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Period Piece

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This enchanting memoir of a Cambridge Childhood by Charles Darwin's granddaughter was first published in the 1950's and has remained in print ever since, quite something for a little known book and proof that it continues to delight sucessive generations.

Gwen's father was Darwin's second son, a professor at Cambridge, and her book is a wonderful evocation of a fairly free upbringing (her mother was American and had 'liberal' theories about raising children - for instance the Darwin children were occasionally allowed to run around barefoot). Her style is dry, witty and self-deprecating, there are some real laugh out loud scenes, a disastrous picnic described near the end of the book for instance, and the text is illustrated by clever and amusing pen drawings done by Gwen herself who studied at the Slade.

I don't know anyone who hasn't enjoyed this book, male or female.


Edit - The illustrations are actually woodblock. Gwen and her husband revitalised the art of using woodblocks.

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I read, and posted about, this book in 2006, but the thread was lost in The Crash, BGOs darkest hour :(


To recap:

"Delightful" and "Charming" - two words that were constantly in my mind as I read this book, and which were also used in every one of the comments in the notebook that accompanied it round my Postal Bookgroup.


Gwen Raverat was the grandaughter of Charles Darwin, and although he does not feature in Gwen's reminiscences, her word pictures of the following generation of the Darwin/Wedgewood clan allow us to draw our own conclusions, should we wish. The family certainly seem somewhat eccentric and insular, and give us a taste of the closed society that the 'gown' side of Cambridge life represented.


Definitely elitist in their attitudes, it would be easy to condemn the exclusivity of their lives, but Gwen writes with such affection for these odd relatives, and with such charm, that the book is a delight to read.

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