The Glass Peacock by Eleanor Farjeon
Life went on. The New Year rang itself in. At dusk, on Twelfth Night, Annar-Mariar was the only child about…
She heard footsteps go by her. A lady was going slowly along the alley with something astonishing in her hands.
The lady stopped. What she was carrying was a Christmas tree, quite a little tree, the eighteenpenny size, but such a radiant little tree! It was glittering and twinkling with all the prettiest fantasies in glass that the mind of Christmas had been able to invent, little gas lamps and candlesticks, shining balls of every colour, a scarlet-and-silver Father Christmas, also in glasss, chains and festoons of gold and silver beads, stars, and flowers, and long clear drops like icicles; birds, too, in glass, blue and yellow birds, seeming to fly, and one, proudest and loveliest of all, a peacock, shimmering in blue and green and gold, with a crest and long, long tail of fine spun glass, like silk….
That night, that one blissful night, the little tree in all its gleaming beauty shone upon Annar-Mariar’s dreams – waking dreams, for she hardly slept at all. She kept looking at it, and feeling it when she couldn’t see it, running her finger along the glass chains, outlining the fragile flowers and stars, stroking the silken tail of the miraculous peacock. Tomorrow night, she knew, her tree would be harvested, but she thought her own particular fruit might be the peacock. If so, he could sit on the tree beside her bed for ever, and every night she could stroke his spun-glass tail.
comments: I love Twelfth Night, one of my favourite moments of Christmas. I have done special entries most years, starting with the unimprovable O Henry story The Gift of the Magi back in 2013 (if you don’t cry you have a heart of stone). I have written about Twelfth Night in the Guardian newspaper, and last year did an explanatory post. James Joyce’s The Dead – one of the greatest short stories ever written in my important view – is assumed to take place on Twelfth Night, and is single-handedly responsible for the idea that ‘an Epiphany’ is a moment of revelation for an individual. (oh Gabriel… ‘Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age’.)
Eleanor Farjeon is responsible for another of my favourite short stories – the ghost story ‘...And a Perle in the Myddes’, which is also suitably seasonal, and featured on the blog last year. (And yes, it stands up next to James Joyce.)
When I do the Christmas entries every year, I am forever asking for more suggestions from readers: someone came up with this short story after seeing the Perle story, though to my shame I cannot remember who it was. Please claim your credit if it was you.
***Thank you Christine Harding - see below in comments.
( And of course I am still always hoping to get more suggestions of Xmas books.)
The Glass Peacock is a short and simple tale: Annar-Mariar is a child in a poor part of London, kind and helpful, looking after her brother and the other children in the alley or court where she lives. They all long for Christmas and peer into the shop windows wishing there was any likelihood they might get something nice. Annar-Mariar’s family is plainly very poor. After Christmas has passed, and Twelfth Night comes, a rich lady passes through the court, and gives her a Xmas tree (one she is presumably throwing out in effect). The little girl is thrilled, and shares the excitement with the other children: she gives away all the decorations on the tree except one, the one she loves most... And she knows that the tree is almost dead...
It is actually a strange story, not quite the comforting sentimental fable you might be expecting.
The Little Bookroom, the collection where it sits, is much-loved, and has been ever since publication. It won Farjeon the British award for children’s books, the Carnegie Medal, in 1955. It is still in print, and the usual edition has absolutely lovely illustrations by Edward Ardizzone.
**** added later: Blogfriend Callmemadam came in to comment on the story - a favourite of hers - and pointed me in the direction of her own blog entry on it - highly recommended. And she had used these two pictures - somehow much more 1920s and less Victorian than I was imagining:
She says they were from a book her mother had in the 1930s.
Eleanor’s brother J Jefferson Farjeon wrote the lost-and-rediscovered book Mystery in White. This is the 1937 book republished in the British Library /Crime Classic series which really got the ball rolling: it was a huge and unexpected bestseller at Christmas 2014 – when, of course, it featured as one of the Clothes in Books Christmas books.
I originally thought ‘I’ll do this blogpost IF I can find a nice picture of a glass peacock’. Well my goodness I was not in line with the world – so naive, Clothes in Books, so naive. There are thousands of pictures of glass peacocks, though it’s important not to start thinking they look like brightly-painted turkeys – it ruins them all, I mean just look at this one:
The top ones are a Christmas decoration designed by Kurt S Adler, from DigsnGifts, and two glass peacocks from Gisela Graham. Which look as though they would make someone a lovely pair of earrings.