If you are a fan of EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels you will know just what the words ‘rose madder’ evoke.
I must confess that I used to be a real literature snob. Only the latest or best in fiction was good enough for me. Working in a good Sydney bookshop during my university years was probably to blame.
I can still recall with a bit of embarrassment how I used to go to friends’ apartments for dinner and positively throw myself at their shelves. New fiction was more precious than a balanced diet. And I always carried a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in my rucksack for my weekly trips on travel stories. I can’t tell you how many times I read that one over the six years. I associate it with ghastly ten hour delays in distant airports, endless train journeys, and a minor plane crash in Kazakhstan; so can’t quite bring myself to read it for pleasure any more. I’m actually more of a Persuasion person, but I never had a copy in Russia.
English language newspapers were also a treat. (Even when I worked for one.) Week or ten-day old Guardian newspapers could be bought for very little money at a kiosk just round the corner from the Lubyanka prison in central Moscow. And I can tell you that I read them cover to cover. Even the weather forecasts and financial pages.
I have no idea why anyone would choose EF Benson’s 1930s novels as improving literature. I like to think that it was a ruse on the part of the publishers to subvert and delight. They would certainly remind the comrades just how decadent the West was in England in the inter war years.
Finding the complete Mapp and Lucia series saved my leisure time. And launched me on a happy hunting ground of novels set in the 1930s. Mitford, Benson. I devoured the lot. And I still have a soft spot for Miss Mapp. It was a marvellous diversion from living in the Soviet Union which was disintegrating none too prettily around us.
So what has that to do with sedums? I’m getting there (I’ve had a whisky). This sedum Autumn Joy (Herbstfreude) is flowering like mad all over my terrace bank. I’ve taken cuttings without fail for three years now and they are bulking out brilliantly.
Perfect for flower arranging too. No one misses out with this plant.
And their colour, to me is exactly the shade of rose madder which Benson described in the Miss Mapp novel. Not as a flower, but the fabric which the spinster of the first set of Tilling, Miss Mapp dyed for her tea party frock one autumn. She found it fetching and flounced over to Mr Wise’s afternoon tea party thinking to make a dramatic entrance. Only to find that her rival of the town, Mrs Godiva Plaistow, had dyed her frock in the very same hue.
I’m not selling it to you, I can tell. But it is piercing and witty and very diverting.
And I will. I just have to finish doing this in the evenings, and get back to my books.