Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Little Girl Lost

My Grandmothers and I
Diana Holman Hunt

When a book is described as a comic masterpiece
it is not unreasonable to laugh
and that is what I did when I started reading
this delightful memoir of a child living with
two eccentric, extravagant grandmothers.
In fact, I will admit that I cried with laughter.

But then I put the book down
and went to sleep
and in the morning
I felt quite differently.

The neglect and emotional deprivation
were no longer obscured
by the exquisite comic timing
and I was really distressed by the image
of a small child obliged to live at the whim
of her self-centred, tyrannical grandmothers.
And so I cried for a different reason.

I had planned to illustrate this post
with Holman Hunt's painting of
'The Light of the World'
but now I will always associate it with
a terrified child banging on the door
of the darkened crypt of St. Pauls,
begging to be let out.
And I couldn't bear to have it on my blog.

I recommend this book which is beautifully written...
but not if you are a passionate Pre-Raphaelite
because it might shatter your illusions.


  1. Goodness--your post took such an unexpected turn, from light to dark. Now I am completely intrigued.

  2. Uh-oh. I've always been a big Pre-Raph fan. Phooey. Kind of like how I can't sing "In the Bleak Midwinter" without thinking about Christina Rossetti's extremely repressive religiosity...

    Let's agree to be wacky, comical grandmas without the tyrannical self-centeredness!

  3. Drat! This will have to wait until next week as we are moving house tomorrow! Your thoughts mirror mine when I look at Holman Hunt's 'The Scapegoat'. I adore the painting but it fills me with an overwhelming sadness. It is in the Lady Lever Gallery in Port Sunlight and I visit whenever I can. It seems the Holman Hunts have cornered the market in provoking mixed emotions. Bobby x

  4. What a review. Very intrigued now. K x

  5. Ooo-errr. I adore most Pre Raphaelite art and own a silly number of books about them, though I must confess many of Holman Hunt's paintings don't appeal to me so much. His faces seem very strange to me for some reason. Anyway, most of my illusions were shattered by last year's Desperate Romantics so maybe I should give it a go ;-)

  6. Very interesting thoughts, you have made me curious to read the book. I was always a big Pre-Raphaelite fan and I am interested to see that Dottie feels the same as I about Holman Hunt, he has always been my least favourite.

    The story of Lizzie being painted in that freezing bath always filled me with sadness, such a beautiful image but such a sad background, I kept a postcard of the image in my diary for years and years.

  7. I've not read this book but your powerful post has embedded that gruesome image in my mind. (Shudder)
    Is it unusual to have such a dramatic overnight change in one's response to a book? Can't think of a time when that's happened to me...I'll be following your comments with interest!

  8. I once wanted to be one of the holy beings on the Golden Stairs. I no longer have illusions. Most days I am the hassled mother on the wooden stairs. Burne Jones is nowhere.

    Thankyou for this referral, if not hearty recommendation. I shall seek it out.

  9. I'm intrigued, too, but how sad --

  10. A child at the mercy of Grandmother, one or two, sends a shudder up my spine and an urge to run.

  11. My first thoughts were to read this book, but as a lover of the pre raphaelites I feel perhaps not....I also find that these days I cant cope with child cruelty...years of teaching domestic violence to year 10 and the magdalene laundries to year 13.....

  12. I've just read the boy in the striped pyjamas and cried my eyes out. I could do with some laughters, but no more child cruelty for me...

    Maybe I'll leave it. I'll stick to vampires.

  13. it is a wonderful book ... a testament of diana's marvellous memory and her firm and gentle grasp of the human condition in all its subtle and enigmatic guises ... the grannies' strengths and their fortitude are what is so very interesting


Thank you! I love reading your comments and even though I don't always have time to reply I am really grateful to every one who joins in the conversation.