A Year In Books ~ Cider With Rosie

Following May's choice for The Year in Books I am continuing my bucolic theme with Cider With Rosie.



I will be forever grateful to my English teacher for choosing this book over Nineteen Eighty-Four as our o level* text. I had already read it long before o levels though, enticed by the title and the slightly saucy cover of my parents' edition and also by the enchanting illustrations by John Ward.

This month sees Laurie Lee's centenary and to mark that event a new edition of Cider With Rosie has been published by Vintage Classics. The lovely cover has been illustrated by Mark Hearld who has also contributed several black and white illustrations. The original 1959 illustrations by John Ward which so enchanted me are retained but unacknowledged, or if they are the acknowledgement is well hidden as I could not find it, a shame.

Cider With Rosie is a memoir of a country childhood. It begins in 1918 when on a June day the young Laurie Lee and his ramshackle family come to live in the Cotswolds village of Slad (only 40 miles down the road from me). The way of life described in the book has now vanished, and was in the process of vanishing as the author was living it. He describes his memories in a series of themed chapters, not strictly chronological, nor strictly accurate, evocative and bewitching, a prose poem without equal.

Laurie Lee was primarily a poet having already published three volumes of poetry by the time Cider With Rosie was published. It was the poetic quality of his prose which appealed to my teenage self and continues to delight me no matter how many times I read this book. Here is a short excerpt describing the incident which gives the book its title.

"The day Rosie Burdock decided to take me in hand was a motionless day of summer, creamy, hazy, and amber-coloured, with the beech trees standing in heavy sunlight as though clogged with wild wet honey."

"Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie's burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again..."

From the chapter 'First Bite at the Apple'


'Clogged with wild wet honey', just gorgeous. If you like that then you must read Cider With Rosie because there is much more of the same. Also, do look up Laurie Lee's volumes of poetry. It's a pity there is no collected poetic works, I would have thought that an author's centenary was an excellent opportunity for one but it seems not.


The Sun My Monument 1944

The Bloom of Candles 1947
My Many-coated Man 1955

And for two examples of his poems look here and here

Incidentally if you like the poetry and prose of Laurie Lee then you are likely to be a fan also of Dylan Thomas who coincidentally was also born in one hundred years ago this year.




Illustration of Granny Wallon making her wine by John Ward

The Lee's kitchen by John Ward



Wild flowers in a jam jar by John Ward

Cider With Cider With Rosie




*
Don't forget to check out what everyone else is reading this month over at The Year in Books.


* For non UK readers and those too young to remember, o levels (the o stood for ordinary) were the exams we took at 16 before GCSEs were introduced in 1988. They were harder than GCSEs. Yes, they were.



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Comments

  1. Yes they were otherwise I would have got more. Definitely. Lovely post. I have a tenuous link with John Ward through a friend whose daughter modelled for him. I now have an urge to find an old fashioned jam jar to fill with wild flowers. All mine seem to be Bon Maman.

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  2. Yes I too have the urge to find a jam jar and pick flowers. We had the teacher who chose Nineteen Eighty-Four for O Level, but like you I had read Cider With Rosie too long before.
    Julie xxxxxxxxx

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  3. We must be a similar age as like KC'sCourt, my teacher too chose Nineteen Eighty-Four. I've never read Cider with Rosie - I would read it just for that lovely cover.

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  4. That illustration of the kitchen brought back memories! To the right of the range is an armchair. It was on my father's lap in a chair just like that, by a stove just like that, that I learnt to read - before I went to school at 4, We also had a large, square table, which now lives in my brother's kitchen, some chairs, and also a skew (not a word that's heard much now - it's a Welsh settle) and I can remember many happy hours in that room..
    I might have to buy that edition just for the illustrations!

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  5. Thanks for the book recommendation. It sounds just up my street as I come from The Cotswolds too! I've ordered the book and a glass of cooled cider will go very nice with it on my balcony! I've just ordered the book!
    I see you also mention The Darling Buds of May too and I'm watching the reruns of the old series which I couldn't see them living abroad before!

