The special CiB meme ‘Xmas scenes from books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!
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. You’d think I’d be running out of Xmas books and scenes by now, but far from it – I have to begin this feature earlier in December each year. More ideas still welcome in the comments. (If it’s a particularly good choice I will ditch one of the ones I have ready and give you credit…)
Jane The Fourth by Evadne Pricepublished 1937
[Jane is on the loose in a department store in December]
‘Loverly!’ cried Jane, making a beeline for Father Christmas. He seemed a nice friendly gay old gentleman with this jolly red face and his beard and his red sateen nightie edged with white fur.
‘Green parcels for boys, red ones for girls!’
‘A red one please,’ cried Jane when at long last she reached him. But to her surprise he drew back.
‘Only children with their parents,’ said Father Christmas severely. His face wasn’t very friendly, really… his eyes looked at you out of slits, and they weren’t a bit jolly. ‘No, ‘op it and don’t tug at me,’ said Father Christmas nastily as Jane clutched his disappearing gown. ‘Green for boys, red for girls…’
Jane mounted a rocking-horse and watched over the heads of the crowd. There was Father Christmas again and – Jane stared from her point of vantage – he had just slipped a present into a lady’s bag without her knowing. Opened the bag, put something in, and closed it again without anyone noticing when the lady’s back was turned. ‘Well the old cheat!’ gasped Jane. The cheat. Giving presents to grown-ups. Favouring them like that.
commentary: Jane hasn’t realized it yet, but Father Christmas is an unrepentant thief, and far from giving out presents, he is stealing from the local ladies. Jane will play a key role in bringing him to justice.
It was blogfriend Daniel Milford-Cottam – it so often is – who introduced me to Jane. We were talking about which children’s books made us laugh (in the comments on this entry on Swallows and Amazons), and he put forward Jane, a 1930s heroine, as even better than Richmal Crompton’s William. I had not come across her, so naturally had to pursue.
The Jane books are all out of print, but I managed to find a tattered copy of this one, and it was indeed a treat, absolutely hilarious, and I’m so sorry I didn’t come across them for either my own childhood or my children, who would have loved her.
She lives in the familiar middle-class haze – parents and older sibling in a nice house in a village in 30s England, staff, friends and enemies at school and round and about. And she has wonderfully plotted adventures in which she causes absolute havoc.
Everything is light-hearted and sketched in, but still the characters are real: Jane is often caught up in her mother’s social dealings in the village, which are worthy of Mapp and Lucia. The cook, splendidly always called ‘Vilet’ (presumably actually Violet), is married to a ne-er-do-well called Arnie – the family puts up with him because Vilet cooks so well. Jane’s sister has an off/on boyfriend, the brother of one of Jane’s friends: the two friends can agree that both siblings are very soppy.
I enjoyed the adventure of the fancy dress party, where all the children come as film characters – Jane is Shirley Temple in The Littlest Colonel. And if there’s one sentence that would give you a true flavour of the book, it is this from a chapter called Queen of the May. The enemy - Mrs Tweeddale - has come round to the house to shout at Jane’s mother:
‘This shall be the last gold crown you and your criminal-minded child shall glue to the head of a May Queen in Little Duppery.’I wouldn’t bank on it.
Thanks again to Daniel. He also pointed out to me this blog discussion on Jane, with some very interesting comments.
Picture of a (very respectable) Santa Claus with a little girl from the Florida Archives.