Rural Reads Plus review: Winter Sonata

For the month of March 2015, Rural Reads Plus read Winter Sonata by Dorothy Edwards. We have the Dorothy Edwards Collection within our Special Collections plus it also a rural read, so the book fits entirely into our remit.

Winter Sonata tells the story of young Arnold Nettle, who has left the city due to ill health and moved to a secluded village deep in the countryside. He takes up the post as a telegraph clerk and moves in with an overbearing landlady and her promiscuous daughter Pauline, who is dating all the choir boys! The drive of the story is led by Nettle’s relationship with the upper middle class family who live in the ‘big’ house – where the sisters Olivia and Eleanor reside along their guest, the pompous and what we described as ‘slimy’ Mr Premiss.

Admittedly we didn’t enjoy the story. We found the plot bland and wanting, and it wasn’t helped by the flat and annoying characters. The character Olivia was referred to as ‘big eyes’ throughout the discussion and we felt that Edwards over-emphasised the point that Olivia’s face represented the moon. The discussions between characters were often bland or plain boring that didn’t lead anywhere – though I personally felt this could have been an existential metaphor by Edwards regarding life. We were expecting more of a romantic lead and there is a scene early on between Nettle and Olivia in the telegram office which is promising, but disappointingly it doesn’t go anywhere, like the rest of the book.

We did thoroughly enjoy the beautiful nature descriptions by Edwards – for example, ‘Here and there among them was the dark, deep green of fir trees which seemed to stand down there among the shades like heroes who alone can descend living into Hades.’

An aspect which did confound and vex us was the emptiness of this apparently busy village; the reader rarely meets anyone who isn’t a central character, apart from the ‘choir boys’ who move as a rowdy herd while Pauline picks them off one by one like antelope. Could this have been a metaphor representing the loneliness and solitude of life?

Dorothy Edwards tragically committed suicide at the age of 33 in 1934. Her death loomed over our conversations and we did use her suicide as a lens to look at her work, which meant at times it was difficult to be completely objective. We were surprised to see that she had written the well-known book My Naughty Little Sister, a children’s book which is the polar opposite to Winter Sonata.

In conclusion we enjoyed the nature writing but not the story; I personally would recommend reading this short book but I don’t think the rest of the book group would.

To coincide with the release of a new cinematic adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy in May, we’re reading it for the month of April. I’m looking forward to reading a Hardy classic.

Ladybird by Design: Fascinating talk with Lawrence Zeegen

A fascinating talk by Lawrence Zeegen with a pop up exhibition was held last night to celebrate the centenary of Ladybird Books. Let our University Archivist, Guy Baxter, fill you in:  


Lawrence Zeegen delivering his Ladybird by Design lecture

Lawrence Zeegen delivering his Ladybird by Design lecture


We were really pleased to welcome over 80 people to our Ladybird Books centenary event last night. They were treated to a really fascinating and enthusiastic lecture by Lawrence Zeegen, the author of a new book, Ladybird by Design (available at the MERL shop). Showing off some amazing visuals from the iconic books, Lawrence, who is also Professor of Illustration at the London College of Communication, took us through some of the most important series and assessed their cultural context and impact, as well as their design history. He delved into some of the most fascinating areas, such as how the format was devised – as a result of paper shortages – and how Ladybird were persuaded to move into non-fiction children’s books. Lawrence also highlighted the incredible investment that the company made in producing the Key Words reading scheme (i.e. Peter and Jane) in the 1960s. The lecture brought together the best possible elements – an enthusiastic and knowledgeable speaker, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience, and some fascinating and visually stunning content.


Ladybird by Design pop up exhibition, Caroline Gould, Lawrence Zeegen and Guy Baxter

Ladybird by Design pop up exhibition, Caroline Gould, Lawrence Zeegen and Guy Baxter


Accompanying the talk, was a beautiful pop-up display curated by Special Collections staff Claire Wooldridge and Danni Corfield, which showed a wide range of original Ladybird artwork and books. Here at Reading we hold over 700 boxes of artwork – so at least 18,000 individual pieces, and it was lovely to see so many out for people to see. The production of the Ladybird by Design book, and of the exhibition of the same name at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill – to which we have lent over 200 artworks – has involved Lawrence and the production team at Ladybird looking at thousands of pieces of artwork in our store. What a fabulous and pleasurable job to have!


Audience members viewing Ladybird by Design pop up exhibition

Audience members viewing Ladybird by Design pop up exhibition

Our collaborations with Ladybird this year have been really productive and interesting. Thanks are due to the team there – especially Sara Glenn  – and to Lawrence, for making this possible, and also to Caroline Gould, who facilitated the enormous De La Warr loan on behalf of Special Collections. What an achievement!

We the Humanities: A glimpse into our collections (and more)

B_qxAYwWcAAyeF7Our very own Verity Burke, a PhD researcher in our collections-based research programme, is joining the international humanities Twitter account We the Humanities as this week’s guest curator. We’re pretty excited, and she has already been giving some great glimpses into our collections.

@wethehumanities is led by a different guest curator each week; it offers a central platform for discussion and news of the humanities in all its forms. It is open to anyone working in or with the humanities in any form, and hopes to follow the success achieved by the science platform, @realscientists.

Verity, who tweets at @dicksnensian, will be discussing the use of collections (particularly our Cole Library), and the intersections between science, medicine, art and literature. She says there will be a nudge of Victorian crime, a cap-doff to living the research experience more generally, and a jolly good brew-ha about anatomies over a digital cuppa. Find out more by following and participating in the conversation, and via Verity’s blog on

We the Humanities, which is now in its second year, has attracted tweeters from across six continents, ranging from professors to Masters students and from museum curators to musicians.  The discussions engages with more than 2,400 followers from across the world, including everyone from lifetime specialists to the mildly curious. The account has developed to include a blog and events listings, housed at

Happy World Book Day!


Happy World Book Day! Now in its 18th year, World Book Day aims to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading. We hope you’re all celebrating by dressing up as your favourite book character and, most importantly, sitting down with a good book (print OR digital).

Here at Reading, we’ve been spending a great deal of time on our Ladybird collections, since Ladybird celebrates its centenary in 2015. Ladybird is a great example of a publisher aiming to introduce others to reading – from format to content, their books are designed to help young readers and inspire learning. Most of us here remember reading Ladybird books as children, and we still get nostalgic over the art and books.

From Shopping with Mother (copyright Ladybird Books)

From Shopping with Mother (copyright Ladybird Books)

Our Ladybird collection comprises 700 boxes of original artwork, proofs and some documentation from the 1940s to the 1990s, including examples of the work of notable artists such as C.F. Tunnicliffe, Rowland Hilder and Allen Seaby. The collection covers the wide range of subjects Ladybird published, ranging from What to Look for in Spring to Transformers: Laserbeak’s Fury.

Ladybird books were first produced during the First World War by Wills & Hepworth, a jobbing printer. Initially they were simply children’s story books but after the Second World War the firm started to produce educational books which increased sales enormously.  Remarkably, the price stayed the same at 2s 6d from 1945 to 1971, a feat achieved by strict production rules and increasingly large print runs.

To celebrate World Book Day, take a few minutes to pull out your favourite Ladybird book or explore some Ladybird art. Even better, book onto our ‘Ladybird by Design’ lecture on Tuesday 10 March and hear Lawrence Zeegan on 100 years of Ladybird.

Don’t forget to let us know what your favourite children’s book is! Leave a comment here or tell us on Twitter with the hashtag #WBD2015.