I was very good this year. So I decided to test just how good and ask Santa for a 1935 edition of The Untidy Gnome by Stella Gibbons, illustrated by William Townsend. The description from rare book firm Peter Harrington read:
First edition, first impression of a rare children's book by the author of Cold Comfort Farm. Inscribed by the author on the front free endpaper, "Stella Gibbons, Nov. 18 1936". We know of no other copy in private hands, and OCLC locates only 11 in institutions. A lovely copy in the dust jacket.
Apparently Santa took the approximate $1,600 price point to be a gross inflation of my virtue. And the fat man was right of course, but I hope he appreciated my cheek in trying.
Now what I was able to manage this holiday season were copies of all the Vintage Gibbons editions I had been coveting for some time. Four of the titles are pictured above. Even better than just acquiring more books was the time to read The Matchmaker and Westwood during my holiday break. Nightingale Wood left me happy earlier in the year, Cold Comfort Farm is one of my favorite books, and I knew like you know about some authors that I would not be satisfied until I had had them all.
Why? Gibbons voice as a journalist, as a fine and wickedly funny observer of human nature, is never reduced to the sentimental as one might assume from these lovely covers. She survived two world wars, and she writes with and instills in many of her heroines a steely sense of purpose. But she also revels in revealing how inaccurately we can all perceive ourselves and those around us, how we are all works in progress. Things are just as they are - we can trust too much in the regard of others, we can long for hedonistic indulgence in times of want and beyond, and the most worthy and intelligent women around us can be physically unattractive.
I am not one to make resolutions in the traditional sense on this first day of the year, but I will read as many of the works of Stella Gibbons as I can lay my hands on this year. Because she makes me laugh. Because she is often a needed slap in the face, a reminder to get over one's self. And so smart. Smart like Muriel Spark where keen observation stops the writing from veering off on to the wrong side of bitter.