Whilst I wait for opportunity and blogging muse to coincide I’m pleased that at least I’m keeping up with Six Degrees. Kate does all the organising for this and the background can be found here. Thanks, Kate!
The starter book for this month is Beezus and Ramona (1955) by Beverly Cleary. Both author and book title were unknown to me but I’ve now learned that Cleary was a much-loved and prolific children’s author who died in March aged 104. I got happily side-tracked by her obituary which outlined how Ramona came into being and I learned that she (Ramona) is the annoying little sister of Beatrice (Beezus). Ramona is described as spirited and reflective and the more I learned the more I wish I’d read these books as a child myself. But I digress.
Beezus is eight and Ramona four in this book. Immediately I think of My Naughty Little Sister (1962) written by Dorothy Edwards, which kickstarted a short series that I DID read. Dorothy dedicated her books to her own little sister, Phyllis, whom she was buried alongside when she died in 1982. (Dorothy Edwards helped to devise the radio show Listen with Mother and wrote for Jackanory which was the cue for another side-track as I took a trip down Memory Lane.)
My Naughty Little Sister was never a great favourite with me or my own children but it was illustrated by Shirley Hughes and we all loved her. (Dogger, Alfie & Annie-Rose, here I go again…) Shirley and sisters provide the next link – a world away from nostalgic children’s books. Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley (1849) is one of the Bronte sisters’ books that I still have to read. Charlotte too, is buried alongside some of her sisters, including younger sister, Emily.
First names – P D James’ initials refer to her given names: Phyllis Dorothy. Her last book, Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), continues the sisterly theme, imagining the dastardly murder which occurs in the grounds of Pemberley when naughty little sister Lydia arrives to visit some years after Elizabeth Bennet has married Darcy. I’ve read this one and frankly, I wasn’t impressed.
P. D. James is not the only modern-day author to have turned her hand to writing sequels, prequels and other permutations of classic novels with varying degrees of success. Another such attempt is Emma Watson (1996) by Joan Aiken in which she takes the scrap of Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons, and completes it in her own fashion. Joan Aiken is another prolific children’s author but she was also very knowledgeable about Austen and wrote sequels to several of her books in addition to ‘finishing off’ The Watsons. Not for one moment do I imagine that the original would have turned out as Aiken’s version did but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it and feeling that she had captured some of the characteristics of Jane’s novels and the feel of the period.
From one unfinished manuscript to another, and staying with the name Emma. Emma Brown (2005) by Clare Boylan is also based on a fragment of a classic novel, not by Austen, who finished her novel of that name, but by Charlotte Bronte. Reviews suggest that Boylan has done a good job. I’ve not read this but it does intrigue me.
Children’s literature, classics, little sisters and first names, there’s only one contender for the final link in my chain. Peter Pan and Wendy was published in 1915 by May Byron, as an abridged version of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan. Originally written by Barrie as a play in 1904 and as a novel in 1911, he gave full permission for Byron’s version.
It proved a challenge to find this book with Byron credited on the cover but the search led me to some very satisfying discoveries. In 1921, Byron’s version was illustrated by celebrated children’s illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell. In the editions I could find on Goodreads, Attwell gets the credits. But I finally found a version crediting May Byron as ‘reteller’, (though not on the cover) and published more recently. The illustrator – who is credited – is none other than the much-loved Shirley Hughes. Oh, the satisfaction!
In all that excitement I almost forgot to mention the sisterly connection here. My own little sister – I shall not comment on her levels of naughtiness – is named Wendy.
This month I’ve linked through little sisters with varying degrees of naughtiness, through children’s illustrators, first names, sisterly burial plots, classics, and reimagined classics fashioned from fragments. I’m always surprised by the twisting route these chains take and I’m looking forward now to seeing where everyone else’s chains have led.