, I found my second-best bear, the eyeless Bimbo who would be impressed upon me when I'd been sick on the equally eyeless best bear Fred, who was a complete person with a soul and feelings and was very real let me tell you, and who would have to be mysteriously whisked off for 'laundering'.
There's just no way to make Bimbo look pretty or to convey even the merest hint of what he meant to me as a child or how I felt when he needed surgical intervention... I hope you've all got strong stomachs, I'm having to look away when I see this, I probably cried for weeks. In fact it's all reminding me that I passed it onto my own children, Offspringette was distraught for days when her beloved Marmite's head came off and I was a nervous wreck trying to stitch it back on.
There are some gloriously funny moments in Dew on the Grass too, a child's impression of hymns and the day Lucy ponders about heaven,
'I thought that everyone in heaven - Jesus and the angels and all - went to bed in a long room, and in the early morning I would get up, very quietly, and put on my cap and apron and cook breakfast and make the coffee. Then when Jesus woke up He would be very surprised and pleased and say: " Well done thou good and faithful servant!"
Lucy, the writer in the family proceeds to compose a Liturgy of her own for an all-purpose pet's funeral,
O dog of dogs, have mercy on us sinners,
Be good to us, O King, and make us joyful;
Save us from all breaking and illness... ARMEN'
So a childhood exquisitely recalled but with that growing realisation that Delia will be the first to leave this safe world of the imagination and head off for boarding school; suddenly Delia is above it all and owns a proper tennis racquet and life will never be quite the same at Pengarth / Glan Hafran again.
Katie Gramich's excellent introduction offers more unique insights into Lucy's frequent blurring of those boundaries between the real and the imaginary which for me made reading this book such a pleasure, and any mention of comparisons of this child-centred narrative to the short stories of Katherine Mansfield is always going to strike the right note too. Likened in her lifetime to a host of good authors...Jane Austen, Mrs Gaskell, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Arthur Ransome and Kenneth Grahame, I have to agree with Reginald Massey, it is indeed sad that Eiluned Lewis is almost forgotten today.
But really it's Lucy aka Eiluned herself that you love for the way that the world of the grown-up makes so little sense
'How did grown-ups manage to exist all day with so little imagination? They even dressed in the morning without imagining themselves other than they were, whereas Lucy felt that she could never bear to put on clothes at all if she were not consoled at every phase by pretending to be someone else - the Young Acrobat, the White Lady or the Innocent Child.'