A Single Thread, Tracy Chevalier (2019)

And now for something entirely different!

singlethreadAs most of you know, this blog reflects a passion for classic literature–in particular, my love for the 19th and early 20th centuries knows no bounds. Every once in awhile, though, I read a review on someone’s blog of a more modern novel that for whatever reason piques my interest. When I read Sandra’s (A Corner of Cornwall) review of A Single Thread, by Tracy Chevalier, something compelled me to read it.

I enjoyed the book immensely. It was just what I’d hoped it would be as a respite and a calm pause to break the day to day turbulence of the news cycle that I often get caught up in. The book is a wonderful character driven account of a subset of people engaged in activities that were new to me and a main character whose emotional journey truly captivated me.

But I enjoyed this book so much more for two items in the story making me realize I probably would never have recognized them had I not started this blog. But first, a brief review.

A Single Thread is a simple story of a woman’s loss and grief and the will to find meaning in a life she otherwise never would have chosen. The book opens in 1932 and centers on Violet Speedwell, an English “surplus woman,” grieving the loss of her brother and fiancé who both died in the Great War. Like many women of a certain age whose prospects for marriage are minimal due to the number of men who died, she is finding it difficult to construct her future. She lives with her mother, herself grieving the loss of her son, and their relationship is difficult and strained. Violet puts in for a job transfer to the nearby cathedral town of Winchester, where she finds herself drawn to the community of embroidering women who make kneelers and seat cushions for the church, which she comes to see as a way for her posterity to be marked.

Violet embodies the great emotional and financial difficulties of these single women within a society that is not sure where they belong or how to treat them, as she struggles against village gossip, physical violence and familial ignorance. In the end, Violet, as we would say today, ‘finds her people’ in the most unlikely characters and creates a family support system that includes biological family and neighborhood friends. For a much more in depth and engaging review, please go to Sandra’s post.

As I read I was surprised by two references that brought to mind some of the reading and writing I have created on this blog as I pursue classic literature.

While I have never been to the city of Winchester, I am aware of a special object mentioned in the novel that it is known for that I recognized from my participation in Witch Week 2017. The theme for that year, “Dreams of Arthur,” gave me the idea to do a piece on King Arthur’s Round Table. A model of sorts exists in the Great Hall at Winchester Castle, believed to have been made in about the year 1290. The table top is 5.5 meters in diameter, weighing in at about 1200kg. It is without its table legs and hangs on the west wall. The artwork on the top dates later, to the reign of Henry VIII and shows a Tudor rose in the center and Henry as King Arthur surrounded by the 24 names of Arthur’s knights. When I saw it mentioned in the novel, with a bit of pride I realize my contribution to Witch Week gives me a secret connection to Winchester Cathedral and its Round Table, whether I have ever been there or not!

winchester

 

selborne

The second reference is to a book one of the characters is reading, Gilbert White’s, The Natural History of Selborne, that celebrates the natural world around the town. Last summer I saw it sitting on a bookstore shelf and found myself immersed in his descriptions of the animals and plants of Selborne and although here, too, is a place I have never been, I was drawn to it as I am with one of my favorite natural histories of a place (I also have never been to), Aldo Leopold’s, The Sand County Almanac, a natural history around Leopold’s home in the state of Wisconsin. I bought the Selborne book laughing to myself at how odd I am, excited about my discovery and wondering if anyone had ever heard of it. Then to find it referenced in a contemporary novel, I was pleased, and the laugh was on me!

I don’t judge my interest in the past and whether or not it has relevance to anything important in the world or my life in the present. After all, I majored in Medieval history. And I don’t know why I am so drawn to the late 19th century now. But the pleasure of seeing these connections in my reading after over four years of concentrating on the classics, gives me a certain satisfaction that history is not a void, but full of threads that from time to time connect themselves into my present. And it is then I know all this immersing myself in a time period long gone is worth it.

_______________

Title: A Single Thread
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Viking
Device: Hardcover
Year: 2019
Pages: 336

12 thoughts on “A Single Thread, Tracy Chevalier (2019)

  1. Lovely post! Sandra’s review drew me to this book too, though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I love finding links between books, or between life and books, so I enjoyed seeing your links very much. It’s one of the joys that comes from reading widely about a specific time or area.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh, I’m really impressed by the way you’ve sold this, Laurie! I have been to Winchester and seen this artefact, and as a former Arthur-nut I’m really tempted; but I was particularly attracted by the notion of ‘surplus to requirements’ individuals, regarded as somehow lesser by society. Adding this to my already too long list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chevalier created a strong main character as part of a really interesting subset of people I never knew existed. I mean church bell ringers and cathedral seat and kneeler embroiderers?!

      Winchester is SO on my list of places to visit now. The power of a good novel helps with travel plans 🙂

      Like

      • Hah! Bell ringers operate in our area, change ringing in at least two or three churches to my knowledge (we hear them a couple or so Sundays a month peeling out from across the river), while embroidered kneelers may still be being created locally for all I know! That’s the thing with the Established Church, traditions change slowly…

        But yes, do visit Winchester: the Round Table, connections with Alfred the Great, the cathedral where Jane Austen was buried two centuries ago, the cathedral building itself—all worth exploring, and much more besides!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so glad that you enjoyed this one, Laurie, and thanks for the mention 🙂 (It’s always a bit scary when someone picks up on a book.) Sounds like this one was a perfect fit for these unsettling times and also for those great personal connections. I love it when that happens 🙂 (I also love Gilbert White and waited years before finally finding an edition that I felt was right for me. I wanted to avoid a more recent paperback version. About this time last year I discovered a hardback copy about 100 years old, in a dusty old bookshop. I got B to buy it and give it to me for Christmas.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As you know, I read a lot of Nineteen Century books myself. Sometimes it is good to read something new. My wife read Girl with the Pearl Earring and liked it a lot. This sounds very good. The bookish connections that you found here are neat.

    Liked by 1 person

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