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One Woman's Year

by Stella Martin Currey
Persephone book no:

134 135 136

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ISBN 9781910263259

This beautifully designed book, first published in 1953  is unusual in being a mixture of commonplace, diary, short story, recipes – and woodcuts. The book is dedicated to Tirzah Garwood (then Ravilious and later Swanzy) but the woodcuts are not by her because she had died two years before. They were done by a friend, Malcolm Ford (who, like Stella Martin Currey’s husband, taught at Colchester Royal Grammar School).

These are the contents for January: there is a quotation, as there is before every month, from the British Merlin (1677), an Almanac known nowadays as Rider’s British Merlin. It starts ‘This is the Season for good husbands to lop and prune superfluous Branches and Fruit trees’ and ends: ‘The best physick is warm diet, warm Cloaths, good Fires, and a merry, honest Wife.’ Then there is a ten-page essay on ‘Books for the Family’. Of course it is now a bit out of date, but the mention of Pamela Brown, Eve Garnett and Belloc’s Cautionary Verses (among dozens of good suggestions) can never be dismissed. After this is a funny piece about a visit to the hairdresser. Next there are a few pages about a burst pipe, a cake recipe, a description of A Visit to the Tower of London, an extract from Jane Eyre and finally an extract from our own Tea with Mr Rochester.

November again has an extract from the British Merlin (‘Set Crab Tree stocks to graft on’), eight pages on the art of embroidery (‘One of the loveliest and most lovable rooms I have ever seen had copies of old flower paintings and they were all embroidered in delicate stitches on very fine yellow silk… Another fascinating adventure in embroidery is to copy an old map’). Then there are suggestions for a Guy Fawkes Party (‘sausage rolls, gingerbread men, conspirator biscuits and toffee’), a quite detailed piece on ‘deciding whether you can eat the mushrooms which grow in the garden’, a recipe for the said biscuits (you cut them to look like conspirators), a short piece on visiting an art gallery with children (pick out the animals eg. the little dog in The Arnolfini Portrait, the dragon in St George and the Dragon), an extract from Elizabeth and her German Garden by our very own Elizabeth von Arnim, and finally an extract from Emma.

But it is Stella Martin Currey's novelist's eye and ear that makes One Woman’s Year such a gem. In between the sometimes period details are many extremely useful pieces on dressing-up boxes, phrases to be used in thank-you letters, an extract from The Young Visiters, or which flowers to have in vases for every month of the year. One cannot imagine anyone who would not find this book both useful and endearing. The journalist Sarah Lonsdale wrote in a recent book: 'One Woman's Year, the diary of a 1950s housewife battling with poor food and a small budget, has become something of a classic among those interested in life in austerity Britain.'


A early 1950s textile design by Sheila Bownas. © Sheila Bownas Archive Ltd

Picture Caption

Woodcut from One Woman's Year

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Categories: Grey Books Childhood Cookery Books Country Life Diaries Education House and Garden Humour

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