When I was a child, living with my parents and my grandfather and my uncle in my parents’ newsagent’s shop in a village on the outskirts of Torquay, I was once given the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as a Christmas present. This would’ve been around 1954 or thereabouts, when I was ten. It was the kind of book that young girls were given in those days and straight away I loved it for its pretty illustrations.
When my parents sold their shop in 1962, and moved to their hotel, all my books were put in the basement and, the sea front hotels having been built on reclaimed land meant when there were high tides, parts of the basement had some ingress of water. Thus my books perished (apart from some which I think my mother must’ve rescued.)
Aged 18 (which I was in the year my parents moved to their hotel) I didn’t wish to be reminded of my childhood books, as much as I had loved them. By then I had a boyfriend (who became my husband) and I was none-too-keen on him seeing piles of Famous Five books, Girl annuals, ballet stories and so forth in my bedroom (not that he went in my bedroom; that wasn’t seemly in those days!)
But many years have since passed and I’ve longed to have my old childhood books again. I have managed to get quite a few, including all my Lorna Hill ballet books (and in the editions that I had and loved.)
I’ve even found three copies of my much-loved children’s magazine, Young Elizabethan (so called as we had entered the ‘new Elizabethan age’, with the Coronation of our new young Queen in 1953). I once had a letter published in this magazine (unfortunately it’s not in these copies) so I was a writer even then:
However, although I’ve now managed to find many of my childhood books, one eluded me. The edition of Little Women I had been given that Christmas, long ago. I only wanted that edition, not any other. And it wasn’t for the story I wanted the book but for the illustrations. Perhaps this doesn’t make sense to many people, but I know some readers might recongize that longing for a particular edition of a much-loved book. I didn’t want just any copy of Little Women, but the one I had once held in my hands.
To make my search more difficult, I had only vague memories of the book. I knew, under the dust jacket, it was a sort-of -trellis design in turquoise, and inside the illustrations were sort-of oval shaped. I had no idea who the publisher was, nor the artist who supplied the illustrations. Over the years I had asked 2nd hand children’s book dealers, and I’ve searched on www.abebooks.co.uk but I’ve never seen the particular copy I wanted.
And then, the other day, I thought I’d look again, actually “Googling” the little information I had, and I happened upon a website which showed photographs of various editions. And then I saw it, and I was convinced this was my copy! It was on eBay.
I’d never bought anything on eBay. I thought it was just an auction site, not somewhere you could simply buy things without ‘bidding’ for them. This book was described only as ‘Good’ condition, not Very Good or Fine, and it didn’t have the dust jacket. Furthermore, it was quite expensive (well, for me!) but I thought that if I’d not seen a copy since I was a child (except one very tatty copy in a shop about 40 years ago) then there couldn’t be all that many of them around, especially considering that www.abebooks.co.uk has dealers on it from all over the world. I bought it and it arrived this morning.
I recognised the book and the illustrations right away, especially the frontispiece ,as I loved the pretty turquoise colours and how romantic it looked. It is only a ‘Good’ copy, but the pages are intact, there are no markings other than an inscription (which I don’t mind at all) “To Maureen, Xmas 1951 from Auntie Eileen”. There is no publication date so I can only assume that it’s a first edition (perhaps the only edition?) I would imagine that Auntie Eileen bought the book new for Maureen, and most likely it had been recently published for the Christmas market. I now wonder who Maureen is/was? I hope that she isn’t wondering where her book has gone, but if she is, then it’s gone to a good home!