Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Greenery Street by Denis Mackail
28. Greenery Street
by Denis Mackail
paperback, 372 pages
In these days of beautiful book covers, often with nostalgic old photos or evocative scenes, the Persephone books really stand out. I rather appreciate a book that doesn't try and influence me by the cover. A Persephone book lets the writer's words tell the story and I love that.
Another thing I simply adore about this publisher is the little extras. I have already mentioned the endpapers. The ones for Greenery Street are
taken from a 1925 design for a block printed cretonne by George H. Willis for
the Silver Studio MoDA, Middlesex University
The preface to Greenery Street is just packed with tidbits about the author's life. Many of the biographical details may be familiar. His mother was the daughter of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the pre-Raphelite painter, and Georgina Macdonald, one of the famous 'circle of sisters.' He and his wife were friends with the A.A. Milnes, and with E.H. Shepard who illustrated the Pooh books and the cover of Greenery Street (included as a postcard). His sister was Angela Thirkell. However, it may come as a surprise that Denis Mackail and P.G. Wodehouse were friends. And that Mr. Wodehouse 'believed that Mackail wrote with an ease that he himself lacked, and respected his style and wit.' High praise from the man I believe is the master of writing! We also learn that much of Greenery Street is autobiographical, and there are two sequels which I hope Persephone will also bring back into print.
To quote a wise woman (my daughter!), 'dark and depressing doesn't mean artistic.' Sometimes warm, cheerful, and/or funny pieces of literature are looked upon as lightweight. Many people feel this is why P.G. Wodehouse doesn't get his due for the genius he is. Well, not this reader. I like a happy story, and this one certainly is.
Greenery Street is a metaphor for the first year of marriage. We are told right at the start that young couples move to this lovely London street (based on the author's own home on Walpole Street) after they get married, thinking it will be their forever home. But once the children come along, those perfect rooms begin to feel cramped and crowded, and the family moves on. It is quite shocking to a reader in 2009 to hear that a five-story house was too small for a family with two children, but 'of course' there had to be room for the servants!
The young couple are Ian and Felicity Foster. We follow them as they meet, become engaged, and then move into their first home as young marrieds. Some of the facts of their lives are the same as what a couple face even now - managing money, coping with neighbors, learning to live with another person. There is such a sweetness in the details of their new life together, their love of one another, and their joint love of their new home. Not everything is perfect, of course, but it is interesting to see how they handle various concerns.
P.G. Wodehouse wrote to the author as he began reading Greenery Street:
It's so good that it makes one feel that it's the only possible way of writing a book, to take an ordinary couple and just tell the reader all about them. It's the sort of book one wishes would go on forever.
And honestly, I cannot say anything further or more eloquently than this. Buy it or borrow it, but please do read it. Your heart will be lightened and your spirits lifted as you move through the pages of this wonderful, wonderful book. You may read another review here. If anyone else has written about it, please let me know, and I'll add the link to your post.