Look back with Love – Dodie Smith
A couple of years ago I reviewed a book called Kisses on a Postcard. I started the post by saying ‘this is a lovely lovely book’. I felt that was the only way I could describe it and how much I had enjoyed it. Well, here I go again.
Look back with Love is a lovely, lovely, lovely book. It is charming, it is delightful, it is beguiling, it made me laugh and it made me cry and I adored every single word of it and was very sad to finish it. I gather that Dodie Smith has written other volumes of autobiography, out of print it seems, and I am now going to track them down . . .
Valerie Grove, Dodie’s biographer, writes the preface to this elegant little edition.
‘Dodie said she never felt quite grown up. This may sound like an excuse for tiresome behaviour but Dodie did retain all her life a childlike charm, being under five feet tall with a high pitched girlish voice. She was an only child, a singularly precocious, egocentric and thoroughly original one.’
When I was about twelve I read The Hundred and One Dalmatians and simply adored it and loved the idea of The Twilight Barking as well. It appears that Dodie wrote this out of sheer irritation at Enid Blyton’s success and of course it became a huge seller and there have been film versions of it ever since. But then I grew up, discovered the Virago green covered editions and read I capture the Castle, totally unaware that the author was the same person. There are many great opening lines with which we are all familiar but surely ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’ must rank as one of the great ones as Cassandra Mortmain writes in her diary. The key to Dodie’s plays, her drawing room comedies, to the romantic novel and to her children’s stories all lie in her childhood. Look Back with Love is one of the funniest and delightful childhood biographies I have read, reminded me in places of Gwen Raverat’s childhood in Cambridge, both children seemingly surrounded by a collection of aunts, uncles and grandparents who are bursting with enthusiasm, wit and eccentricity. When I had finished the Dodie the thought crossed my mind that I wished I had had an eclectic bunch of relatives like this and then I sat down and went through my family and came to the conclusion that I had. I may ponder on this a bit and do my own childhood post some time – be warned.
‘I find it strange that I could read quite difficult music several years before I could read a word, or rather when I could only read one word, for Nan did manage to teach me my letters and I could pick out the word ‘the’; I sometimes read all the ‘thes’ in a story and felt very intellectual’
‘Have I mentioned that I sang? And of course I also danced. I fear many children played, danced, sang and recited but I doubt if many of them could count on such ecstatic audiences as I could; nobody made much secret of the fact that I was a genius, but alas, it wore off with my fair hair’
Just a little flavour of this book. I beg you, please do get hold of a copy. If you are feeling miserable, it will cheer you up, if you are feeling ill (as I was when it arrived) it will make you feel better and, if you are already well and happy, it will make you even more so.
Sheer and utter delight from start to finish. I will end as I started. This is a lovely, lovely, lovely book.