‘A Vicarage Family’ left me with mixed feelings. Best classified as autobiographical fiction, this is Noel Streatfeild’s story with some embellishments, as the author couldn’t possibly know the inner thoughts of her schoolteachers and household staff. However I found it a fast read and I was quickly caught up in Victoria’s plight.
The middle child of a poor vicar’s family, Vicky is forever making resolutions to improve herself and forever failing to keep them. Her older sister Isobel is a gifted artist and every attempt is made to encourage her artistic talent. Victoria’s younger sister, Louise, beautiful and spoiled, is comfortably predicted for an early marriage and lots of children. The only person who seems sympathetic to Vicky’s feelings of being ‘left out’ are her cousin John who visits and stays with the family on holidays.
Vicky has a lively and creative nature and is forever seeming to land herself ‘in the soup’. Expelled from her grammar school, she is transferred to another girls’ school with hope of improving both her scholastic record and in her character.
There are poignant and entertaining anecdotes of this young family mixed with the stories of summer holidays that seem to be mostly endured due to incessant rain and lack of funds for entertainment. However, there are also bright spots like the Christmas holiday traditions:
“Their mother always decorated the tree and they were never allowed to see it until the candles were lit. That year the tree stood in the small annexe to the drawing-room – a perfect place, because there were curtains which could be drawn back when the tree was to be seen in all its glory. That year there were about fifteen waifs and strays, mostly women, all rather shy and sad while they drank tea and ate Victoria’s birthday – now the Christmas – cake.
When the tea was cleared, Annie and Hester joined the party, and soon everyone was circling the tree singing ‘The first Nowell’ and then ‘Good King Wenceslaus’, with John singing the King’s verses and Victoria the page’s. Then came the time to strip the tree. The majority of the parcels were for the family of course, but no one was allowed to feel left out, so there were plenty of little gifts for the guests.”
Vicky’s headmistress at her school despairs of her as do her teachers, but Victoria’s grandparents provide support and understanding just when she needs it most. The family cook Annie takes Victoria under her wing and champions her, even personally caring for her when the entire family suffers through an epidemic of influenza. Vicky finds she has a talent for writing and directing plays, but her attempts at self-improvement seem to her to be frustratingly slow. However by the end of the story Victoria finds that she has grown up, partly due to the harsh circumstances of the war.
I found that I wanted to continue on with the story and will be definitely looking for a copy of the next book in the series.