Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mistress Masham's Repose

Mistress Masham's ReposeMistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maria is shown the tiny livestock
illustration by Fritz Eichenberg
The premise of Mistress Masham’s Repose is a clever one - the travels of Lemuel Gulliver described in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” actually took place and some Lilliputians, captured on a later expedition, have escaped and have been hiding out and living in exile on a rundown English estate.  For over a century, they have managed to avoid detection by living inside of a garden folly. Their secret comes close to being exposed when they are discovered by Maria, a young girl living on her ancestor’s estate. For me, the best parts of the book were in White’s descriptions of how the tiny Lilliputians are forced to cope in a land of gigantic threats. The writing is often somewhat dense, but filled with humor and White shines in describing the foibles of his characters. The character of Maria is not always likable but White uses her to show how a little power can corrupt even a person with the best of intentions. As is often the case, the villains of the story are often the most interesting characters and White has created a devious pair in the characters of Maria’s governess, Miss Brown and Mr. Hater, a greedy Vicar. There is a lot of suspense created when these two conniving schemers discover the existence of the Lilliputians and plot ways to make a fortune off of them. They even discuss murdering Maria if it should become necessary to achieve their gains. White fills the book with doses of English humor (which may go over the heads of some younger readers) and frequently goes off on rather esoteric tangents, which I felt slowed down the narrative. If it weren’t for these esoteric and wordy asides, I probably would have given this book 5 stars. All in all, it’s an enjoyable read, especially if you’re in the mood for a story rooted in a classic of English literature. If you can, make sure and find an edition that contains the fantastic illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg. His amazing pen and ink work perfectly captures the humor and drama in White's story.

All illustrations are by Fritz Eichenberg and were scanned from a 1946 copy of Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons.

The book has recently been reprinted by The New York Review Children's Collection.

Click on the illustrations to see them larger.

Miss Brown and Mr. Hater poke a captured Lilliput

Miss Brown discovers the People in Maria's room
The Professor and the People try to figure out
a way to release Maria from the dungeon

Some of the dangers faced by a
person who is only six inches tall.

View all my reviews

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