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Review: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (Holden)

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

The year is 1906, halfway through the reign of Edward VII. Although Edward died in 1910, the “Edwardian period” is often stretched to include the early years of the reign of George V: up to the end of summer in 1914. This makes fairly good sense, because nothing much had changed during that interval, making this personal journal an illustration of a tiny slice of life as it was at the opening of the First World War.

It’s a tiny slice because the early years of the 20th Century were really quite tempestuous: the Second Boer War got the century off on the wrong foot, followed by the Russo-Japanese War and an attempted revolution in Russia, a couple of Balkan Wars, the initiation of “gunboat diplomacy” by the Germans in North Africa, various labor agitations and other forms of social unrest, and, of course, the perennial incarnations of The Irish Question. But for people of the time who could afford to live in quiet seclusion from such events, there was not only time to smell the roses, but to draw pictures of them and the birds that fed on the rose hips.

Environmentalists may be interested in comparing author/artist Edith Holden’s inventories of wildflowers and birds (which include their common and Latin names) to the survival status of those creatures today. Students of art will learn about technique from studying her drawings and watercolor paintings.

On page 176 this drawing of a home-made bird feeder is of amazing simplicity and inventiveness, and would make a good naturalist project for a homeschool. Those who try it should be aware that some kinds of birds are not comfortable feeding close to the ground, so find out what the feeding height preferences are for the birds that frequent your area, and choose branches of a length that will permit the coconut half (or suet ball, seed ball or fruit) to be suspended at the appropriate height to encourage bird patronage.

The 4-year extension of “Edwardian” time reinforced the childhood memories of the nostalgia-mongering writers of the 1920s, who had a hard time coming to terms with the violent interruption of their Utopian hindsight by the Great War, and the consequent world-changing caused by it. Edith Holden’s diary evokes some of that longing for a more tranquil existence, even though the times were not particularly peaceful (much like the nostalgic effect of artwork by the American illustrator Norman Rockwell). Recommended.


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