Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths


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“I told Helen my story and she went home and cried.” So begins Our Spoons Came from Woolworths. But Barbara Comyns’s beguiling novel is far from tragic, despite the harrowing ordeals its heroine endures. 

Sophia is twenty-one and naïve when she marries fellow artist Charles. She seems hardly fonder of her husband than she is of her pet newt; she can’t keep house (everything she cooks tastes of soap); and she mistakes morning sickness for the aftereffects of a bad batch of strawberries. England is in the middle of the Great Depression, and the money Sophia makes from the occasional modeling gig doesn’t make up for her husband’s indifference to paying the rent. Predictably, the marriage falters; not so predictably, Sophia’s artlessness will be the very thing that turns her life around.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590178966
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 11/10/2015
Series: NYRB Classics Series
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 339,202
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Barbara Comyns (1909–1992) was born in Bidford-on-Avon, in the English county of Warwickshire, one of six children of an increasingly unsuccessful Birmingham brewer. Living on the run-down but romantic family estate and receiving her education from governesses, she began to write and illustrate stories at the age of ten. After her father’s death, she attended art school in London and married a painter, with whom she had two children she supported by trading antiques and classic cars, modeling, breeding poodles, and renovating apartments. A second marriage, to Richard Comyns Carr, who worked in the Foreign Office, took place during World War II. Comyns wrote her first book, Sisters by a River (1947), a series of sketches based on her childhood, while living in the country to escape the Blitz, which is also when she made an initial sketch for The Vet’s Daughter (available as an NYRB Classic). This, however, she put aside to complete Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950) and Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954). The Vet’s Daughter was published in 1959. Among Comyns’s other books are the novels The Skin Chairs (1962) and The Juniper Tree (1985; forthcoming from NYRB Classics), and Out of the Red into the Blue (1960), a work of nonfiction about Spain, where she lived for eighteen years.

Emily Gould is the author of the essay collection And the Heart Says Whatever and the novel Friendship. She is the co-owner of Emily Books and lives in Brooklyn.

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Our Spoons Came from Woolworths 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
DameMuriel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book will make you think twice about having children. And getting married. Well, to the wrong person, anyway. It can be very light and entertaining in places but it has some very sad and disturbing moments as well. There's a lot of poverty in this book and Barbara Comyns probably deals with poverty better than any writer I've ever read.
BeyondEdenRock on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is something about Barbara Comyns¿ writing that I find completely irresistable. I also find it difficult to explain, but here are three words to start with: clarity, simplicity, eccentricity. Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is Sophia¿s story. It is set in the thirties, but told, some years later, to a good friend who didn¿t know Sophia then. It was a simple, and very well executed, framing device. And I was very glad that it was there, that I knew Sophia would be alright in the end. You see, I liked her from the very start. She was engaging. naive, and yet terribly perceptive. And so wonderfully matter-of-fact. At the age of twenty-one, Sophia eloped with Charles, a struggling artist to live the Bohemian life in London. They were young, they were in live, and so. of course, they gave no thought to practicalities. Charles painted, oblivious to what was going on around him, while Sophia tried to keep house and earn enough money for essentials. Things like food and rent. I had my doubts about Charles from the start, but I hoped I was wrong. His family encouraged him to be selfish, and accused Sophia of dragging him towards domesticity and responsibility when he was far too young. But maybe, when the chips were down, his love for Sophia would make him do the right thing. Sadly, when Sophia fell pregnant I found that my fears had been founded. He hadn¿t wanted a baby and so it was nothing to do with him. A son was born and the family had a few up and rather more downs. Poverty was never too far away. Eventually, inevitably, the marriage crumbled. Sophia had to find another life, for herself and for her son. And find it she did. She found a happy ending too. A simple story, but it was oh so engaging, listening to Sophia as she speaks of characters, incidents and spoke of people, places, events, the details of her life. It wasn¿t quite perfect: the pace flagged at times, and the happy ending felt a little contrived. Not many authors could pull off a book like this, but Barbara Comyns could. It isn¿t her best book (that would be The Vet¿s Daughter) but it is well worth reading and, I think, the best introduction you could have to her work.
Ganeshaka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This delicious, daffy, and swift read is reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye in that the protagonist, Sophia Fairclough, speaks with a unique and captivating simplicity that is at once fresh, naive, and funny. Unlike Holden Caulfield, who lapses into pessimism, Sophia, with a detached but not-detached, Zen-ish shrug presses on - through Depression-era poverty, a marriage to a self-absorbed Bohemian artist, and domestic trials that would have some housewives shrieking, confessing, and swinging at spouses on the Jerry Springer show. She's that rare kind of person who seems to have an extra endocrine gland that secretes Prozac.Sophia not only sidesteps one calamity after another, at one point, she steps right out of the narrative, like George Burns used to do on the Burns and Allen show, and comments:"This book does not seem to be growing very large even though I have got to Chapter Nine. I think this is because there isn't any conversation....I know this will never be a real book, that businessmen in trains will read, the kind of businessmen that wear stiff hats with curly brims and little breathing holes let in the sides. I wish I knew more about words. Also I wish so much I had learnt my lessons at school. I never did, and have found this such a disadvantage ever since. All the same, I am going on writing this book, even if businessmen scorn it."And it's all presented with a very British sensibility."The woods were delightful all year round...When it was summer there would be wild raspberries, and we seemed to be the only people who bothered to pick them, and I used to make them into the most heavenly jam. There were blackberries, too. Everything that should be in a wood was there."And everything that should be in a charming book is in Our Spoons Came From Woolworth's.
Staramber on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is something lovely about being guided through this novel. It's written in the first person, told by a woman called Sophia. She relates her unhappy early life in a simple, childlike (that isn't to say it's artless) way. She recounts her cooking and the traumatic birth of her first child with the same simple, truthfully voice. The story opens with Sophia's marriage at 21 to a poor bohemian painter with a family who hates her. There is the only account of birth I have ever read in a novel which is one of the most distressing things I've ever read. To here how poor women gave birth in 1930's London makes me glad that I was born a good 40 or so years later. The second, more comfortable, birth reads like a day in the park after that. The birth scene is a great example of what happens through the book. A simple childlike prose describes the big and little facts of life. The horror in the language doesn't even attempt to match the horror of the birth just as the joy of the language doesn't attempt to match the joy of falling in love. By not being prescribed an emotion we can feel it all the better.
janeajones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1930s London, two recent art school graduates marry in haste and repent at leisure. Sophia, a commercial artist, supports her painter husband, Charles, until she becomes pregnant and loses her job. Financial difficulties and infidelities ensue. The moral of this tale is that if you want to live a bohemian life, use birth control.
laytonwoman3rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book begins and ends with Sophie Fairclough telling her life story to her friend Helen, and we know from the first paragraph that it will end happily. It's good to have that knowledge in mind while reading her tale of love gone stale, dreadful poverty, sickness and sorrow. But Sophie tells that story in such a matter-of-fact fashion, from the sunny other side of the troubles, that it almost feels as though it all happened to someone else. I enjoyed this Virago Modern Classic very much.
Porius on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the Gwyn Thomas novel, VENUS and the VOTERS (1948) the too slick by half Rollo disappoints old Morris' daughter even as she wears her shiny new government bought clothes and her hair with a record amount of fixo in it - a hair stiffening agent.. By doing this Rollo earns the wrath of the out-of-work fellows who are the main characters of the novel.In Barbara Comyn's 1950 novel: OUR SPOONS CAME FROM WOOLWORTHS, a different Rollo, in timely fashion, saves Sophia from a life of poverty, frustration, and low expectations. The eight year story of privation is told to a Helen whowent home and cried. Sophie wishes she hadn't told so much. She still sees the white pointed face of that blighter Charles. Sophie keeps remembering and remembering. Long after the bicycles were put away Sophie pondered over sitting there with Helen on a lovely spring afternoon, drinking coffee, watching the egg-carrying ants career over their bare legs. To Sophie it all seemed a waste of time. but she told the story anyway.Very few writers do this sort of thing better than Comyns.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sophia is young and naive when she falls for Charles, a painter. Believing love will see them through all sorts of troubles, they decide to marry even though neither has a reliable way to make a living. Charles keeps hoping his talents will be discovered, and Sophia earns a bit of money here and there as a model for other artists. They are desperately poor, and blissfully unaware of the need to "take precautions." Sophia soon becomes pregnant, and at this point Charles turns into a bit of an ass. He's not keen about having a child, but reluctantly agrees it might be okay if it were a girl. Of course it's a boy, and he only halfheartedly fulfills his parental responsibilities. Sophia is a bit slow to realize Charles is an ass, until she has an affair with a much older man. The affair runs its course, as affairs often do, and she must then take decisive action to change the course of her life.This sounds like a fairly typical love story, and on one level, it is. But Sophia is a memorable, engaging and eternally optimistic narrator. Here's a typical excerpt:That is the kind of stuff that appears in real people's books. I know this will never be a real book that business men in trains will read, the kind of business men that wear stiff hats with curly brims and little breathing holes let in the side. I wish I knew more about words. Also I wish so much I had learnt my lessons in school. I never did, and have found this such a disadvantage ever since. All the same, I am going on writing this book even if business men scorn it. (p. 54)Sophia prattles on like this for over 220 pages, and she's just so much fun to "listen" to. Even when you know she's heading for trouble, you can't help but like her and hope for the best. This is an unusual novel, and the first Comyns I've read. I'll definitely be back for more.