|Illustration from The Little White Horse|
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge is a magical tale set in 1842, and from the very beginning I was hooked by a description of the heroine Maria’s clothes.
And the boots she had on today were calculated to raise the lowest spirits, for they were made of the softest grey leather, sewn with crystal beads round the tops, and were lined with snow-white lamb’s-wool … she rested herself against the thought of the piece of purple ribbon that was wound about her slender waist beneath the pelisse, the little bunch of violets that was tucked so far away inside the recesses of her grey velvet bonnet that it was scarcely visible, and the grey silk mittens adorning the small hands that were hidden inside the big white muff.
The romance between Maria and Robin is a very gentle one, but for a first book which hinted at love and ended in marriage it was perfect for a twelve or thirteen year old reader.
A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley is another favourite, and a timelip novel. I was fascinated by the story of Mary Queen of Scots as a child, and reading about the Babington Plot, as seen unfolding through the eyes of a twentieth century girl as she travels through time ticked all the boxes for me. Penelope’s relationship with Anthony Babington’s brother Francis develops throughout the book and ends with a tender kiss - I was smitten!
Again, the descriptions completely transported me to form pictures of the Elizabethan manor house in my mind:
I smell the hot scents of the herb garden drenched in sunshine, and the perfume of honeysuckle after rain, but stronger than these is the rich fragrance of the old house, made up of woodsmoke, haystacks and old old age, mingled together indissolubly.
Later on my favourites changed as other writers took over and their books took me to other historical worlds and romantic tales of love - Frances Hodgson Burnett, Dodie Smith, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Edith Wharton, Anya Seton, Jean Plaidy, Daphne du Maurier, Elizabeth von Armin, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Gaskell, Georgette Heyer, and the author whose work has inspired me the most, Jane Austen.
I could not leave this post without mentioning my all time favourite book, Persuasion. I love it for the bitter-sweet tale of the love between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth finally brought together after a separation of nearly seven years. I don’t think the letter below has ever been bettered for perfection in writing!
I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never.
Jane Austen - Persuasion