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  6. Slad valley is a lovely area, not too far from me either, we go walking around there sometimes. I picked up an old copy of Cider with Rosie just a few weeks ago, and it's sitting on the shelf waiting to be read. I heard his daugher (I think) on the radio the other day, the end of a piece, and I wondered why it was on. Now I know. I'll read Cider with Rosie soon, I love the way he writes, he conjures it all up so beautifully.

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  7. Makes me want to read it again; it's been many, many years.....

    And yes, O Levels were definitely harder than GCSEs!!

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  8. I think that we did this for one of our O Level texts as well Sue, but I cannot be sure! However, I do remember reading this and loving it, I must find another copy and read it again. The part that I remember loving the most was Granny making her wine - I am so glad you showed that illustration! - and the way that she floated bit of toast on top to take out the bits. Also the description of Laurie being ill in bed and watching the cracks on the ceiling and making up stories about them. A truly wonderful piece of literature that I really must read again now!! In fact, I might just head off and find my kindle and see if I can download it! Thank you so much Sue for such great memories. xx

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  9. I was the one of the first kids to sit the GCSE's and we 'did' Cider with Rosie that year. It seemed to be a long warm summer term and Lee's beautiful prose was a pleasure to study. Our English teacher was besotted with Laurie Lee and those illustrations take me right back to our stuffy classroom with Mr H waxing lyrical about the book. The passages describing his Mother are some of the most beautiful and compassionate in Eng Lit. Definitely time for another reread.
    Shauna.x

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  10. Did my high school studies in Scotland so we studied "Sunset Song" by Lewis Grassic Gibbon instead. But I absolutely love this book, I read it last summer on the tube ride into work. It made such a difference to be able to lose myself in the Gloucestershire countryside during those journeys!

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  11. I've just pulled my copy down from the shelf and see that I got it for Christmas, 1971 - which was the year before I did it for O-level. Was it our generation's Mocking BIrd? I'd forgotten how lovely the illustrations are. Must put it back on the shelf ... I'm supposed to be working!
    Do you remember a lovely TV adaptation from 1971?
    Cider with Rosie was light relief - we did Chaucer, Dryden, Pope, Hardy, lots of Shakespeare, DH Lawrence, lots of Jane Austen and Dickens. My niece was shocked when I told her that you had to read the whole book!

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    1. Oh Mary this not reading the whole book thing is one of my biggest beefs with the current English curriculum. I couldn't believe it when I discovered my eldest was studying Frankenstein without ever having read the thing!

      I'm afraid I don't remember the 1971 adaptation, it was possibly on too late for a six year old? I took my o levels in 1982!

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    2. You're making me feel ancient, Sue! What amuses me is that there's such a song and dance about exams nowadays. We just went in and sat them, passed them or failed - no TV crews to capture us screaming and hugging each other when the results arrived. Not that hysterical behaviour and emotional outbursts would have been tolerated.
      Oh dear, I'm making myself feel ancient now!
      BTW, don't forget that at the same time as reading the English syllabus, we were reading Balzac, Mauriac, St-Exupery, Gide, Moliere ... don't think there was quite as much to get through in French but you still had to read the whole book.

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    3. You won't be surprised to know that now A level French involves no reading of French novels at all, instead my son watched Amélie. Mind you he did have to write essays about it in French.

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    4. Not surprised at all. But what cruel and unnatural punishment to make teenage boys watch Amélie. Still, I expect they watch it with subtitles?
      It does seem rather a shame. I remember feeling a very grown-up sense of achievement at 16 when I made it through my first-ever French novel - not to mention Chaucer and Middle English. On the other hand, I struggle to make conversation in French - maybe that side has improved?

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  12. Sue, what a treat of a post. This seems like a perfect choice for this time of year. I was instantly drawn to the beautiful jacket design and love Mark Hearld's work. My kids (and I) are currently enjoying A First Book Of Nature by Nicola Davies, which he illustrated. It's a visual treat - if you get a chance to find and flick through a copy next time you find yourself in the children's section of a bookshop (unlikely, I'm sure) then do have a look, it's gorgeous.

