I sometimes lurk on the Chron fora, and I’ve enjoyed the thread on children’s books. There were a couple of posts this month that caught my eye, both because of the poster’s name, Glendower, and because of the books described. Glendower! It must be a different Glendower. Mine is sweet and handsome but I swear he’s illiterate. He doesn’t even sleep on books very often, though he enjoys the tunnels behind them on the shelves.
Anyway, the forum’s Glendower reported on a book called Friday’s Tunnel, by John Verney, that sounded familiar . . . and yet not. I found it in the library, and I think it is the one I remember, but like Glendower, I remembered it very differently. I think I also later confused it with a children’s book that my father started writing (but never finished, sadly) about a tunnel under the elementary school that my brothers and I all attended.
Reading Verney’s book as an adult, I suffered from feminist outrage as well as the usual odd time-warping sense that happens when I re-visit books I haven’t read in decades. The narrator, a 13-year-old girl named February, describes her mother as “tall and thin and easily the most beautiful woman I know and not very strong because of having so many children [six, and another on the way]. Dr. Henry says they have overtaxed her strength and that’s one reason why Daddy won’t let her drive the car” (26).
If Daddy is so worried about Mummy’s strength, he had better find his way to the drugstore. Chemist. Whatever. He ought to know where babies come from, at his age, and if he doesn’t, I’d be willing to explain to him. With a pair of scissors.
And when February makes breakfast for the gang one morning when Mummy’s back has seized up, she reflects, “Shouldn’t be surprised if I made a jolly good housewife myself—if anyone ever asked me” (212-3). Is this all she can think of to do with herself? Is this all John Verney can think of for a girl to do?
The book was published in 1959. I can put up with quite a lot of outdated reactionary hogwash in an old book if the story, characters, and setting are appealing. But I agree with the forum’s Glendower that the plot was confusing. Worse than that, as February was galloping about on her pony, I realized that she is one of those privileged snobby horsy girls: “I thought . . . of how lucky Friday and I are the others were to be living in the country and to have parents like ours, and of a girl at school called Helen Ponton whom I always tease because she’s so fat and stupid and awful and whose parents were killed last year in an air-crash and who has no brothers and sisters or proper home but spends every hols with a maiden aunt in a bed-sitting-room in Leamington Spa” (46).
Poor Helen. I don’t care that at the end of the book, February urges a rich childless couple to adopt Helen Ponton. I expect if I, or February, were suddenly deprived of parents, we’d also be fat (eating our feelings) and stupid (grief will do that to you) and probably awful (ditto). I want to read about Helen. In particular, I want to read about Helen putting all her weight behind a punch to February’s stuck-up teasing nose.