It was Christmas Eve, and twelve-year old Maria and her 22 year old brother Frederick Manners were sitting by the blazing fire with their parents and their grandparents who were visiting from Devonshire.
“How I do wish my grandmama would tell me how many Christmases she can recollect- that would be a story worth hearing!”
“Indeed it would,” said Frederick… and instantly there was a joint petition uttered “that grandmama would tell them all she could recollect of herself, from the first Christmas she could remember, up to the present one”
Well, give me the Christmas Day Queen’s Message and the X-box anyday! Grandmama didn’t need much encouragement to launch into this long, didactic exposition of her childhood Christmases, heavily larded with Good Christian Precepts and Useful Knowledge, prompted by earnest questions about plants, climate and geography raised by these smarmy children. I had quite an urge to tip Grandmama and her rocking chair into the blazing fire and toss in her snotty grandchildren after her.
In spite of this, however, it was a rather engaging way to read of nineteenth-century West Indian life, which was of course the reason for me reading the book in the first place. Young Grandmama spent about nine years in St Vincent in the West Indies on a plantation, before returning to England impoverished as the result of the perfidy of their white plantation-owning West Indian neighbours. The book is imbued with a strong pro-slavery flavour: she refers to ‘our negroes’ as a cheerful, singing lot, reserving the s-(lave) word only for the avaricious plantation managers who took advantage of their financial misfortune to break up the happy menage. Grandmama is severely critical of the irresponsible Harris family on the neighbouring plantation, who allowed their daughters to run wild with the expectation of sending them back to England to polish them off for marriage, and whose double-dealing placed Grandmama and her family at the mercy of merchants and their attorneys back ‘home’. The book fleshed out for me the social life of the white plantation elite and the financial arrangements between the metropolitan merchants and the colonial plantation owners. Despite the clunkiness and smarmyness of the children’s questions (“What’s a calibash, Grandmama?”) I learned probably more than I wanted to about West Indian plant life and geography, and in a relatively painless fashion.
This book lurks in the depths of the Internet Archive and is available here should you crave some worthy, educational mid-Victorian story-telling from Grandmama.
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