Saturday, April 23, 2011

Perfume From Provence by Lady Winifred Fortescue


I am both proud and and embarrassed to have finally finished this book, which is actually quite ridiculous, since it is a both charming and delightful book, a lovely memoir written in the 1930s by an Englishwoman who moved to Provence.  It's not a long book, nor a difficult one.   I am proud because it is one of the books that has sat unread on my TBR shelves for the longest, and I am embarrassed because I purchased this book more than twelve years ago!  To the best of my recollection, I purchased it in 1998 during my first visit to Epcot in Disneyworld, at the French pavilion.  (Yes, they sell books at Disneyworld that are unrelated to cartoon characters -- I have bought quite a few.  Most of them are still unread also, le sigh.)

Before I digress any further with my rant about owned-and-unread books, I should probably actually write something about this book.  There isn't that much to say, really, except that it is a lovely memoir by Lady Winifred Fortescue.  Having lost lots of money in the late 1920s (who didn't?) she and her husband (known only as Monsieur in the book) have moved to Provence where they purchased a small cottage and renovated it.  It isn't really mentioned in the book, but her husband is Sir John Fortescue, who was the King's Librarian and Archivist (King George V), and historian for the British Army.

The book is short, only about 250 pages with illustrations, and contains nine themed chapters about different aspects of life in the country, i.e., building, gardening, harvesting, driving, etc., in which she tells little stories about how charming it is.  Sometimes she's a little condescending about peasants and working-class people, but she was an upper-class British lady in the 1930s, so I guess it's to be expected.

However, Lady Winifred really does seem to love all the people in Provence, and admire them.  It seems like most of the French people were extremely friendly and hardworking, and there are many incidents in the book where complete strangers would go out of their way to help her -- in one extreme case, three truck drivers stopped to help her get her car back on a winding mountain road in the middle of a downpour -- basically, these men built a wall of boulders under her car to prop it up so it wouldn't fall down the side of a mountain!!  And they didn't want to take money for it!  (Of course she does insist on paying them and later contacts their employer and says how wonderful they were, etc.)

It does sound like a very different way of life, just in the way people do business, the pace of life, and so on, but it sounds wonderful.  According to the introduction by Patricia Wells (written in 1993), things still hadn't changed much by the end of the century.  It makes me want to visit Provence more than ever. Apparently Lady Winifred lived in Provence until WWII, and returned after the end of the war.  She published several more books which appear to be out of print, though it seems there are plenty of used copies available.

It's just so silly that I took so long to read this book, and that I have probably packed it up and moved it FIVE times.  Does this happen to everyone?  Bloggers, what is the longest you have kept a book unread on your shelves?  And was it worth it?  I have other books I've kept for years that were disappointing when I finally read them -- at least I enjoyed this when I finally got around to it.  In this case, I'm a little angry that I waited so long to read it because I did like it.  I've had other books that just made me annoyed that I'd been schlepping them around for so long, allowing them to take up valuable space when they weren't even that good!

And I seriously think I've bought more books in the past few weeks than I would have bought if I hadn't signed up for the TBR Dare, during which I tried not to buy books for three whole months.  Maybe I should take a hint from Simon at Stuck in a Book, who challenged himself last year to buy no more than 24 books the entire year.  Does that count for birthdays and Christmas and Paperback Swap??  That's dangerous too, since I either get rid of books I know I'll never read (or books I've finished and didn't love enough to keep) and replace them with even more books I want to read!  It's a vicious cycle, isn't it?

18 comments:

  1. I'm one of the few book bloggers who isn't a book hoarder, I think...

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  2. Amanda -- maybe that will be a spinoff of that reality show. "Hoarders: The Bibliophiles." People who are crushed to death by their own libraries, or whose houses have collapsed under the weight of too many books!

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  3. I'm afraid I have too many unread books that I've owned for far too long to think of which one is the oldest--very bad of me! Still, I think sometimes the right time just comes along for a book and I'll pick it up and think whyever did I wait so long to read this one! This one sounds wonderful, though, and well worth the wait. I'm noting it down to keep an eye out for a used copy--thanks for the heads up.

