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Memories of Childhood

Little Women

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!

About Margaret

Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. What a lovely collection of books and I have never heard of the magazines before, back in my day it was “Twinkle” magazine. What ever you need or are looking for you can always find it on Ebay. I love childrens books especially the vintage ones.

    • Margaret Powling

      The magazine, Marlene, while looking rather childish on the cover (Nigel Molesworth, the Curse of St Custard’s on at least one of them) was rather staid inside, a bit like The Children’s Newspaper (and who remembers that today!) The adverts in it, too, were rather staid – riding hats and Kangol berets and boxes of paints. Yes, I love children’s books, but most of all, I wanted those I had as a child. These included two Enid Blyton books, Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm and Six Cousins Again (which I now have), and two school stories, Fourteen Fourteens (all about 14 girls called Margaret, which appealed as I was 14 at the time and called Margaret!) and Give a Form a Bad Name by Nancy Breary, which had twins at a boarding school and they had a pet monkey as well as their own sailing boat. Imagine that happening today!

  2. Your wonderful Little Women story and photos brought tears to my eyes, Margaret. I’m so happy you have “your” book again.

  3. A beautiful run of posts thank you. This one really did resonate.

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, Jill, I’m sure that many readers arriving at my blog will have had similar thoughts about books from childhood, books they can remember but haven’t been able to trace, for what child would’ve thought to look at who published a book or when it was published? Glad this resonated with you.

  4. Oh how lovely to have found your book. I had a great collection of books when I was a child as there was no television. They included a full set of Pollyanna and numerous books given as prizes at Sunday School and school. I’m not sure where they ended up and the only ones I have now are a couple of ‘special’ ones that my mother kept. They are the ones that had the pages cut so that the scene stood up as you turned the pages. One os Winnie the Pooh and the other about Water Babies. They bring back lovely memories of a simple childhood.

    • Margaret Powling

      Oh, pop-up books, as we call them, are lovely. I have just a couple of those, bought in more recent years but I remember those as a child and they delighted me. Of course, books were so much more important to us, weren’t they Pieta, in those days before we all had televisions? I don’t recall having copies of Winnie the Pooh, but I bought those for our sons, but I can’t say that they really enjoyed them, they preferred books of Dungeons and Dragons!

  5. Margaret, I am so glad you found your edition! I too, had a favorite edition of Little Women that was published in the 60’s. My mother gave it to me for Christmas when I was nine and I loved the lovely illustrations in it. I obsessed over Meg’s love affair with Mr. Brooks based on one illustration in particular. Two years ago I found my edition on eBay as well. It was such a joy to see those images again. Recently, an essay I wrote about my book was published in a new anthology about how Little Women shaped women’s lives through the centuries. Congrats on finding you precious edition! That book still speaks to women somehow.

    • Margaret Powling

      Oh, Donna, that is so lovely – that your essay about Little Women was published in an anthology. Of course, it is a much loved book here as well as in America, but possibly even more so in the USA, considering its content and the period in which it was written. I’m delighted to learn that you have managed to find your much-loved edition, just as I have. I did once send for a copy of the book to a dealer – the description sounded much like the one I was seeking, but when it arrived I was so disappointed that it wasn’t ‘my’ copy! I ended up giving it to a charity shop (to add insult to injury, so to speak, it was a very unattractive copy!)

  6. Ebay is quite a good source for old books, toys and collectibles. I have bought many things over the years.
    I have a couple of old poetry books which I am sentimentally attached to, and also a copy of the first paperback edition of Watership Down which was bought for me by my brother with his pocket money when he was ten years old. I’ve also kept copies of certain favourites that I read to my children when they were small.
    Much more recent books to which I have a sentimental attachment are a couple of university textbooks – just very fond memories of a wonderful time.

    • Margaret Powling

      I have, until now, steered away from eBay as I didn’t want to be encouraged in my book habit, but now I’ve found out how easy it is to buy something … well, we shall see! I need no encouragement, as you know, where books are concerned! Oh, what a kind young brother to buy you Watership Down with his pocket money. I had the book, but never read it, surprisingly. It simply sat on the shelf. Then I parted with it.

  7. I, too, have a beloved copy of Little Women, given to me by my parents at Christmas when I was around 10. It was a slip-covered edition with beautiful illustrations. I still have it.

  8. Just caught up on a week of your blogs,as we have been away in sunny Crete. So wonderful to sit and read them all and enjoy your neck of the woods!

  9. How wonderful that you found your beloved version of Little Women, Margaret. As I child (1950s), I won all of the prizes each year at primary school, until the school decided that It Could No Longer Be, and that I couldn’t have any more, other children deserved them too. And rightly so. Anyway, they were mostly Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm – a tad macabre….. Imagine my joy, when, in my mid-forties, I discovered that Mum had kept all of my books, and now my then 12 year old niece had them. I expect that they then went on to other grandchildren. I hope so.