    I don't know why I've never read Cider With Rosie, but your review and the jacket design have made me just order a copy. :-) I know you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover but a lovely jacket design (and it's a hardback - I love hardbacks...) have made it an extra nice treat. Thank you. x

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    1. I almost always judge books by their covers.

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  13. Well this sounds just beautiful. I've not heard of this book *hides face* but the Title and snippets you shared conjure up some pretty rich imagery x

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  14. Sue, thank you for reminding me about how much I loved reading Cider with Rosie...over here in the States, long after all my school graduating ceremonies. Now I think I will borrow it again from the library, hoping to find an original edition in the library stacks.

    xo

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  15. Read 1984 as a high school student. It means more to an adult. When will teachers stop trying to force adult literature upon teens. The brain develops. So many teachers fail to do so. Cider With Rosie sound hideous to me. I would prefer that students were presented with biographies and journals from the real world. Fairy stories are for babies.

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    1. I think Louise, that if I read about a book that I thought sounded hideous, I would not say so. I think I would say that it didn't sound like my cup of tea, or more likely not say anything at all rather than risk upsetting the person who had just spent a considerable amount of time writing about and photographing that book, particularly one which has been a dear favourite for as long as she can remember.

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  16. Attractive book covers are meant to entice and this one certainly does that, just love those rich colours he uses.
    Read it for the first time at Christmas and loved everything about it - childhood memoirs from another age.
    (the word 'saucy' always makes me laugh)

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  17. I went to school in Stroud and a school friend of mine was Rosie in the 1971 film - am I showing my age??
    I too love Mark Hearld's work!

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  18. I'm afraid I found English Literature at school very dreary. I hardly ever completed the books despite being an avid reader. I was not enthralled by Pride and Prejudice and found even the TV production (in the eighties) rather dull. I was very much put off Cider with Rosie because of the endless snippets we got given to read, often as comprehension. The same with To the lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Strange because I later completed a degree in English literature and read To the lighthouse and really liked it rather a lot and quite saw what the fuss was about. I did however like Nineteen eighty four which was done at school which I did read at the time.

    I very much enjoy Austin now too. School doesn't do literature very well in my opinion then or now, and looking at the syllabus these days I think I had it lucky. I don't think they are easier though, exams are much less of a challenge than the awful tedious course work that is so repetitively done these days. Students need to work much harder and continually stay on their toes these days. We could just cram and turn up for the exam having ignored most of what went on in school. One also needs the research skills. I remember a boy never turning up to lessons or contributing essays yet he annoyingly got A grades. The teachers didn't like him very much. He would fail these days.

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    1. I, on the other hand loved Eng lit at school. I was very lucky and had inspiring and enthusiastic teachers which is of course the key to enjoying anything subject at school.

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    2. Oh dear - just read this and hoping that my students don't feel like this about English Literature. We try so hard to make the texts come alive but are restricted my the need to meet target grades etc. Michael Gove has just got rid of coursework, but has also stopped us form teaching 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.at GCSE.

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  19. Anonymous6:27 pm BST

    Lovely post! And I agree, O Levels were *much* harder than GCSEs.

    Glad to see you are back posting :-)

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  20. Oh, I so loved this book when I was a teenager. I also did it for 'o' level. I re-read it in my late thirties as it was on the reading list when I went to college to train to be a teacher, and it's about time I read it again.

    I invigilated English Literature 'A' level today and was surprised that the students could bring in their set texts with them. I remember having to learn chunks of stuff and just hoped the opportunity would arise for them to be included. Exams were certainly harder back in the day!

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  21. Thank you so much for all these wonderful books I'm discovering through your blog, Sue. I can't wait to read this one. And I particularly like books which have such lovely domestic illustrations. And why do we feel we have to baby kids these days? Why are they not up to the academic challenges we were? I don't believe evolution works quite so quickly as to make their brains incapable of what we studied 30-40 years ago.

