Not Just William

I’ve been meaning to write about Richmal Crompton for absolutely ages, and have finally been propelled into doing so by the Family Roundabout book group I went to last week. You may well know Richmal Crompton as the author of the ‘William’ (or ‘Just William’) stories, written between 1922 and 1969, when she died. I, like many others, devoured these hilarious books as a child (alongside Thomas Henry’s brilliant illustrations – mine very much with apologies to him. Though mine looks rather more like a Chinese woman…) What I didn’t know until 2002 was that Richmal Crompton had written over 40 novels for adults. Scandalously, Family Roundabout is the only one in print (step forward Persephone Books – and it was actually via Crompton that I found this publishing house).

Richmal Crompton’s novels have fans across the internet – notably Elaine, who has joyfully borrowed many of the thirty or so Crompton novels I’ve managed to find, and who wrote about RC here – but she remains famous primarily for the William books she considered ‘potboilers’. These come under the category of “difficult to explain how wonderful they are”, so I can only say that they spark booklust in the unlikeliest candidates, and nothing else can quite satiate the thirst for another Crompton novel. Their scarcity may be frustrating, but hunting down the elusive novels is quite a fun pasttime…

Crompton’s novels are all quite similar, and there is some overlap. Children grow up together; people in a village exist alongside each other; parents are disobeyed or thwarted; beautiful people take advantage of others; wise, older women dispense advice to all and sundry; unhinged authors write dozens of romance novels whilst being wholly unconnected with reality… not all of these appear in every novel, of course, but they represent the mixture of fun and pathos which characterise Crompton’s books. She is perenially the author of William, and cannot avoid that tone forever (one of my favourite quotations concerns an author, in Family Roundabout: ‘Of his own novels there was no trace [in his room]. Their absence impressed his modesty on people, and Mr. Palmer spent a lot of time and thought impressing his modesty on people.’) – but this humour is balanced with characters who experience understated struggles or genuinely touching revelations. I can’t do them justice – the only thing you can do is read one. I can’t encourage you to do so enough.

Shall I pick one for you? Ok. Frost at Morning. Let’s put it in the 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About. If you prefer the easy route, or don’t like secondhand books (is this possible?) then go for the one in print, Family Roundabout, but I don’t think it’s the best. It’s in Frost at Morning (1950) that Crompton demonstrates her most subtle understanding of children and their vulnerable position in families; it also has her most amusing of the crazed-authors, in Mrs. Sanders, who dictates several novels at once, and muddles them all. A group of children are gathered as companions for a Vicarage daughter – their personalities shine through the opening section, as they play with modelling clay. Angela, Philip, Monica and Geraldine are all immediately unique personalities, and continue to be so as we witness them separately and together throughout their childhood and into adulthood. Read it, you won’t regret it. Lots available at abebooks here, and Amazon here.

Oh, and special mention to Our Vicar’s Wife, who took these photos from my RC pile in Somerset.

13 thoughts on “Not Just William

  • April 16, 2008 at 12:51 am

    I’ve enjoyed listening to a couple of segments of a Just William story on Radio 4’s Listen Again option:
    “Just William Strikes Again (15 min) Broadcast on Radio 4 Sun 13 Apr – 19:45 – – Classic stories by Richmal Crompton, adapted by Martin Jarvis. 4/5: The Outlaws and Aunt Jo. Aunt Jo is appalled by the prospect of an afternoon spent with Violet Elizabeth.”

    The Outlaws and this out-of-towner are all skipping out on Violet Elizabeth’s birthday party and hiding in the woods.

  • April 16, 2008 at 5:39 am

    Well done to completing a blogging year.Glad the doves had a ovely meet. I’m just psyching myself up to leaving HK and my son. I mind so much he’s so far away but He’s very happy and I know it’s the Lord’s plan for him.shall be blogging myself over the weekend haven’t done it from here too busy and too hot, 81 today and very high humidity.Shall go on a crompton hunt when I stay in N Norfolk in the summer. There are good second hand bookshops there.

  • April 16, 2008 at 7:32 am

    How very fascinating! My son adores the William stories, has read everything we can get hold of and still listens to them every night on tape as he falls asleep. I had no idea she had written anything for adults!

  • April 16, 2008 at 8:41 am

    I was completely won over to Richmal Crompton’s ‘other’ books by reading Frost at Morning, although I found it a very chilling book. In the William stories adults are charicatures – often bizarre or funny, sometimes to be pities, but always somewhat 2D and only there to serve the plot and the central figures of the Outlaws. In Frost at Morning they step forward and we realise the hidden thoughts Richmal has had all those years. as she observed the people around her. I’m glad she wasn’t an observer in my home as I feel that she was far from benign. As I say, chilling. I wonder how true?

  • April 16, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Well Simon you knew I would drop by and thank you for the mention and the link to my post on Richmal. I endorse everything you say and can only urge everyone to keep an eye out for her adult novels and try them out.

    By the way any readers who do check out my earlier post please note that I mentioned a book of RC’s that had been sitting on the shelves of a shop in Cambridge for years and that one day I would make an offer for it. Well I did a month or two ago and it is now sitting on my bookshelf!

  • April 16, 2008 at 9:27 am

    What a lovely book stack! I’m not sure how available Richmal Crompton is in the US, but her books sound like good comfort reads, so I will be on the lookout for them.

  • April 16, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Just realised (too late) that I have been struck by typist’s spelling disorder. Ooops! Caricatures.

  • April 16, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    She was mentioned in the NF book I read a while back, Singled Out. I wonder if her William books were ever published in the US–I’ll have to look at my library’s catalog. I’ve been meaning to read her (and oh so many others….sigh). I’ll have to be on the look out for Frost at Morning. It’s surprising that Peresephone Books hasn’t published more of her work.

  • April 16, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    This is the most appalling admission for someone who taught children’s literature, but I have never read any Crompton. I know the Radio 4 broadcasts but not the books themselves. I hang my head in shame and will promise to do something about this before the year is out!

  • April 17, 2008 at 4:40 am

    I had no idea Richmal Crompton had written anything but the Williams. Thank you! My local university has _Linden Rise_ — anyone read it?


  • April 17, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Family Roundabout was a superb read and I recommend it to all and sundry these days whether they’re interested or not. I have Frost at Morning on my tbr pile to read this year and two William books to reread that I picked for free recently. I’ll definitely be trying to find a few more of Crompton’s adult books too.

  • May 26, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Oh, hurrah! Another person who's read 'Frost at Morning' and enjoyed it! Had I been thinking straight, this is another novel I'd have mentioned to Nicola Beauman at last night's 'Possibly Persephone' event.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: