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Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara…
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Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950)

by Barbara Comyns

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 160 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
As a young and terribly naive girl, Sophia Fairclough enters into a disastrous first marriage and tries to raise her young family despite crushing poverty and an irresponsible, disinterested artist for a husband. Sophie's narrative voice is so light and trips along so breathlessly that the reader almost overlooks the very real hardships she endures. Her naivete can be funny--she believes birth control is just thinking very hard that you don't want to become pregnant--but she shows great resourcefulness when pretty much everyone in her life lets her down, and her insights into the plight of women are quite sharp. This is a quick and easy but affecting read, only marred by a very rushed and rather fairy-tale-like ending, and I think it gives a good sense of what the Great Depression was like to live through. ( )
  sturlington | Jul 16, 2018 |
“The only things that are true in this story are the wedding and Chapters 10, 11 and 12 and the poverty.”

“Our Spoons” is Comyns’s somewhat autobiographical novel covering her early adult years and the cyclic struggles with her then husband. Undereducated and wrought with ongoing poverty, neglect, and indifference, Sophia Fairclough, in her youthful naiveté, fought her damnest to keep her family together during the Depression years in London. She was twenty-one when she married Charles, an aspiring artist who refused to have a real job, smokes, drinks, and didn’t like their son because he looked too much like himself. Sigh. They go through mini periods of joy, whenever they have steady income, such as when Sophia receives an unexpected inheritance. Otherwise, it’s misery for all leading to adultery, abortion, and death – until Sophia and Charles finally separate and Sophia finds her own happiness.

At a modest 200 pages, this little book delivered a punch that bought pain and joy. The optimistic Sophia hung on to this marriage even though her husband provided nearly no partnership and little care. A part of me wants to slap her awake; a part of me wants to feed and shelter her and her children. The chapters on child birth were beyond “wow”, not a good time to be a mom for sure! This book, being semi-autobiographical, was particularly emotional, with all that she went through. Even though not all is true, the reader is silently cheering for her and wishing her the best. One bit nearly torn my heart out. The prose is somewhat choppy with short chapters, as though from memories that are piecemealed together. The text is bluntly earnest, expressing sadness and tragic moments that are oddly humorous. Her resourcefulness was inspiring. For the subject and story, I found the prose to be appropriate and effective. Overall, it’s a fast and entertaining read.

Sidebar: I bought this book partly because of the “…Woolworths” title – a store that I have an odd fondness for. An overflowing emporium with everything a person may want, including queasy pizza in the U.S. long time ago. I still have unopened socks from there that are virtually old-timey souvenirs by now. Don’t ask. :P

Some Quotes:
On Pregnancy – oh, that poor, naive girl:
“Charles said, ‘Oh dear, what will the family say? How I dislike the idea of being a Daddy and pushing a pram!’ So I said, ‘I don’t want to be a beastly Mummy either; I shall run away.’ Then I remembered if I ran away the baby would come with me wherever I went. It was a most suffocating feeling and I started to cry.”

On Birth Control – ditto:
“…before we were married Charles told me he never wanted to have any children, and I saw they would not fit in with the kind of life we would lead, so I just hoped none would come to such unsuitable parents – anyway, not for years. I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said ‘I won’t have any babies’ very hard, they most likely wouldn’t come. I thought that was what was meant by birth-control, but by this time I knew what idea was quite wrong.”

On Starving Artist:
“…Sometimes we were several weeks behind and the landlady would ask us for money each time we went in or out of the house. I would hear her talking about us to the other people who lived on the floor below and felt dreadfully ashamed. Charles did not mind. He just said she was a silly old bitch. As soon as Charles started to paint he forgot about the cold and money worries. That is how artists should be, but I was only a commercial artist, so I went on worrying…” ( )
  varwenea | Jul 12, 2018 |
Semi-autobiographical & nicely written, I sped through it. At first I was under the impression that the author had captured the attitudes & perceptions of someone living in the 30's, with comments such as "they were foreigners, but I'm quite sure they were of the good kind", until I realised when the book was written & how old the author was. I was a little disappointed in certain aspects, such as how the backstreet abortion was really not gone into in any detail & how the end of the story was a little too happy-ever-after for me, but it was a funny & interesting read nonetheless. ( )
  SadieBabie | Jun 23, 2018 |
Art student Sophia marries artist Charles in 1930's London, and gives up her ambitions to support him and his art. They live hand to mouth in Bohemian London, with Charles contributing nothing and taking no responsibility for Sophia and later their child. The novel, which is partly autobiographical, is narrated by Sophia as her life goes downhill to rock bottom before it turns around.

There are issues of sexism, reproductive rights, economic opportunity, and poverty, all narrated in a charming (I know, oxymoronish) manner by Sophia. Comyns begins this as a fairy tale, but it turns real fast. If you've ever read Comyns you know that she relates the prosaic details of everyday life in seemingly straight-forward manner, but there's always something quirky and unsettling lurking beneath the surface. She is one of my favorite writers, and deserves to be better known and more widely read.

3 1/2 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 23, 2018 |
It's quite an achievement to make the reader laugh and cry at the same time, and this wry, gentle book does it wonderfully. Speaking of Woolworths, I still do miss them. In fact my spoons did come from Woolworths. I kitted myself out with their basics about 12 years ago, and most of them are still going strong, even the kettle. They were the first casualty in what has now become a general slaughter of much-loved old British high street names.
  PollyMoore3 | May 3, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Comyns, Barbaraprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brayfield, CeliaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gould, EmilyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Farrell, MaggieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Barbara Comyns wrote first as a child, to amuse herself, her vibrant and curious imagination overflowing the edges of reality.
I told Helen my story and she went home and cried.
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Book description
Sophia is twenty-one years old, naive, unworldly, and irresistible -- most particularly to Charles, a young painter whom she married in haste and with whom she plunges into a life of dire poverty. Desperate, Sophia takes up with the dismal, aging art critic Peregrine, and learns to repent both marriage and affair at leisure. How Sophia survives to find true love is delightfully told in this engaging and eccentric novel, which also gives a wonderful portrait of bohemian life in London in the 1940s.
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"I told Helen my story and she went home and cried" begins Our Spoons Came from Woolworths. But Barbara Comyns's beguiling novel is far from maudlin, despite the ostensibly harrowing ordeals its heroine endures. Sophia is twenty-one when she marries fellow artist Charles, and she seems to have nearly as much affection for her pet newt as she does for her husband. Her housekeeping knowledge is lacking (everything she cooks tastes of soap) and she attributes her morning sickness to a bad batch of strawberries. England is in the middle of the Great Depression, and in any case, the money Sophia earns at her occasional modeling gigs are not enough to make up for her husband's lack of interest in keeping the heat on. Predictably, the marriage begins to falter; not so predictably, Sophia's optimistic guilelessness is the very thing responsible for turning her life around"--… (more)

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