Monday, 4 July 2011

The Fountain Overflows

Rebecca West is remembered for many things - the novel Return of the Soldier written when she was just 26, an early career as a radical young journalist and suffragette, her affair with HG Wells and her extensive writing and travelling. Curiously, she is rarely remembered for the terrific novel she wrote in later life The Fountain Overflows which reflects upon an Edwardian childhood and the events leading up to the Great War.

Thank goodness for Virago Modern Classics who have re-issued West's finest novel with a cover appropriate to the story. Rose Aubrey is as charming a young narrator as Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture the Castle. Rose and her twin, Mary, are talented pianists who are taught at home by their mother a former concert pianist. Although the family live in abject poverty their mother knows their art will earn them a living one day. There is also a beautiful and tortured older sister, Cordelia, who cannot accept that she is not and never will be musical, a brilliant but largely absent father and a delightful little brother, Richard Quin.

West created a whole trilogy around the artistic, bohemian and female-centred Aubrey family. I'm hoping for good weather so that I can sit in the garden over the summer to re-read it.

25 comments:

Sunday Taylor said...

I can't believe that I have never read Rebecca West. Thank you for this post. I love being reminded that she was married to H.G. Wells. And I will get this book. It sounds wonderful. I am so happy to learn about it and her books in general.

lyn said...

I have this on the tbr shelves although my copy is a NYRB edition. I do like the new Rebecca West & Winifred Holtby Virago covers, maybe they're returning to their more classic style?

Joanne said...

I like the sound of this very much. Rebecca West is a woman who I would like to know more about. I notice the introduction is by Amanda Craig - another author I haven't read but intend to.

Grad said...

I have been wanting to read something by Rebecca West for just ages. You've convinced me this is where I'll start. The cover is so lovely...not being able to look a book covers is one thing I miss with a Kindle. Great post.

Cornflower said...

That sounds delightful, and what a lovely cover!

E. L. Fay said...

This sounds like fun. One of my favorite time periods!

Dorothy W. said...

I really loved this book, and I'm glad there are two others in the series to read when I have time. West is definitely a writer I'd like to explore further.

Danielle said...

I have the NYRB edition of this as well. I started reading it a couple of years ago, but my timing was off and I put it aside (all me,not the book!), but I may have to pick it up again soon with that wonderful Edwardian setting! It's nice to know there are two more to read after this one, too!

harriet said...

I think this is one of the best novels I have ever read. Do read (or re-read) the rest of the trilogy!

bookssnob said...

I discovered this in my teens and was shell shocked by how brilliant it was. I have a beautiful first edition and I so treasure it. It's such a shame that Rebecca West never really finished the trilogy - and also that I have never read the second and third volumes - I am going to do that when I get home!

Audrey said...

I haven't read her either! But I'm off to see if our library has this one.

Chrissy said...

Hello Nicola. I've just been reading your comment on Rachel's latest review.

I read all three of the Cousin Rosamond books when they were published by Virago and was captivated because Cordelia reminded me so much of my own elder sister who was such a pain to my younger sister and me. They are wonderful novels which I've re-read over the years. Your review made me want to enter their world again.

Have you read The Birds Fall Down? RW seems to know an enormous amount about Russia. Her novel is dramatic and very frightening.

hopeinbrazil said...

I've had West on my radar for a few months now. Thanks for giving me another push in her direction.

bekahjane said...

Haven't read her.. but liking what I see here.. cheers

pburt said...

This is one of my all time favorite books. I have reread it several times and the sequels as well (although I don't think they quite match up to the first).

Unfortunately my book group didn't agree with me - alas.

Darlene said...

Thank goodness for Virago indeed!

Anbolyn (Gudrun's Tights) said...

I'm in love with this already - it sounds so charming! My library doesn't have a copy, it looks like I'll be spending some money soon at Amazon.

PotterJotter said...

Artistic, bohemian, female-centred ... sounds like one for me!

