A late entry for Valentines Day

I wasn't going to do a Valentine entry this year, but just from now on take the chance to *highly and objectively* recommend my piece on cross-cultural Valentine practices - subtitled How I Went Viral Before it was Invented - here on the blog. It features a part of my history and these very endearing pictures:


Valentine 2

but this book turned up at the last minute - I read it  over the past few days and I decided it called for this entry. So here you go.

the book:

The Piper in the Wind by Anne Hepple

published 1939

[excerpt – book set around 1910]

‘There’s a letter for you and a little packet – and oh, Rachel, I think it’s a valentine.’

Valentines were out of fashion and practically unknown at the time, but Mr Peregrine in going over his stock had unearthed a few ancient ones and a bundle of the hideous coloured slips that used to be called ‘off-takes’, and which had really killed the pretty custom of the valentine.

The little square packet certainly looked exactly like a valentine, and Rachel took it and got back into bed…

[When she is alone] She took the small white packet from below her pillow and quickly tore off the coverings. Penny was right. It was a valentine, a real old-fashioned affair with paper lace and scented flowers. She turned it slowly over with a puzzled expression till she came to a tiny inscription in a corner, “from Paul.”

Instantly she threw it on the floor, all interest in it gone.

comments:  In January I wrote a post about my love for a certain kind of book – bestsellers of (roughly) the first half of the 20th century, many (but not all) of which could be described as high-grade tosh. It turned out plenty of people shared my love for these books, and the post was much liked, commented on and shared. Part of the pleasure of that is that readers will add their own suggestions, and that is where this book comes from. I’m pretty sure the divine Hilary McKay recommended it though the tweet seems to have disappeared. I will always read anything she puts forward, but this sounded ideal.

It is a much-loved romance/family saga set in the Borders area of Scotland. It reminded me of the genre I came across a few years back – ‘the kailyard school’, described as ‘typically sentimental in style and focused on rural domestic life in Scottish settings’. This one is too late for that, in theory, but fits the style. (The one I looked at before was Penny Plain by O Douglas.)

The Piper in the Wind went into many editions after being published the month before the outbreak of World War 2 – and this would have gone into a time of paper rationing. It must have been a comfort read for those worried about the future, even though it is set just before the First World War, and there is some rather portentous foreshadowing. But it is one of those books that make you think (as I said about Miss Read a long time ago) ‘If this is what people liked to read, how terrified were they of real life?’ - not unreasonably, of course, in the 1940s.

It is a very strange book: at times it reads like a children’s novel. It starts with Hagar, a young woman left alone in the world, who goes as housekeeper to a large family. All kinds of difficulties and dramas hit the Peregrines, but they are all given more or less equal weight – doomed romances jostle with difficulties at school. Quite light problems will suddenly take a turn for the worse and vice versa. Hepple seemed to have a clear idea of what she wanted her characters to do, and how she wanted to write about it, and she wrenched them round without the slightest attention to likelihood or a convincing scenario. Maybe someone has been murdered (poisoned), maybe not. Stepmothers and a wicked Frenchwoman flit in and out – it’s quite hard to get a grip on what is going to be important and what will be ditched.

But I’m just being picky really - it was very much of its time, and was a most compelling and easy read. All those bizarre plotlines kept you going, you did actually want to know how the (spoiler!) on-the-whole-happy endings were going to be achieved.

There’s a lot of sighing over those valentines, but none of it really leads to anything, except to tease us with who it was Rachel would have liked a valentine from.

I couldn’t really get to the bottom of what had happened to valentines in the passage above, or what the off-takes were, or why they were considered to have gone out of fashion – none of the histories of valentines on the internet featured such matters.

The Peregrine family owned a booksellers’ and stationers’ business so might be expected to know about those things. 

There are many nice romantic entries on Valentines on the blog.

Main valentine from Flickr Commons

Valentine cards from the NYPL.


  1. You know, Moira, I'm curious now about what happened to Valentines at the time the book takes place. If you find out, do let us know. I like the way books like this give a window into the sorts of things that made bestseller lists at different times. It shows what people were thinking and talking about, and that in itself fascinates me. This one might be a bit unusual, but I do like that aspect of it, even without having read it.

    1. Yes, you can get so much from a book that isn't going to ever be described as a great literature! But it obviously brought pleasure to many many people, and now to me, as well as telling me a lot about the era it was written in as well as the one it was set in.

  2. More you than me, though I am a bit of a romantic, at least as far as Mrs K is concerned!

  3. What an interesting time setting for this book, written right before World War II, and set before World War I. And it is curious that Valentines would be out of fashion.

    1. Yes, I know I tend to think of books as either being contemporary to their time of writing, or set way back in history. But of course, just like now - people wrote about 30 years before. I thought she might have been writing about her own childhood, but she was born in 1877, so was in her 30s when the book was set - so she would certainly know all about it.

  4. I am so flattered that you read it, thank you very much. I agree that it really is first class tosh. (Not to mention the age old question of why perfectly charming fathers marry wicked step mothers anyway.) I likedit for the old fashioned atmosphere, and because those Peregrines have such very nice things. Tower rooms and lovely china and orange silk dresses and parrots and walled gardens with Christmas roses. And co-incidences and casual poisonings.
    ( I deleted the tweet. I deleted a lot of the things, and with very few exceptions (you, of course, are one) those whom I didn't block, I muted. Twitter is much nicer now.)

    1. I love your sentences summing it up, perfect. I may do another post on it later and will quote you! I intended to think about a comparison with Elizabeth Goudge - they have some things in common but Hepple never hits the heights of Goudge do you think? (I find Goudge variable, but on the right day she is magical.)
      I'm glad you sorted out Twitter! You can't leave, I would miss you too much, but if you have made it nicer that's fine.

  5. You've sparked my interest in the history of Valentines! I'd love to know how and why they first came about. Perhaps there was less interest in them in the 20s and 30s because so many young men had been killed in the war?

    1. Oh what a sad but likely thought! It is quite hard to find anything out online - I did try for this entry - there's too much general stuff about Valentines, hard to find any proper history. We need an academic to research it...


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