Follow by Email

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Eileen Marsh, A Walled Garden, 1943.

I have given background information on Eileen Marsh earlier in this blog. A Walled Garden is one of her novels for adults, but is about children. She rated her adult fiction highly as artistic work. Her children's stories were quickly written with simple plots and characterisation. A Walled Garden in many ways resembles the later Goodnight Mr Tom. After an account of village life through the 1920s and 1930s, evacuees arrive in a Kent village, including one poor ragged boy terrified of his mother, who had run off by attaching himself to a school party. He is taken in by the book's central character, Catty, an unmarried woman whose first love had gone to America, while she looked after her grumpy father. She is presented as helpful to every one, taken for granted, and generally thought to be an unfulfilled soul people were sorry for. The two bonded closely, and the boy's health and confidence improved. He was a street urchin with colourful language, but he was her project, protected fiercely. He gradually improved his diction by copying posh members of the village (and that could cause trouble), and he won a scholarship to secondary school. Catty managed to bring him back for holidays when he was billeted away in Ashford. Another family, the Evans, was billeted with Catty, three children who are background characters. One theme of the book is how badly the London parents dressed and fed their offspring, and how much better they were in their billets. The Evans' parents took their family back to London, where they were promptly killed by a bomb. Catty's beau and his son (he was a widower) returns with the GIs, 20 years after he had once proposed.

The story was written shortly after the evacuations had taken place. It hoped that the experience of separation from birth families had had positive benefits to the children. This is part of countryfolk's horror of working class urban life and priorities. It was somewhat blind to the social inequities that caused urban poverty, and the more limited possibilities of self sufficiency through gardens and smallholdings.

No comments:

Post a Comment