PBOTD 14th May - Patience McElwee: The Dark Horse

Today's book, and the next few are all to do with showing, to celebrate the fact that it's the Royal Windsor Horse Show now.

Patience McElwee (1910-1963) wasn't a rider, but her daughter Harriet Hall was. She said “My father and I both hunted most weeks and my mother would come to the meets, but she was terrified of horses and never willingly had direct contact with one. She did, however, know a lot about the racing world and could talk horse brilliantly.” It was Harriet’s experience of the Pony Club and shows that Patience McElwee drew on.

Hodder & Stoughton, 1958, 1st edn
Uncredited cover, but it must be Caney
Patience McElwee's world is sternly realistic. Jane buys her way into favour in Match Pair at Pony Club Camp by giving people sweets. The poor Merry children, of The Merrythoughts (1960) have a similarly bleak experience of human nature. Adults are more interested in their own concerns.

In Dark Horse (1958), the children  have to contend with the selfish manoeuvrings of the adult world. Mrs Aston Pringle, the impeccably drawn grandmother, is concerned with keeping up appearances, marrying off her eldest granddaughter to someone “suitable” and scoring points off her “friends.” Her grandchildren long for a more scruffy and bohemian existence, as lived by Shamus and Tim O’Brien, blissfully unconcerned with the finer things of life. They live in a crumbling, vast house and earn their living through horse dealing. Mrs Aston Pringle is determined her grandchildren will beat the Pinkneys at showing; marry well, and that no one will have anything to do with the O’Briens. The children, however, have other ideas.

They understand that the adult world is not one necessarily peopled by the kind and wise. There's plenty of the other sort, and in Patience McElwee's world, you have to deal with that and come to terms with it as best you can. In Patience McElwee, Hodder and Stoughton perhaps hoped they had a second Jill (whom they also published). They did not. Jill exists in an Arcadian Britain, albeit one peopled with humour. Patience McElwee’s Britain is very different.

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More on Patience McElwee


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