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  4. I am a library hound -- every semester I enthusiastically head to the university library, TBR list in hand, and haul home a ton of books. At the end of the semester I decide whether or not to renew or reshelve! My husband thinks it's a bit nutty, but at least the pile changes constantly -- and it's a pretty cheap habit :-)

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  5. Danielle -- I have about 8 books that I've owned and never read for more than 10 years. I really want to get all of them read by the end of the year, or give them away. I just feel guilty every time I look at them.

    Col -- I would have even MORE unread books if I could check them out for that long! I have a reciprocal borrowing card for most of the universities in San Antonio but I only get two weeks, which I think is reasonable since it's free. They have so many great books, I feel lucky to use them.

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  6. I can identify with that feeling of why did I wait so long to read this. I shudder to think how long I've had some books on my shelves, but then having a stock of books makes me feel as if my house contains many wonderful possibilities (although maybe there's such a thing as having *too* many wonderful possibilities). Susan E

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  7. Don't feel guilty, I have dozens of books that have been on my tbr shelves for over 10 years. But, over the last year, I've probably read 5 or 6 of those long-term tbr books & I've loved them all. There's a right time to read every book & I no longer feel guilty about waiting for the right time to arrive. Every book has its day!

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  8. I own books that I haven't read because my husband has read them, but none that I bought and haven't read, except one. It's a book I read and loved, and found a copy of it at some kind of Goodwill store in Laurel, Maryland. The book was published in the 1920s and it has UNCUT pages! I've so far not come up with an occasion to cut them and read it.

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  9. Sounds like a great book. As for the TBR shelf...yes I'm with you. I have three remaining that were purchased before we got to the new millennium. I shan't confess how many there are that have been purchased in the last decade... ;)

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  10. my husband has this dream of moving to Provence for a summer. I love the cover of this book. Even though it was the 1920s so things are a lot more touristy now (I heard), this still sounds like fun.

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  11. Slowly, every so slowly it seems, I am reading a DH Lawrence Exotic Works hardback that I bought in college which makes it 24 years or so in my possession and 12 moves. Give or take. I can't say I never opened it in all that time; it has poems and short stories that I probably read sometime or other... This time, I'm starting on page 1.

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  12. I'm pretty good at not hoarding. If I know I'll never read a book again I donate to Oxfam Books. In fact, there are only about 25 books I own that I simply could not do without!

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  13. I don't think I've looked in before, so Hi! from me. I saw the Lady Fortescue book and just had to say that I loved this when Black Swan brought it out in paperback many moons ago. I then found it in its original hardback and then found - in hardback - all the other books that Lady Fortescue had written but I've not read them! As with you and Perfume from Provence, they are languishing on the shelf. But I know they're there for when I want them. I see no point in having a library of books that have all been read (by oneself, I mean.) That isn't a library, it's "books read." I like to be able to go to my bookshelves and choose a book I've not read, just as you would in a bookshop or public library. If anyone, coming into our house and seeing all the books, asks the dim question, "Have you read them all," I say, "What would be the point of having so many books if I'd read them all?" I rest my case.
    Margaret P
    PS I would add that I weed regularly, some I sell but the bulk goes to charity shops.

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  14. I would add that I think the longest I've had a book on the shelf unread (and still unread) is Nancy Mitford's The Sun King, there since Christmas 1966! Beat that if you can, anyone!
    Margaret P

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  15. I'm a super hoarder, but haven't thought much about it lately until I realized that I am moving in 2 months and will have to pack up all the books to take with me! Argh!

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  16. I smiled while reading this post, because just lately I have decided that I have to make much more of an effort to read the partly abandoned books that litter my bedside table. I am currently reading one of these, The House of Spirits by Allende that I discarded a couple of months ago, it is great I don't know why I didn't keep going. My worse case, that I have tried to read a number of times but just can't complete, is Wolf Hall, and yes this annoys me no end. But it has gone from the bedside and is back on the bookshelf and will no doubt stay there.

    I have only just discovered your blog and now following.

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  17. I am beyond guilty of this. It is silly how I hoard chocolate and books. I found some chocolate in the back of my freezer that was there since xmas 09.

    I usually eat the chocolate.

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  18. Good post....thanks for sharing.. very useful for me i will bookmark this for my future needs. Thanks... 50 Cent

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