LizF said...

I have had The Fountain Overflows on my shelves for years albeit in a very ordinary plain hardcover dating back to the late 1950's.
Is it terribly shallow to still covet one of the new Virago editions?
Must admit that I love the current trend for 30's style covers!

Nan said...

I just began this on my Kindle two days ago! The writing is so good, and the characters so well-drawn that just a few pages in, I feel I know this family. I have read only Return of the Soldier by her. I wrote about it on the blog a while ago:

http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2009/11/return-of-soldier-by-rebecca-west.html

Penny said...

Oh, I like the sound of this! Thank you so much for the recommendation! (On second thoughts, should I be thanking you? With a towering pile ON TOP OF the TBR bookcase? Yeah, OK, I will thank you. And go and have a wee look on amazon...)

Vintage Reading said...

Sunday, I think it was a passionate affair with Wells, but he didn't marry her. She is a truly wonderful writer but has been largely forgotten, sadly.

Lyn, yes it was a best-seller in America in 1957 and I think it is more widely known in America than here. I saw the new Winifred Holtby covers in Waterstones - they are stunning!

Joanne, I like Amanda Craig's introduction, too. I think you would love this novel.

Grad, I've still not taken the plunge with a Kindle! West is a truly enjoyable writer to read.

Cornflower, one for your book club methinks!

E L Fay, yes I was trying to think of other novels set in the Edwardian period and only came up with the Railway Children! Don't thinkg my brain is functioning properly today!

Dorothy W, I like This Real Night more than TFO if that is possible. Cousin Rosamund is not so good as the other two as West was fighting ill-health when she wrote it.

Danielle, yes you have to be in the mood for a certain time period. I like Victorian novels in mid-winter!

Harriet, Another West fan! She is one of my favourite writers after Austen. I have read the whole trilogy but it is not fresh in my mind so I'm very much enjoying it second time around.

BookSnob, A first edition, how wonderful. I believe that a fourth volume was planned and that a synopsis exists but sadly West died before completion.

Audrey, I await your review!

Chrissy, hi, The portrayal of Cordelia is brilliant. I believe it was based on West's own sister Letitia who was very upset - so obviously recognised herself in print! I hope your sister had some of Cordelia's kinder characterisations, too! I've not read The Birds Fall Down. I have read Harriet Hume which is truly bizarre! I'd like to read more of her non-fiction and travel writing, though.

Vintage Reading said...

HopeinBrazil, I certainly think West is under-represented in the 'serious' book blogging community (that's us!) so I hope you'll have time to read and review her!

bekahjane, I would highly recommend The Fountain Overflows and would be interested in your feedback if you do read it.

pburt, I am very much enjoying comments from other West fans, thank you. I think TFO is one of those life-changing books like Jane Eyre or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Shame that your book group didn't agree but I suppose West is not everybody's cup of tea!

Darlene, dare I say it? I prefer Virago to Persephone!

Anbolyn, treat yourself! Please post a review as well.

potterjotter, yes, it is a perfect read for you. (I should say I have no vested interest here!)

LizF, I have Wuthering Heights in five different covers and am thinking of getting another one! I do like the 30's Virago covers too, I think they are due for a change.

Nan, I'm checking out your review of TROTS which I think is a brilliant book, too. Do post a review of TFO. I still haven't taken the plunge with a Kindle!

Penny, I take no responsibility for your towering pile of books - well not much anyway! I do hope you enjoy this one.

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I loved this novel when I read it years ago. Don't think I realized it was part of a series. But I think I will have to reread it as I don't remember the story, just that I liked it. Thanks for the reminder.

Karen K. said...

I have an NYRB Classics edition and I think the Vintage cover is so much more appealing! I think if I had that one I'd have read it by now -- sadly, it's been on the TBR shelf for quite awhile, it's never really grabbed me. Funny how covers can do that. I will definitely remember to read it next time I'm in the mood for something Austenish.