Sunday, 1 December 2013

Mistress Masham's Repose - T H White




T H White was the author of The Once and Future King which is much better known than this book, first published in 1947 and out of print for a while.  It was certainly available in the late '60s when it was issued as one of Penguin's Peacock books for older children .  I had never read it before but it crossed my path in a new edition from 1998 with a forward by children's writer Anne Fine who tells us that this was her favorite read as a child.

Imagine that some of the Lilliputians from Gullivers Travels were actually transported back to England by a sailor with an eye to making money.  Imagine that they escaped and found their way to the island of Mistress Masham's Repose, in the middle of an ornamental lake in the grounds of a moldering country house somewhere in the English Midlands.  In this house lives ten year old Maria, parents dead, with her governess and the cook for company.    The governess is very thick with the local vicar, and it is not long before the reader comes to the conclusion that the governess and the vicar are not only in cahoots, but are a pair of rogues who are after Maria's money - not that she knows there is any!  But when Maria, out one day getting away from homework and the governess, discovers a way through the bramble surrounding the shore of the island, she is in for a great surprise.  For there, past the brambles, is a beautifully manicured green with a small doric temple in the middle.  And there, inside the columns, in the foundations and up in the roof, the Lilliputians live and conduct their lives, more by night than by day for fear of discovery.
Maria has to learn several things on her journey and whilst not moralistic in the least, T H White made sure that there was a moral to this story!  Do the vicar and the governess get their 
comeuppance?  It's certainly touch and go for a while there - and   Maria also has a lot to learn whilst working her was through a very grand adventure.  The book is full of Greek references, long words, things that go over your head, but it doesn't matter a jot (you can always look 'em up later!), just go with it and enjoy Maria's adventure with her.
I enjoyed reading this book slowly - it's only 158 pages - and whilst I have shown the cover of the paperback edition here, I read a hardback version with lovely coloured illustrations by Martin Hargreaves, and if you are going to read this to, or with a child, it would certainly be worth looking out for this one, as there is a "map" of the country estate of Malpaquet House, Maria's home, and some other lovely full page illustrations.