Friday, February 21, 2014

Ursula Bloom. A Rosemary for Stratford-on-Avon (1966)

     Ursula Bloom. A Rosemary for Stratford-on-Avon (1966) Bloom (1892-1984) was minor but prolific writer of light fiction and miscellaneous non-fiction. This book is a memoir of her years in Stratford as a child, when her father was rector of Whitchurch, a nearby parish. This copy is from my mother, who has written some marginal notes. Uncle Paul gave it to her, with a note that the book infuriated Uncle Peter, as well it might. Its focus, insofar as there is one, is Marie Corelli, who settled in Stratford about 1905, and soon caused a ruckus. Corelli was not a good neighbour, and she was convinced that she was right about anything she decided to think about. At first, Stratford welcomed her (she was still the most widely read and selling author in the English speaking world), but when she revealed her pettiness, Stratford turned against her. Bloom was a friend of Corelli’s, and takes her side, despite her clear-eyed view of Corelli’s character flaws.
     I don’t think that is what infuriated Uncle Peter, though. It’s Bloom’s tone, a mix of cloying sweetness (“The Dear Vicar” is the title of one chapter), sardonic comments on people’s motives and reactions, and the invention of conversations between the respectable burghers of the town. This novelistic trick makes for lively reading, but it also gives impressions of character, none of which is entirely flattering. The net effect is one of a session of satisfying gossip, rather than of an insightful memoir.
     But scattered throughout the book are reminders of what Stratford was like, of businesses that were still extant when I lived there; of families that still mattered then, too; of institutions like the Mop, which was still a major and exciting event in the 1940s-50s; and so on. I enjoyed reading the book for these reasons, and Mother’s margin notes were a bonus. The photos are good, but there are too few of them, and the captions are perfunctory. A keeper. ** (2011)

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