    • Margaret Powling

      Do you know, Ratnamurti, I never read any of the tales by the Brothers Grimm (grim by name and grim by nature, perhaps?) But yes, I can imagine the joy of discovering that your mother had kept all your books which can now be handed on down the family. I only ever won one prize at school and that was for Musical Appreciation. We were asked to make music scrapbooks, and I loved that idea, so my scrapbook had pictures of ballet, orchestra, record covers, cuttings of concerts from the Radio Times, my own reviews of records I had bought (the first LP I bought was the Peer Gynt Suite as we were listening to that in our Musical Appreciation classes) and so forth, and I decorated the pages using coloured pencils. I have to admit it was rather pretty. I covered it with some pretty wallpaper that I’d had put on my bedroom ceiling (an off cut, you understand) which was green with pretty autumn leaves on it! It was quite a feature of my room and I wish I had a photo of it today. Anyway I won a prize for that, the once and only time!

  10. Lovely, lovely books. Little Women (and the other three in the series) isx one I go back to again and again and I still remember my Mum reading to to me and going into fits of laughter at the bit where Meg burns her hair. I also loved the Lorna Hill books, especially the Saddlers Wells ones, even if they did get a bit samey by the end.

    • Margaret Powling

      I never read the other books in the series, it was just this particular copy I wanted, and have wanted for many years. Yes, the Sadlers Wells books are a delight, aren’t they? About ten years ago when I was ill in bed I found I couldn’t concentrate on anything demanding, and so read the first five books of this series again, and loved them all over again. It is the first five books that are easily the best.

      • I agree but they all have their charm.

        • Margaret Powling

          Yes, most copies of Little Woman are attractive, Joy, but I think we tend to want the copy that we had as a child. When I was young my mother gave me Angela Brazil school stories to read. I had no idea that they were stories that her generation read (she was born in 1912), I’d no idea that they were ‘old fashioned’ by the time I was reading them in the 1950s. But I didn’t read original copies, which look attractive to me now, but the small Blackie imprints and that is perhaps why I enjoyed them, they didn’t look old-fashioned to me. I have since bought a few of those Blackie copies again, just for their pretty covers and memories of childhood.

  11. Oh that is a beautiful story. I’m so glad you bought the book as I’m sure you would have kicked yourself if you hadn’t.

    I am frequently irritated by people being ‘phone zombies’ when crossing the road or meandering in the middle of the footpath but at times the Internet can be quite brilliant ha ha 🙂

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, sometimes we have to push out the fiscal boat, as I call it, and grab something when we have the opportunity. I remember reading a piece by a woman called Loelia Lindsay in the book The Englishwoman’s House. She was busy renovating her home and said that after many a fruitless search she found a lovely chimney-piece (mantelpiece to others) … “After roaming around I was in despair, when someone said that they had heard of a good one for sale in a garage somewhere in Fulham. I managed to locate it and saw that it was perfection, but too expensive for me (a pittance at today’s prices), so I walked regretfully away. Then I told myself that I would never find such perfection again; that the size, design and colour of marble were all exactly right for the room, tat the drawing-rom was the only room in the house that was to have a fireplace, and that it would be madness to pass by this chance. I hurriedly retraced my steps, which I have never regretted. It is indeed true that one only regrets one’s economies.” I’ve have trotted out this homily often, that one only regrets one’s economies but you have to have the wherewithal to start with and not place yourself in debt. There are those who can always afford such extravagances, and others who simply cannot.

  12. ps Margaret I’ve just read all of the comments and continue to be impressed by your memory for details from decades ago (esp your music scrapbook). It is a true gift !

    • Margaret Powling

      I suppose a good memory is a blessing. I can remember thing in great detail from when I was a child, the books I had, my collections of scent bottles and beauty products (the empty packages which people would give me when they knew I collected such things), the clothes I wore, and so forth. I was 14 when I made the music scrapbook and I even had it for many years after we married – perhaps I dumped it when we moved here in 1985 when we had a bit clear out of things on moving. That is something I can’t remember!

  13. Margaret, I discovered your blog today from your comment on another blog I was reading. Love this post! I know exactly what you mean about wanting only the edition you first had. I was thrilled years ago when I found the editions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights I had grown up with. My husband said, “You already have two copies of each of those. Why get another?” I could have referred him to this post for my answer!

    • Welcome, Jean, and I hope you will enjoy reading my other posts, too. I think people who don’t love books as much as we do have this kind of reaction, i.e. not understanding why we want the book in the edition we read as children or even young adults when the words are the same in all the various editions! I recently bought a book which I thought was an original edition and it was a print-on-demand title. I’m afraid it went straight to the charity shop, I couldn’t even be bothered to return it as it wasn’t expensive. Perhaps my fault for not reading the details sufficiently carefully, I won’t make the same mistake again!
      Please do look in again, it’a always lovely when new readers leave comments.

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