If anyone out there has read works by Barbara Comyns, please leave a comment
I have wanted to read Our Spoons Come from Woolworths for a long time, being intrigued by the title. I ended up loving this book beyond my abilties to articulate my feelings. Five entralling hours.
The story begins in the 1930s in England, when 21 year old Sophia Fairclough, an aspiring artist, marries against both their parents wishes, Charles, a painter of the same age. Sophia must be the mainstay of the family. Charles will not abandon his painting to take a job in the opening years of their marriage. The couple struggle along in grinding poverty, living from Sophia’s earnings as an artist model, some family help and Charles does sell an occasional painting. To Charles great horror Sophia gets pregnant. Sophia is uneducated and naive.
“I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said ‘I won’t have any babies’ very hard, they most likely wouldn’t come. I thought that was what was meant by birth-control.”
When she tells her mother-in-law she is pregnant she is told she should not have trapped Charles into the responsibility of marriage so young. Things get harder and harder. The three chapters devoted to Sophia’s days in a charity hospital are very grim reading. (This is not the England of Rosa Lehmann and Rose MacAuley.) The women are given no respect. Sophia hopes Charles will love the Child but he tells Sophia he wanted a girl.
Things get interesting as Sophia has a relationship with an older man she models for. Of course it turns horribly tragic and leads to great pain for Sophia.
Sophia is just so interesting. At times I wondered if she was of normal intelligence but I think her series of mistakes arises from having very little education and no life guidance.
The novel may not seem it at first but it is a highly sophisticated work of literary art. Sophia is a brilliant character, a master’s creation.
Things end up wonderfully for Sophia, who you feel great empathy for. The final two pages are a great joy to read. I almost yelled out “I love it” I was so happy for Sophia.
I was said to learn, as far as I can tell, that none of her other 10 novels are available as Kindles.
To biographers looking for a subject, Barbara Comyns might be a good pick
BARBARA COMYNS (1909–1992) was born in Bidford-on-Avon, in the English county of Warwickshire, one of six children of an increasingly unsuccessful Birmingham brewer. Living on the run-down but romantic family estate and receiving her education from governesses, she began to write and illustrate stories at the age of ten. After her father’s death, she attended art school in London and married a painter, with whom she had two children she supported by trading antiques and classic cars, modeling, breeding poodles, and renovating apartments. A second marriage, to Richard Comyns Carr, who worked in the Foreign Office, took place during World War II. Comyns wrote her first book, Sisters by a River (1947), a series of sketches based on her childhood, while living in the country to escape the Blitz, which is also when she made an initial sketch for The Vet’s Daughter (available as an NYRB Classic). This, however, she put aside to complete Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950) and Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954). The Vet’s Daughter was published in 1959. Among Comyns’s other books are the novels The Skin Chairs (1962) and The Juniper Tree (1985; forthcoming from NYRB Classics), and Out of the Red into the Blue (1960), a work of nonfiction about Spain, where she lived for eighteen years. From New York Review of Books