Wednesday, 22 January 2014

PBOTD: 22nd January, Ruby Ferguson - A Stable for Jill

I was going to do a selection of covers for A Stable for Jill, but then I thought, why not go for the lot. It is the title with, I think, more cover variations than any other Jill title. Quite why this is, I'm not sure.

Hodder & Stoughton, first edition, 1951
A Stable for Jill (1951) is the second in the Jill series, and in it Jill's whisked right away from Chatton. You might have thought, if you'd read Jill's Gymkhana (1949), that the next book would see Jill carrying on life in Chatton, riding Black Boy and seeing her friends, but instead Ruby Ferguson chose to put Jill into an environment that's alien to her. Jill has to go and stay with her Aunt Primrose, and her cousin Cecilia for the summer. It's not what Jill planned, at all, but as her mother's going on a tour of America, Jill has to go somewhere, and staying at home on her own isn't an option. 

Hampton Library edition
Foyles Children's Book Club edition, 1950s
Jill is, eventually, resigned to her fate. We've already met Cecilia in Jill's Gymkhana, and we know they don't get on. They're chalk and cheese: Cecilia is neat, tidy, loves school stories and school, and regards ponies as muddy, dirty things best avoided. She views her cousin in much the same light. So, right at the outset, there's a good does of dramatic tension. How will Jill get on with Cecilia? Especially as there are no ponies, and Cecilia's idea of a good time in the holidays is not Jill's.

Armada paperback, 1963, cover by Mary Gernat
Knight paperback, 1968, Bonar Dunlop
Knight paperback, 1968, cover Bonar Dunlop
Fortunately, Jill sniffs out a pony who actually does live nearby, and befriends her owners. The Walters family are the children of a vicar, and have been told they have to make their mare pay her way, or she'll have to go. Jill suggests running a stables; the Walters jump at it, and off they go. Fortunately they're able to borrow some horses (the wonderfully named Mipsy, Dot and Bungie) from the Walter's uncle, and they're set. 

Knight paperback, 1974, cover W D Underwood
The stable has its ups and downs, but it does prosper, and Jill buys a neglected pony, Pedro, which they rehabilitate. Unfortunately the stable has to close as you can't run a commercial enterprise from a vicarage, but Ballerina is safe, and then Jill's mother arrives home unexpectedly early, with the news that she's met some people on the boat over who have a showjumper for sale, thus setting the scene for Jill's next adventure, in which she'll meet the showjumper. 

The book is full of Ruby Ferguson's trademark humour. The relationship between Jill and Cecilia provides much of it, particularly when Jill turns up to Cecilia's party in a rush, drags her dress on but forgets she hasn't taken her jodphurs on, which provokes giggles and tittering from the other girls, apart from head girl Mary Dangerfield, who happens to like horses. Aunt Primrose and Cecilia from that day on treat Jill quite differently. Cecilia has a massive crush on Mary Dangerfield, and anything she likes must be good. 

Hodder laminated hardback, 1974
Knight paperback, 1982


Knight paperback, 1991
Taking Jill right out of her home environment was a brave decision, and it's one Ruby Ferguson handles with brio. The book is full of the things pony books prosper on: children making a success of a horsey enterprise, without much help from adults; the rescue and rehabilitation of a suffering pony, but it's the characters that make the whole thing sing. There's quirky, and determined Jill, the sensible Walters, and as a counterpoint to them, Cecilia and Aunt Primrose and their radically different view of how the world should be.

A Stable for Jill was the most reprinted of the Jill titles. It was originally published, illustrated by Caney, in 1951, and was reprinted with the addition of an orange title bar, in the cheaper Hampton Library version. Foyles Children's Book Club then popped up with another edition, the only Jill title, as far as I'm aware, that they ever published. The last hardback edition was a pictorial laminated version which Hodder issued in the 1970s. It had a photographic cover, and lost all the Caney illustrations, which were replaced with a single frontispiece by Elizabeth Grant.


Knight paperback, 1993

Knight paperback, 1996

Fidra paperback, 2009
The paperback editions were started by Armada. Most of the other paperbacks they did had re-coloured editions of the Caney covers, but not A Stable for Jill, which used a cover by one of their house artists, Mary Gernat. The 1960s edition that Knight produced had new internal illustrations by Bonar Dunlop, and a cover by him which appeared in two colour variations. Most editions after this, including the most recent one by Fidra, are photographic covers, with the exception of the 1996 version, which has an illustration. It's not, it's fair to say, the apogee of equine art. 

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For much, much more on Ruby Ferguson, here's a link to her section on my website.

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