After Such Kindness by Gaynor Arnold

published 2012  chapter 18

I decided to walk up Capstone Hill and see the view. There was a telescope near the summit, and I hoped to be able to pick out some children who might make good subjects for a picture. I could see a group out on the rocks with buckets and nets, the girls with their petticoats tucked up, and the boys barefoot and bareheaded. They bent and peered into the pools, and fished things out and examined them with concentration before placing them in a bucket. I thought it a charming scene and resolved to strike up a conversation with them, if I could, with a view to drawing them, or taking their photographs if I could obtain permission. I find mamas are so flattered at the thought of having a photograph of their children that they are willing to give me carte blanche as to composition and length of sittings, with the only proviso that I must give them a copy at the end. I have had the occasional mother who has insisted on sitting and watching throughout the whole process, and this is most disconcerting – but such parents are generally in the minority.

observations: A timely entry for two reasons: in theory this should be a good weekend for going to the beach, as regards weather – though the reality is somewhat different in the UK. The second is that Judi Dench is appearing on the London stage, alongside Ben Whishaw, in a play about the grown up originals of Peter Pan and Alice. (Mini review: interesting play, not as good as critics suggest, but worth it to see JD, and in particular her turning from an old lady to a young girl in the flick of her head.)

The book – featured before – takes the story of Lewis Carroll and the real Alice and turns it into fiction. Gaynor Arnold says ‘my made-up story of Daisy Baxter has ramifications that never, as far as I know, affected either the real-life Alice or those around her’, but as with all books based on real stories, there is a bit of discomfort here – though at least all the participants here are long-dead, unlike the characters appearing in Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife (another Alice).

Arnold’s earlier novel dealt with Charles Dickens: this one is equally well-written, convincing and engrossing, but in the end you are just waiting for something nasty to happen, the only question is exactly what. So though it is a good book, the Dickens one, Girl in a Blue Dress – containing only male oppression, a horrible picture of a marriage going wrong and a very unusual heroine – is better.

Links up with: Clothes for the beach feature in this entry, one of our favourite photos. Graham Greene’s Aunt was photographed at the beach. Another Victorian girl in Thursday's entry.

The picture above is a Kodak circular photo from the National Media Museum.

These are photos that Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll took of the original Alice Liddell.


  1. Moira - I always think it's interesting when a real story is fictionalised that way. Even if the Dickens is better, this sounds well worth the read. I've always been interested in the real Alice Liddell anyway... And I'm glad you enjoyed the play.

  2. Would have liked to see that play! Judi Dench does something similar in Cranston (thinking of the orange-eating scene) and it's quite magical.

    1. She is amazing, and I am so glad I saw her live, I think I will be telling my grandchildren(if any turn up) about that...


Post a Comment