feather_ghyll: drawing of a girl from the 1920s reading a book in a bed/on a couch (Twenties girl reader)
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The Smiths of Silver Lane: Ethel Talbot Nelson (my copy is inscribed 1933)

As the title suggests, this is a family story. We gradually get introduced to the Smiths: sisters Robin, Christine, Jean and twins Bice and Fra (Beatrice and Francsesca). The last two were named by their father The Professor Smith, but he died a few months ago, meaning the family are living on much less than they were and the eldest girl, Robin, or Bird to her sisters, is starting to realise that things cost money and that girls don’t grow up magically. A hint from her former headmistress that the twins, the only Smith girls still at school, need some management and the arrival of neighbours are what rouse Robin to this.

Those neighbours are two girls who ought to be companions for the Smiths, and their well-dressed mother, who drops her ‘H’s. The Smiths, having been brought up by an eminent academic, belong to a certain class, even if their income no longer sustains it, but are not at all conventional. The most unconventional is Christine, an art student with a burgeoning talent and very decided views. But Robin, who wants to do the best for the sisters she loves so much, blind to her own talents and charms, is starting to see the deficiencies in Christine’s world view.

The Fortescue girls seem stand-offish, while Christine rebuffs Mrs Fortescue, who Robin and the twins, at least, realise is kind (motherly, even) beneath the social faux-pases. There is a good deal of very English awkwardness between them. But worse, there is anguish because there is no longer a father to come up with magical cheques to pay off the bills and Christine’s sensibilities mean that the twins must go without new winter coats and Bice’s cough turns very nasty…

The story of an orphaned family of girls having to stand on their own feet in the real world, but not entirely alone, with a dash of scolding about snobbishness, takes a whimsical turn with the Dream Children Robin has populated the former nursery with.

I got the feeling that Talbot put down the story at one point and picked it back up again, because she reiterates some things that have already been established in the first two-thirds, and even contradicts herself – at least, I was confused about when exactly the Smiths lost their mother. And she occasionally uses ellipses when none are needed, but I’ve seen worse on that score from her.

The dynamics between the unconventional, unworldly, unwise sisters are gripping – even as the reader sees how Christine might potentially threaten Robin’s romantic chances before they’ve properly developed. But the right girl is the heroine throughout, while the more difficult girl gets her own reward for struggling with her faults. I found how Talbot actually handled that conflict after prefiguring it somewhat contrived and disappointing. The characterisation of Mrs Fortescue/Old Mother Hubbard made me cringe too.
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