Book Review: My Love Affair with England by Susan Allen Toth
Book: My Love Affair with England: A Traveler’s Memoir by Susan Allen Toth
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: 1992
Source: Purchased a long time ago
Summary: My Love Affair with England is a loosely-joined, non-chronological, series of essays covering about thirty years of travel in England from 1960 to the early 1990s. The topics range from food (see this morning’s Weekend Cooking post for more on that chapter) and sheep dog trials to the theater and the royal family. As one could guess from the title, this is a romantic look at the country of Shakespeare’s theater, Wordsworth’s daffodils, and Austen’s Lyme Regis. Toth’s fascination, in common with many an American Anglophile, is rooted in a confused childhood amalgamation of Fairyland and England:
That imaginative world was synonymous with England. Not only Mother Goose but most familiar fairy tales, which I knew mainly through collections like the Blue Fairy Book and The Green Fairy Book, were English. So were tales of King Arthur and other heroes, who all seemed to have lived in England. St. George battled a dragon in its mountainous rocky lair. Deep in Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood lived a life of saucy freedom with his Merry Men. Everything got romantically mixed up together. p. 22
Thoughts: This is at least the third time I’ve read My Love Affair with England, even though I’m not usually a re-reader. I pick it up every time I think I might finally enact my dream of visiting England. The current version of that dream has it penciled on the calendar for September.
In between readings, I forget what a delightful memoir this is. The essays are little gems of time and place — stories of both the disappointments and the charms of traveling in England, always told with the generous and forgiving eye of the true lover.
My Love Affair with England awakened a fascination with the English Christmas that I didn’t know I had:
….I thought of London at Christmas. Theatre, pantomime, Christmas pudding, Dickens, holly, carolers. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” shoppers scurrying along Regent Street, rosy-cheeked English children in Hyde Park. After-Christmas sales at Harrod’s and Selfridge’s. p. 97
Of course, her hastily-planned Christmas trip didn’t turn out quite as planned, including a nasty bout of flu, but Toth didn’t regret the trip which included enough time in bed to develop an enthusiasm for BBC radio and TV.
Toth’s book taught me the English love for walking paths:
Ask in any respectable English bookstore for walking guides, and you will be confronted with shelves of books and pamphlets. Walking guides will carry you up hill and down dale, around a few miles of local countryside, through every county, across England coast to coast. p. 186
I once spent an amazing winter traveling English gardens through books after reading about them, first, in My Love Affair with England. I read a reprint of one of Margery Fish’s books from the 1950s or 60s, learning the term secateurs and that a real gardener always carried them (something I noticed to be true in our garden tours in Ireland and France). I read about Vita Sackville-West’s gardens and the designs of Capability Brown and Gertrude Jekyll. I re-read The Secret Garden. All this, to capture something of what Toth found out about the English through their gardens:
As I absorbed all those gardens, I began to think of England in brilliant Technicolor–bright greens, soft pinks, deep scarlets, shocking blues, blinding yellows. London a gray city? Not with red tulips and golden daffodils springing up all over Hyde Park. The English dull? Not if they could mix plate-sized blossoms of red, white, pink, and purple in a ten-foot-high tangle of rhododendron. Unimaginative? Not when they thought of training lavender clematis or yellow roses around twisted tree trunks or planting hundreds of crocus under a row of pleached lime trees or creating white-and-silver gardents that sparkle in sun and glow in moonlight. Lacking in humor? Not when they could clip and trim box and yew into the shapes of a fox being pursued by hounds. p. 244
Appeal: The perfect book for the Armchair Anglophile, My Love Affair with England will also appeal to anyone who loves a beautifully-written travel memoir.
Challenges: My Love Affair with England is my 5th nonfiction book already in 2014. I challenged myself to read 16-20 books for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge, so I’m well on my way to meeting that goal.
Have you read this book? What did you think? What are your favorite books to recommend to Armchair Anglophiles?
Great review! I’m adding this to my tbr list!
And just so you know, you’re New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge lit a fire in me for nonfiction. Six of the ten books I’ve read so far this year have been nonfiction. And no, I’m not complaining 🙂
And it’s 11, not 10. I think I need a nap
I love this book! I’ve read it 2-3 times myself, and find it is a perfect way to get in the right mood for a trip to England. I enjoy Toth’s style and her choices on what to visit and experience mesh well with what I like to do whilst traveling.
Wonderful review–now I feel like rereading it again!
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I’ve never read it but I’m adding it to my list right now.
Great review! The time period sounds interesting as well – I’ve always had Orbitz and the internet at my disposal for travel planning so it fascinates me how people decided how to book hotels and such before we had all these tools.
I hope you end up actually going! It sounds like a trip you’d enjoy a lot. Lately I’ve been reading about anything French, but your review makes me want to try giving other countries some attention too. This book sounds like a nice, cozy read 🙂