I've been sorting out my book-shelves and -- horror -- throwing some away. Part of this job, of course, is sitting down on the floor with a book you've just rediscovered, and reading it for three hours, while others step over you.
Now Gwen Raverat was one of Charles Darwin's granddaughters, (though he died before she was born.) The eccentric Darwin family certainly gave her plenty of material, but it's not the Darwin gossip, nor even the vivid, child's-eye view of life in a wealthy family of the late nineteeth and early twentieth centuries that make this book a treasure. The book's immense charm, which doesn't diminish with re-reading (even when sitting cross-legged on a draughty floor in front of a bookcase), is entirely due to the personality of its writer. Reading the book is like visiting a much-loved friend, and listening to her tell stories of her childhood with warmth, affection, perception, great humour, and even, yes, wisdom. And just as, if you're lucky enough to have a friend like that, you go back again and again, so you return to this book.
As Raverat says herself, in her preface, '..it does not matter which chapter is read first or last.' Some chapter titles are: Theories, Propriety, Aunt Etty, Ghosts and Horrors, Religion...I find it hard to choose a favourite.
'Religion' opens, 'The first religious experience I can remember is getting under the nursery table to pray that the dancing class mistress might be dead before we got to Dancing Class.'
A little later she describes God for us: '[He] had a smooth oval face, with no hair and no beard and no ears. I imagine that He was not descended, as most Gods are, from Father Christmas, but rather from the Sun Insurance Office sign. Even now this hairless, earless, eggshaped face... gives me a sort of holy feeling in my stomach.'
You can find 'Period Piece' in many editions HERE.