The Sunday Salon

This week I’ve been travelling in time and place in my reading.

I’ve been in Pennsylvania and Connecticut with Gladys Taber and Barbara Webster reading their letters to each other from Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge over one year in the 1950s (the book was published in 1953; there’s been no mention of the Second World War so I’m guessing the letters were written in the late 1940s or early 1950s). Stillmead and Sugarbridge is a book to savour and read slowly. I’m limiting my reading to a few letters each time I pick up the book. Stillmeadow is the house in Southbury, Connecticut where Gladys Taber lived and Sugarbridge is the house where Barbara and her husband Edward Shenton lived in Pennsylvania. Edward’s drawings illustrate the letters. Between the letters and the illustrations I’m getting a good picture of their lives. Their letters are full of the love of the countryside and their families. When I’ve finished it I’ll write more fully about it. For now here is a quote from Barbara’s first letter in the book, writing in January about what she likes about living at Sugarbridge:

A broken-up day is to me a lost day, and social and business dates, no matter how delightful or important, hang over me with a sense of doom. So I am particularly grateful for those long intervals of country peace when we see no one, nor stir from our studio except for an afternoon ramble over the hills. We no longer live by the clock, slaves to time; we make our own.

She thought that this would not be everyone’s ideal. It sounds good to me.

I first read about Gladys Taber on Nan’s blog and was really pleased when she sent me this book. I would like to know more about Gladys and Barbara and so far I’ve found these websites –  Stillmeadow Friends and also Stillmeadow, where I read that the farm was in danger from development. This was in 2002 and I can’t find out what happened – does anyone know? There is also a website for Edward Shenton, but I can’t find out how Gladys and Barbara met.

Then I’ve jumped back in time to France in the 1820s with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I am only too glad that I don’t live in post revolutionary France. The Battle of Waterloo is now over and Jean Valjean has at last escaped from prison and rescued Cosette from her pitiful life with the cruel Thenardiers. Poor Cosette:

Fear emanated from her so that she might be said to be enveloped in it. Fear caused her to draw her elbows in at her sides and her feet underneath her skirt, to take up as little room as possible and to draw no unnecessary breath; it had become so to speak, the habit of her body, impossible of alteration except that it must grow worse, In the depths of her eyes there was the haggard gleam of terror.

Jean and Cosette are currently on their way to Paris and a better life I hope, but I don’t expect it will be as I still have about 800 pages left to read.

Over next to Regency England in the early19th century with Georgette Heyer’s Friday’s Child. Dialogue makes up a large part of the book, full of 19th century slang. I mentioned this in my last post and in the comments Geranium Cat explained what a “Tiger” is and pointed me to this site – for more explanations. This book is a mixture of romance, a whirl of social events – balls, masquerades, theatre-going, duels and farce. I’m about halfway in the book and this morning read about the duel between George, Lord Wrotham and Sherry, Anthony Verelst, Viscount Sheringham after Sherry saw George kissing his wife, Hero.

Last and my no means least I’ve popped over to America again. This time to New York with Dodie Smith in 1939 just before the start of World War Two as described in Dear Dodie by Valerie Grove. Dodie and Alec (who she marries) arrive with Pongo, the dalmatian who inspired her to write 101 Dalmatians after leaving England because Alec was a pacifist and a conscientious objector. Dodie was soon cast into gloom, unable to like America and forecasting

years of exile, a world war in progress, losing her audience-sense by being away from England, and possibly also losing all her capital. On three out of four counts her forecast was absolutely correct.

I knew very little about Dodie before and am learning a lot about England at the beginning of the 20th century and theatrical history as well as about Dodie herself – an unsuccessful actress, then a shop assistant at Heals furniture store and then a playwright. It’s fascinating reading about her relationship with people such as Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Gladys Coper, Jack Hawkins and Jessica Tandy, to name but a few.

10 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon

  1. I don’t know about ‘Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge’ at all but it sounds exactly my sort of book. I love letters and journals, especially in the ase of the former where there is a real correspondence under way. I’m off to see if I can find a copy of this for late winter evening reading.


  2. I loved reading Gladys Taber when they first start reprinting her books…but I wasn’t familiar with this one. For a while, I was reading and collecting a whole shelf of these gentle domestic books…now I want to read some of them again.


  3. I have never heard of the Taber book, but it sounds interesting–just the sort I would like. I will have to look for it. Wasn’t that Waterloo scene long?! It seems he breaks up the action with these sorts of digressions, so be prepared for more, but things move quicker with Cosette in the story! And I am in the mood for a Heyer, too. I think I want to read The Reluctant Widow next.


  4. Dear Margaret…

    As one of your readers mentioned, Stillmeadow was saved and it is still the place of magic that Mrs. Taber wrote about all those many years ago.

    The house remains in the family and Gladys’ own granddaughter calls Stillmeadow her home.

    If you visit my site, there are fairly recent photos of Stillmeadow and even a few of Gladys Taber’s columns to read.

    Very kindly,
    Shelley Rogers


  5. Hello Margaret,
    I’m so glad you are opening the door to the wonderful writing of Gladys Taber! Gladys wrote over 50 books and countless magazine articles, plus two long running columns in the Ladies Home Journal and Family Circle magazines. She first met Barbara at Wellesley College and thus began a long friendship, including the one book which they co-authored. Ed Shenton illustrated a half-dozen of Gladys’ books, and is largely thought to be the best of her illustrators. Although most of Gladys’ books are out of print, they can be bought for a song on ebay (just watch the scalpers who try to get too much for books which are widely available now.) Barbara Webster wrote several other books of the memoir/nonfiction genre, and she also wrote historical fiction for young teens. We have a group of about 400 fans of Gladys Taber who meet for a weekend once a year in a location where Gladys once lived . We are a hearty crowd and enjoy helping new fans to learn about her writing and her life.


  6. I love the picture, which might entice me into the book…

    I read Dear Dodie a few years ago, just after reading I Capture The Castle for the first time, and found it fascinating – all those people she knew! And I discovered her pseudonym was C L Anthony – and consequently that I already owned one of her plays, in a Best Plays of 1931 collection!


  7. I would love to read Dear Dodie – such an interesting time in literary history and I know nothing at all about her career as a playwright. I shall certainly be looking out for it!


Comments are closed.