Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page.
Sisters by a River by Barbara Comyns
[spelling and punctuation as in the original]
Although I was always sure I hadn’t been to sleep, I would suddenly notice the shape of the stocking had become quite different, very bulky, and a pile of boxes and parcels underneath… a heavenly smell of spice, tinsel, new books and fruit seemed to come. When our beds were strewn with the contents of our stockings, open jack-in-a-boxes, dolls and teasets all jumbled up together, and a miniture Christmas pudding, there was always one of those in the toe of our stockings, with the orange and new pennies and nuts, when all these things had been examined, there were still the parcels from various relations to be unwrapped…
After breakfast we didn’t go to church like most people seem to, we just played in the drawing-room, we each took a corner to keep our new toys in…
We had our Christmas dinner in the middle of the day, and an enormous amount was eaten and drunk, even we children were allowed wine.
When it came to the pudding part, I was scared in case I got the thimble, and had to be a governess when I grew up, once I got the bachelors button, but everyone knows this isn’t so bad…
There were quite a lot of carol singers, and we used to give them pennies and mince pies, that were left in the hall for them, but their singing always rather depressed me.
commentary: As explained in an earlier entry, on the whole this book left me cold: the ridiculous spelling and punctuation mistakes seemed pointless, and the narrator seemed far too consciously naïve. But there were moments of description that I enjoyed, and this was one of them.
The book tells the story of a set of sisters living in a dire situation somewhere in the Midlands, probably in the 1920s. Although it is a novel, it is also highly autobiographical, and this description of Christmas Day has the ring of conviction.
The chapter ends up saying
I took a kind of pride in seeing how late I would be allowed to stay on Christmas night, but I was always very tierd, and glad underneath when they sent me to bed, as long as Beatrix didn’t stay up later than me, I was such a long day, and there was always tomorrow.- something we all might recognize from our own childhoods.
The picture, from the Athenaeum, is called The Day after Christmas by Mark Lancelot Symons from around 1931. The milieu may be a bit down-market from the down-at-heel toffs in the book, but isn’t it a wonderful picture?