Xmas Book Scenes: Another Winter Walk

The Bachelor by Stella Gibbons


published 1944


[excerpt] Christmas was now only a week away and Miss Fielding, one Saturday morning at breakfast, said that green boughs and holly must be brought in from the woods to decorate the house.

[They] would go laughing through the silent leafless woods, pulling down the bitter-smelling laurel and the holly and come home through the frosty dusk with their arms full of stiff, dark-green branches and ivy trails…

In the woods, all was apparently mirth and jollity. There was plenty of holly; that is, there were plenty of berries on the holly trees, which is all that ever matters about holly, and they enjoyed themselves hooking down the branches with a walking-stick brought for that purpose. The beech leaves lay in deep copper drifts in the hollows and the dark silver trunks towered solemnly upwards to the cold, fading fairy light in the sky. Kenneth sliced off branches of hawthorn laden with soft dark crimson berries, and Betty cut rhododendron sprays with their pale green buds, while Miss Burton rustled through the leaves in a dream, quoting Tennyson to herself and not listening to Miss Fielding, who was explaining about Druids.

Gradually their arms grew full of branches and sprays; trails of ivy with dark jade green leaves, the bright black berries of the honeysuckle, dim red rose-hips and the fans of the fir tree, and at last Miss Fielding said that they had enough and announced that they would go home. Darkness came down very quickly; the last light faded from the woods and they became spectral and chill with shade. As the party came out onto their homeward road the icy moon was rising and threw their shadows at their feet. The thought of tea was of course now uppermost in everybody’s mind and they walked smartly homewards, with their beautiful spoils nodding fantastic shadows on the moonlit road as the bunches moved in time to the walking. Everyone was in high spirits

comments: I very much enjoyed reading The Bachelor earlier in the year – blogpost here - and although the book is quite sharp and satirical, this description of the pre-Christmas walk was delightful and free from snark – just a lovely generous description of a little family event in the midst of a terrible war.

Stella Gibbons is a strange mixture of being sometimes judgemental and sometimes not (now I think of it, very similar to another blog favourite, Christianna Brand) – she can be excruciatingly snobbish, but also empathetic. This tiny glimpse from the book combines both - two of the poshos are in a café together, and one sees some people she knows:

“Two girls from my factory. I don’t know the boys.” The girls had rich yellow curls on their shoulders, men’s jackets over sweaters, and trousers, and heavy, expensive shoes. Their grubby little hands had painted nails and the paint was thick on their eighteen-year-old faces. The boys were in battle-dress. All four looked soft and sleepy with happiness.

The description is judge-y, but that last line is lovely and full of understanding.

And Gibbons is even-handed about the ne’er-do-well father, splendidly known as The Night-Club King. The stuffy-seeming son has bailed out his father, to the horror of the rest of the family:

In these times! when unearned incomes were dwindling steadily beneath the pressure of unforeseen circumstances and Income Tax! Lending money to promote a night club! He must be mad! He had not dared to tell them that it was to be called The Last Banana.

And then also:

She found him in the hall, telling Richard where he could get a pre-war meal in London if he didn’t mind paying for it. He did not add “or ask where it comes from,” but Richard, looking huntedly at him, filled in this gap and was more anxious than ever to be off. “… a thick juicy steak and those little button French mushrooms and plenty of onions. And something to wash it down with!” said Mr. Fielding, all twinkling and rosy, looking up at Richard, who had four slices of Spam and half a loaf in his pockets, as iron rations to take to his friends in London. “You surprise me,” said Richard, “but not very much.”

Very nicely-judged.

There was a winter walk in the Elizabeth Ferrars entry earlier this week. Collecting Christmas greenery has featured in the seasonal entries in the past, – Charlotte M Yonge and Robertson Davies. We have also had No Holly for Miss Quinn  (by Miss Read) – which, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to realise, is presumably a play on words from No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Hadley Chase, a scandalous and shocking bestseller of earlier days.

And there is a post-Christmas winter walk here.

Picking holly – US airman and British WAAF, from Imperial War Museum of course. UNITED STATES ARMY AIR FORCES (USAAF) IN BRITAIN, 1942-1945 | Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk)

The two colourful ladies is a fine art greeting card, ('blank inside for your own message'), from a painting by artist Dee Nickerson Pinterest

A winter walk in Stockholm, from Swedish Heritage via Wikimedia Commons.


  1. That is a lovely description of a walk, Moira. You really feel you're there as you read it. It's funny you mention the snark. In my opinion, snark and sarcasm are best served in small doses in a book. They can be hilarious, but it's easy to overdo it, I think. That said, I like this writing style...

    1. Thanks Margot - I know what you mean, and it's one of the reasons I have mixed reactions to Stella Gibbons. But I did enjoy this book.

  2. "Very nicely-judged." Loved that. And a picture from my home town - what a delightful bonus. Happy Christmas to you, Moira!

    1. Thank you! And glad you liked the Stockholm picture - I thought it was lovely....

  3. Thank you for this. I only know Cold Comfort Farm so I am looking forward to reading The Bachelor in the New Year.

    1. I hope you enjoy it! Let me know how you get on. In my view nothing quite matches up to Cold comfort Farm, but her other books are enjoyable.


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