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  22. If you loved this as I did, you may enjoy "Corduroy " by Adrian Bell. The first of a biographical trilogy about a young man sent to work on a Suffolk Farm in the early part of 20th century. It is not as lyrical as Laurie Lee's writing but is a lovely nostalgic account of bucolic life. I am a farmers daughter and thoroughly enjoyed it, much as I enjoy watching "All creatures great and small." I plan to read volume 2&3 also. I got a very old edition from library archives and it too had some lovely original illustrations.

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    1. Hello Ma, I was just reading about you last month!
      I do know Corduroy. I have a copy and have begun it several times but never managed to get all the way through -distracted by other more page-turny books I think. I am determined to read it properly one day. I first heard about Corduroy and Adrian Bell on a Paul Heiny programme about wartime farming in Suffolk.

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  23. Yes. They were. And I rarely pick up a book whose cover is unappealing. Perhaps I should try this edition of CWR as have never tried it...Ax

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  24. Shockingly, as an English Lit post-grad, I've never read any Laurie Lee - time to rectify that I think! Have you been watching the BBC4 Dylan Thomas programmes? I have them all on record, waiting for a quiet rainy day...

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    1. I have managed to miss all the Dylan Thomas programmes. Hopefully I will catch them eventually.

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  25. I think I first read Cider with Rosie aged about 13. Loved it then and love it still. It always appears to be a time preserved in amber - the period of 10 or so years after WWI, just as the momentum of change began to increase. I've missed all the Dylan Thomas programmes too - was really looking forward to the one with Tom Hollander, then forgot it was on! To me, poetry needs to be heard, not read, and hearing A Child's Christmas in Wales is as much part of Christmas to me as the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

    I'm sure Cider with Rosie must be on audiobook somewhere (there was a film on TV a few months ago with Juliet Stevenson playing the mother - I've recorded it but not watched yet). I keep hearing Michael Gambon's or Patrick Stewart's voice reading it in my head.

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    1. Anne, it is available on audio read by Laurie Lee himself. I am listening to it at the moment. Obviously it was recorded a while ago and as he isn't an actor it doesn't have that professional edge but he had a lovely Gloucestershire voice.

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  26. I am enjoying your book choices this year Sue as they are all quite new to me and I like to discover new things. They do seem tremendously evocative in their descriptions and I love that.
    It's good to have you back..... Pati x

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  27. I read Cider with Rosie at school when I was 13 and loved it . We did Trollope's The Warden for O level - it was hard work then but I really enjoy it now. O levels were definitely harder especially in languages - we were required to know all the tenses subjunctives in French and German and to translate both ways in both those languages and Latin. When daughter did her GCSEs in 1994 they were easier in many subjects than the Common Entrance exams she'd taken three years earlier. I don't imagine they've got harder since. We also had a much longer school day and piles of homework but that was life- you just got on with it. I had an excellent state education for which I'm eternally grateful. I wonder if the current generation will feel shortchanged as they get older, I certainly meet people in their 30's and 40's who feel they missed out.

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  28. I also read Cider with Rosie in my teens back in the 70s, but haven't read it since. This is great: a new/old book to return to. I love the edition above. Now classes are over here fort the semester, I also might take a tour round 2nd hand bookstores. I will also be on the lookout for H.E. Bates. Perfick! thanks for the inspiration!

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  29. This is in my favourite top 5 books...beautiful!!

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  30. I haven't read this since I was at school and what a fabuous edition. The line drawings are beautiful

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  31. I must try to find my copy, it might have disintegrated by now.

    I sat 'O' Levels in 1962 and they were hard. I can't recall now which books we studied for the exam other than a very boring one by Winston Churchill and endless Shakespeare.

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  32. I love Cider with Rosie and haven't read it in years. Must revisit my old dog-ear red copy.

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  33. Oh, the ultimate bucolic novel! That looks like a lovely edition. There is a recently opened poetry trail in Slad to mark the centenary. It looks to be worth a visit. I have also been enjoying your 'puds for when you can't be arsed. Had a jam toastie for supper with strawberry and elderflower jam and some greek yoghurt on the side. Too good! Laura

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