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:
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 Piper in the Wind by Anne Hepplepublished 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.