All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burned like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
– The Lady of Shalott
Sometimes it’s just wonderful to follow the little path that life lays out and see where it leads. A passing reference, I know not where, to the line “All in the blue unclouded weather” from Tennysons’ poem The Lady of Shalott reminded me of reading and loving Robin Klein’s All in the Blue Unclouded Weather, and it’s sequels Dresses of Red and Gold and The Sky in Silver Lace when I was young (I could even remember all three titles even though it had to be at least 15 years since I read them last). Some time later, rummaging in the very fine Bendigo second hand book shop Book Now (see my post on my visit there) produced a copy of All in the Blue Unclouded Weather and the revelation that my friend already owned the entire series. Last week the frankly rubbish winter weather inspired me to read the whole series and fall in love with it all over again.
All three titles follow the lives of the Melling sisters, growing up in post-war Australia. I particularly love the structure of the novels as each short chapter (a few pages each) details an episode in the lives of one of the three younger daughters Heather, Cathy or Vivienne, but does not directly connect to the chapter before or after. Events and characters are mentioned again in later chapters or books, but often indirectly or via the perspective of a different sister, leaving you as the reader with an insight that none of the characters have. It was amusing reading them and feeling a nostalgia for a time which I have never experienced, where young children spent the day adventuring around the town totally unsupervised, and also a sadness for the expectations of children, particularly girls, to finish school at 15 or 16 years old and then work to support their families until it was time to get married.
Re-reading The Lady of Shalott to find the blue unclouded weather, I noticed other references which may or may not contribute to it being one of my favourite poems.
“Tirra lira,” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.
Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson is a novel I have heard of but never read. Oddly enough, it’s another Australian based book, so perhaps there is something about The Lady of Shalott that particularly appeals to those of us Down Under?
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room
Is a quote I distinctly remember from the BBC mini series adaptation of Helen Cresswell’s The Return of the Psammead, as Ellie and Lucy link arms and cross Aunt Marchmont’s dusty attic (I can’t find the clip, but here are the children seeing what the future is like!). I also had the book, I was always rather pleased that not many people had ever heard of it, snobbish child that I was!
The mirror crack’d from side to side
Is of course an Agatha Christie Miss Marple mystery as The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. I haven’t actually read this one yet, although I have seen the ITV adaptation and I do own a rather fabulous Fontana copy from 1967 which features a rather smeary variation on John William Waterhouse’s ‘The Lady of Shalott (Looking at Lancelot)’.
And of course my favourite painting, also by John William Waterhouse, ‘The Lady of Shalott’.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.