Bonfire Night: Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden

published 1984

Guy Fawkes Thursday's Children 2
[Dancing student Crystal has the chance to go to the ballet, but has other ideas…]

‘It’s Bonfire Night,’ said Crystal.

The boys had built a bonfire in the courtyard. For weeks and weeks they had been dragging a dressed-up Guy Fawkes round the streets in the family’s old pushchair. Doone, hoping to be allowed to join in, had donated his pyjamas – they had been Tim’s and Hughie’s and were tattered, but Ma made as much fuss as if they had been new and he was suitably punished. ‘No sweets, and you don’t go out for a week.’

But ‘Twopence for the guy’, ‘Fivepence for the guy’, the boys chanted – Doone could hear them and knew he had contributed. Now they had plenty of fireworks and had asked their Gang and were going to have sausages and chips and apples roasted in the bonfire.

‘But, Crystal, these are some of the best dancers in the world.’

‘It’s Bonfire Night. I want to ask my friends.’

‘I can’t go alone.’ Ma was almost in tears. ‘William?’

‘Maudie, you know I have to be here. All those kids and a fire.’

‘I know.’

Guy Fawkes Thursday's Children

commentary: See also earlier entry for more on the plot. Doone is the baby of the family, the boy who – shockingly – wants dancing lessons. He will get to go to the ballet instead of Crystal, and his determination to be a dancer will be confirmed. One of the ballets he sees is this:
It was Le Spectre de la Rose. ‘A young girl falls asleep after her first ball, holding a rose her partner had given her,’ said the programme, ‘and in through the window comes the Spirit of the Rose.’ ‘You never saw such a leap.’ That was the first time Ma saw Yuri Koszorz dance. ‘I never thought to see a man dance a rose!’
Now this is a subject of some interest to us here at Clothes in Books – see this entry on Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate, and these pictures:

Guy Fawkes 3Guy Fawkes 4

- The rose petals had to be touched up with a curling iron each night…

But still, that can’t compete with the top picture here – used before on the blog, and one of my all-time favourites: Guy Fawkes night in Wales. The fact that it dates from the 50s reflects my belief that this book is rather vague about its timeframe.

One of the interesting things about the plot is that big sister Crystal – spoilt princess given every opportunity – is contrasted with quiet Ruth, the goody-goody, and lovely Doone with his natural talent. And (as Sarah Rayne pointed out to me when recommending the book) there is one of the all-time awful scenes where Crystal gets her come-uppance at a dance contest.

But – and the same applies to Noel Streatfeild’s Wintle’s Wonders, as I said here – it is clear that Crystal IS talented, IS a good dancer: she is not going to be pushed out by the others, she is going to make it. And Ruth, the competition, lacks temperament and isn’t going to be better than Crystal. Ruth will settle for choreography and teaching. Quite surprising, and one of the aspects of the book that holds the interest.

Bonfire Night of 1954, National Library of Wales.

The second picture is bonfire night in Wales, 1947, from the National Library of Wales.

For another bonfire entry, and one explaining a bit more about the custom for non-UK readers, see here


  1. Oh, those rose petals! Interesting, too, Moira, how Bonfire Night's gotten woven into fiction. I hadn't thought of that before, but it has. Hmmm....I feel a blog post about bonfires and such coming on. Thanks, as ever, for the inspiration.

    1. Oh I hope you do Margot - I think you recommended to me the Catherine Aird book with a bonfire in, Religious Body, and knowing you, you will have many others. Look forward to it.

  2. Nijinsky's arms... Demoiselles d'Avignon 1907, Spectre de la Rose 1911

    1. Never looked at the Demoiselles' arms before, but they are stunning...

  3. A bit of an annoying photo above - it kept invading my attempts to put a link to my posts on Facebook. Glad to see the Mitford's still get a hat-tip!

    1. Sorry about the photo interference, can't imagine how that happened. And of course, one can fit the Mitfords in absolutely anywhere...


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