Violet Needham Society, so I’m afraid that will have to suffice for now. I was pleased, though, to see that it’s still available on Amazon.
I first read Violet Needham while staying with my grandmother and aunt – according to my mother all the books were hers and my aunt had ruthlessly appropriated them. As a schoolgirl, my mother adapted The Changeling of Monte Lucio and the class at her convent school performed it, with her in the starring role as the unpopular Changeling, spitting cherry stones out of the window while her “brother” lay on his death bed. You can tell that high drama was involved and as the next generation along, I adored them too. My favourite was The Horn of Merlyns, one of my two most wanted books ever – and oh bliss! the wonderful Girls Gone By has reprinted it recently and my copy is on the shelf by my bed, waiting to be a Christmas read. I have a Boxing Day appointment with it, a box of chocolates and a warm dog.
Back to The Woods of Windri, and more high drama. Roger, Lord of Windri has two daughters and a properly feudal attitude to their disposition. When he receives an offer for the hand of Phillippa, the elder, from the Count of Monte Lucio, he is pleased that an alliance will be politically advantageous, even though Phillippa is so unhappy about marriage to a man she has never met that she declares she will enter a nunnery. Her younger sister Magdalen is unhappy too, but it doesn’t stop her going out in the woods where she meets a runaway boy. Apparently a foundling, he has escaped from the Abbey where he was destined to be a monk, and where he was ill-treated. Fortunately Magdalen’s father takes a liking to the boy, whose name is Theodore Felix Amadeus, and decides to employ him as a page – there is no love lost between Roger and the Abbot and besides, there are some doubts about young Theo’s origins – there’s the little matter of a distinctive birthmark, for a start. With the arrival of Phillippa’s suitor, the Count - that's him you can see on the cover - events are put in train which will demand that Theo risks his life and faces his greatest enemy. With a little help from Magdalen, of course.
Revisiting this book after some 40 years (it was a regular read until my mid-teens) , I was fascinated to see what a cavalier approach Needham had to the Catholic Church – there is scarcely a good cleric to be seen. She has a robust attitude, too, to her villains, cheerfully consigning one to be “put to the question”. I don’t mean to imply that authors in the 1940s should be mealy-mouthed about such things – these books are supposed to be set in a period when nasty things happened – but just to note that it feels rather surprising in these days of political correctness in children’s books. Heaven forbid that we should upset the little dears, or mention anything which might cause a sleepless moment. Actually, I do remember a growing impression that Needham's Stormy Petrel series was maybe just a trifle right-wing, although I can’t recall that it spoilt my enjoyment much.
One of the fascinations about Violet Needham’s books was that they didn’t feel entirely English, and this seems to be borne out by her life – her mother was a Dutch heiress and she spent some time in Europe. Her books combine the exoticism of mid-European or Ruritanian locations with a Baden-Powell quality to her young heroes which brings them firmly back onto familiar territory, melodrama notwithstanding. Yes, it’s dated and no, I probably wouldn’t give it to a young reader, without a caveat, but oh, it was fun to explore the Woods of Windri again.