Reading this is to be wrapped in sunshine, just looking at the cover makes me happy!
First published in 1922, it’s 1919 when cousins Jane and Lucilla, after spending the war years tucked away in a small boarding school, are finally set free in the world. Their guardian meanwhile has gambled away their inheritance and the girls find themselves with just a small cottage in the English countryside. After deciding against marriage they agree that they’re going to earn their livings. They won’t see themselves as genteel spinsters but as adventurers with the world before them.
‘If we’re going to worry all the time about the past and the future we shan’t have any time at all. We must take everything as it comes and enjoy everything that is – well, that is enjoyable. . . Live for the moment- and do all you can to make the next moment jolly too, as Carlyle says, or is it Emerson?’
Picking themselves up and jollying along, presence of mind and the belief that everything will be a lark (the lark of the title), while still having breath to whistle Mendelssohn is the order of the day, and the girls’ carry on with aplomb; meeting an assortment of characters and getting mixed up in a series of misadventures until everything ends happily – I won’t give the plot away but there’s no point even considering that this is a novel with an unhappy ending!
But before we all dissolve in a puddle of brown sugar Nesbit saves us with her humour.
Firstly because the girls are just plain fun. Unabashed and upbeat they reminded me of Northanger Abbey and the way Jane Austen just enjoys the youth and enthusiasm of Catherine Morland. Nesbit revels in their naivety as they try and fend for themselves as innocents abroad. A day at the national gallery and ‘a really exciting journey by Tubes’ is full of farcical moments but then Nesbit shows them at the end of a day counting up their takings when they sell the flowers from their garden (it really is all sunshine!) and Jane remarks: ‘Here we’ve been a thousand years at school . . . And yet we can’t add up six little sums of pounds, shillings, and pence and then add the totals together and get them right.’ She isn’t laughing at them at all, the plight of an inadequate education is serious.
And secondly because of the narrator’s voice. She dances along with her characters playfully comparing one suitors thunderous brow with the gardeners classic one (and his blue eyes and open necked shirt) while getting the two in and out of scrapes with a rogues gallery of characters. And has them eating children’s party food almost continually, cakes and ices, cocoa and bananas, cream sandwiches galore, until they have to cater for others and then they find some tins of peas and mock turtle soup – but who cares, at last they’re independent and anyway, when has anyone ever taught them to cook? But every so often the narrator steps into the story and casts an ironic eye over the proceedings, so that we’re all in on the fun and can share in her wry amusement, for example::
‘The last chapter divides itself naturally, like an old-fashioned sermon, into four headings and a conclusion. . . Fate, weary of the consistent good luck of Jane and Lucilla, gave a sharp jerk to the kaleidoscopic, and behold! the entire pattern was transformed.’
What happens you’ll have to read the book to find out!
I came across The Lark on Stuck in a Book‘s 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About, and I’m so glad I did. At first it seems like a perfect summer read but really it’s perfect reading for any time we need a tonic, a breath of fresh air, a pick-me-up.There’s a lazy afternoon when Jane and Lucilla are sitting in the garden with the two maybe suitors when one of them says:
‘I believe,. . . that heaven will be exactly like this. Green leaves and grass – sun and shade. And tea. And cake. And ices.’
‘And strawberries,’ said Lucilla
‘And agreeable conversation and delightful company,‘ said Jane
And I would add a copy of The Lark. This was my second read for this year’s TBR challenge.