Thursday, January 5, 2006

A 1909 Tale of Paris

I spent quite a bit of time trying to decide which book on my shelves I would like to write about first. I scanned them ... while this author or that dust jacket jumped out at me -- "pick me, pick me!"

On one of my lower shelves a big, fat volume in red caught my eye. Aha! I haven't seen you in a while!

The book is MURIEL AND HER AUNT LU, A Tale of Paris, by May Baldwin. I can't remember exactly where I got this book, but I was probably around 13 or 14 years old at the time. I've read it three or four times, but not in recent years ... until yesterday. I started reading it again. And I became curious about the author, so I did some research. It wasn't easy finding information about her; it required more than just entering her name in a search engine.

The book:

My copy is about 8-1/2 inches tall, 6 inches wide and over 2 inches deep. The binding is red with a beautiful, etched picture on the front of two ladies dressed in Parisian clothes of the early 1900's, sitting at a small table having coffee or tea, with a young girl standing beside one of the women. The spine is made to look like a column with the title and author printed in gold on a twining ribbon.

Inside the fly leaf the title of the book is actually given as MURIEL AND HER AUNT LU or School and Art Life in Paris. Below that is By May Baldwin Author of HOLLY HOUSE AND RIDGE'S ROW, GOLDEN SQUARE HIGH SCHOOL, MYSIE, PEG'S ADVENTURE IN PARIS, etc. Then credit is given to A. S. Boyd for eight illustrations. The copyright is 1909 W. & R. Chambers, Limited, London and Edinburgh, and J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia. LIPPINCOTT is also stamped on the spine.

There is a dedication "To My Friend Rose Mackintosh". The book is printed on thick, almost-but-not-quite-card-stock paper. There are 32 titled chapters and 412 pages.

Overview: 14-year old Muriel goes to live with her aunt, an art student, in Paris, after the death of her mother. Muriel, an only child has very grown-up ways and speech. She was taught by her mother and a governess, and because her mother's health had always been poor, she was used to caring for her invalid mother. Her father, a doctor, is so devastated after his wife's death that he takes a position as a ship's surgeon and sends Muriel to boarding school. She has never been with girls her own age and does not know how to act around them. Muriel, miserable, leaves the school and journeys across the Channel to her father's sister, her beloved Aunt Lu.

Her life there with the aunt is so beautifully told. Lu, a serious, studious, talented art student and also naturally reserved, has never really made friends with her fellow art students, including the mischievous Angelique who also lives in the same rooming house as Lu. With Muriel's coming lots of things change. Lu learns to thaw a little and relax; Muriel learns how to make and keep friends. Of course, mixed in with the story are a lot of history and art lessons, told in such a beautiful and sometimes funny way.

The style of speech is very old-fashioned and continental, but not in a weighty way. It is still a book that is easy to read. I sank into it when I was young and I sank into it yesterday! I look forward to introducing my daughter to the book in a few years. I don't know if there are any copies in libraries; I've never looked. I found a copy for sale for $25.00 at Pioneer Books and for $37.00 at Biblio.

No comments: