I might have saved The Woods in Winter for a chillier time of year, but its number was chosen for me for the latest Classics Club spin. It’s a lovely tale.
Ivy Gover (not Gower, as it says on the back cover of my Furrowed Middlebrow edition), three times a widow and a charwoman, is living in a tidy but small North London flat when she receives a letter. Not being able to read well, she takes it to her employer, Miss Helen Green, who tells her she has inherited her great-uncle’s cottage out in Buckinghamshire for her lifetime.
Ivy abruptly moves to the country but not before stealing a neighbor’s dog that she has heard barking for months and finds living in its own dirt. Although the cottage is primitive and has a hole in its thatch, she moves right in and begins befriending the local animals. For she has a touch with wild things and for healing, as Lord Gowerville finds out when she magically cures his dying dog. The next day, he sends someone over to fix the thatch in her roof.
As Ivy befriends the birds, a fox, and eventually a boy, her neighbors also have their adventures. The vicar is suddenly taken with Pearl Cartaret, one of two sisters who open a tea shop. Helen is sometimes nearby pursuing an affair with an elusive young man. Angela Mordaunt, a “spinster” brought up by her mother more as a well-bred boy than a girl, catches the eye of Sam Lambert, a kind farm laborer.
This novel was the last one published (in 1970) during Stella Gibbons’ lifetime and displays a longing for the England of 40 years before, when most of it is set. I just loved it. It is funny yet astringent, has some engaging and other very lifelike characters, and contains lyrical descriptions of the countryside around Ivy’s cottage as well as a conservationist conclusion. Ivy herself is a spunky individualist. I liked her a lot.