Saturday, January 19, 2013

Children's Literature: L. M. Boston

Lucy M. Boston (1892–1990) was born Lucy Marie Wood.  She wrote the Green Knowe series of books, plus many others which we will also mention.  I grew up reading them and I love them to bits, but some folks disagree.  My husband read one to the kids and he thought it was creepy and weird.  I guess I like creepy and weird.

Boston had what sounds to me like quite an interesting childhood.  Her family was middle-class and Victorian, with six children, but her father was a zealous Methodist and decorated the whole house accordingly, with a rather strange drawing room filled with items from the Holy Land.  Her mother, according to Boston, was more suited to be a nun than a mother. 

After her father died, they moved around a bit and spent a year in the countryside, which was wonderful for the young Lucy.  She had a lifelong love of nature and gardening.  She attended school and then a finishing school in Paris, and then went to Oxford instead of joining the Wesleyan community as her mother wished.   From there, she became a nurse during World War I, until 1917 when she married a distant cousin, Harold Boston.  She had one son, Peter, but the marriage did not work out and she spent several years painting in Europe during the 1930s.

The Manor House at Hemmingford Grey
In 1937 Boston returned to England and bought a very old farmhouse that was in need of renovation.  It went all the way back to 1130 and is said to be "one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in the British Isles."  This house became the center of her life and the basis for the Green Knowe books.  She lived in it for 50 years, and only started writing stories after she turned 60.  She fixed up the house, turned the garden into a masterpiece, wrote a whole lot of books, and sewed 22 intricate original patchworks.

Boston wrote six books about Green Knowe, featuring children who met other children who had lived there in the past.  All the books are very atmospheric and rather spooky, though as I recall all the ghosts are friendly ones.  Her son Peter Boston illustrated the stories from the house, and when I was little I liked to look for his initials placed in odd spots in the pictures.  These are her most famous books, and there is a nice piece about them at SFGate.

But she also wrote other books, including a few for adults and teens.  Persephone, or Strongholds, is for teens and is supposed to be excellent.  The Sea Egg is an adventure about boys who find an unusual egg, which hatches a triton.   Nothing Said and The Guardians of the House are, like the Green Knowe books, atmospheric spooky stories.  And Boston's ghost stories have been collected in a book called Curfew.  Today you can hear those stories, and often M. R. James stories, performed at the house itself if you visit.

The Patchwork of the Crosses
You can see the house's website, which has some pictures of the house and garden (though not nearly enough). The biographical information given here is found in much more detail on Wikipedia, and it's well worth reading.  I couldn't find a good biographical sketch anywhere else, so sorry about the source, but it all appears to be taken from Boston's memoirs, Perverse and Foolish, and Memory in a House, which now I want to read!  Even more, I would like to track down the book about her patchworks, The Patchworks of Lucy Boston.  It seems to be fairly hard to come by.  I did find a picture of one of the quilts, though.


amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

Oh wow, Boston sounds like she had a fascinating life! Who cares about her books, I love her house. :) But no, knowing the relation between her home and her books, I might have to check them out. Thanks for sharing!

Jean said...

Thanks Amanda! I do love the house/books thing. When I found the pictures of the house I about died, and my daughter and I had a fangirl squee moment. A lot of things from the stories are real things!

hopeinbrazil said...

Thanks for giving more insight into this author.

Eva said...

The Children of Green Knowe was one of my v favourite childhood books ever; I still have my copy and still reread it! This post made me go all fangirly & I looove the photos! Also, I didn't realise she'd written other books. I immediately put in an ILL request for Strongholds. *happy dance*

Jean said...

Yay! Yes, there was much fangirling going on here too. I read that book almost every Christmas, it is the best! Let me know what you think of Strongholds, because I am going to want it too.

Eva said...

I will! *pokes ILL process to make it go more quickly*