Six for Sunday: Good Role Models

 This post is part of Six For Sunday, organised by Steph of A Little But A Lot.

This week's prompt is 'Good Role Models.' I had an interesting discussion with my husband about what 'good' means in this context; his view being that Begbie (Trainspotting) is a 'good' role model of a thug. I have decided to remain on a higher plane, and choose characters whose qualities I admire and would like to emulate. But should you aspire to psychopathic thuggery, Begbie is no doubt your man.

Charity Selbourne: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

Charity Selbourne is a wealthy young widow who decides she needs a holiday to escape the gloom of post war London. She and her friend Louise take themselves off to Provence, beginning their tour in Avignon. where Charity is determined to see the sights but Louise prefers to spend her days painting. The other occupants of their smart hotel include David, a young English boy and his French stepmother; Charity befriends the boy, who explains that they are hiding from his father, who has been arrested on a charge of murder. Before long Charity finds herself caught up in a dastardly plot involving fake identities, kidnapping, bigamy - and lots of dramatic car chases through the beautiful landscapes of southern France.

I love Charity for many things; her positivity - she is determined to help David and save him from his fate - her kindness, her bravery, her irrepressible good humour - and her impressive driving ability. Having been taught  by her deceased husband, Johnny, to handle powerful cars, Charity whirls through countryside and city in her Riley, outmanoeuvering the villains at every turn. I had been feeling increasingly fed up with miserable 'heroines' who bang on and on about their lost loves, how unfair everything is, and how much easier their lives would be if they still had their man; Charity, with her independence and enthusiastic joie de vivre, is a breath of fresh air. And the cars are fabulous too.

Madam, Will You Talk? was first published in 1954 and has remained in print ever since. I listened to the excellent new radio adaptation, which is available on BBC Sounds until 21 September.

Oswald Bastable: The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E Nesbit

Oswald is one of six children living in Victorian London with their widowed father. The family has lost all of its money and is facing poverty, albeit of a very middle-class kind. Oswald, the narrator of the story, thinks up a variety of schemes to reverse their fortunes, most of which - of  course - go horribly wrong. 

Like many of the best books for children The Treasure Seekers can be read on two levels; as a series of adventures undertaken by six largely unsupervised children and also as a character study of Oswald, who is innocent, optimistic, (often over-) enthusiastic and full of his own self-importance. The latter, by itself, would be irritating, but combined with such cheery determination and spirit it becomes both entertaining and endearing. For adults there is much subtle comedy too - particularly when Oswald's confident view of something is obviously way off the mark.

Oswald always tries to do the right thing; he is brave, honourable and loves his family. What more could you want?

Anna Madrigal: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Mrs Madrigal runs a boarding house at 28 Barbary Lane, San Francisco. It is 1976 and her various tenants are (with one exception) leading pretty carefree lives in the City. When Mary Ann Singleton arrives from straight-laced Cleveland, Ohio, Mrs M greets her in customary fashion - with a reefer taped to her door. 

Anna Madrigal is a wonderful woman, floating about in her silk kimonos, tending to her courtyard garden (and guess what she's growing there...?), having soirees with her exotic friends. Her tenants love her; she is kind, generous and never judgemental. And like most of her tenants, she also has a secret or two. She's an excellent role model, taking everyone as they come, caring for people without interfering in their lives. She lives her own life without trampling on any others. It's no wonder Mouse calls her Mother Madrigal. 

Grace Singleton: The Ladies of Covington series by Joan Medlicott

Grace may share both a surname and a home state with Maupin's Mary Ann, but there most similarities end. Grace is a widow who, along with Amelia Declose and Hannah Parrish, has been parked by her family in a boarding house for older ladies. The boarding house is, however, a far cry from Barbary Lane, and none of them is happy with her fate, so when a distant cousin leaves his dilapidated farmhouse to Amelia, she invites them to come and spend the rest of their days with her, sharing the house, the chores, and their lives, and offering each other mutual support and friendship.

Joan Medlicott's books are definitely cosy, but they are well written and I find myself totally engaged in her characters' joys and miseries as the days pass in the small town of  Covington, North Carolina. I especially like Grace; she's had a conventional, reasonably happy marriage, she loves baking, she has a great relationship with her adult son and daughter - and she also has a new partner, Bob, whom she loves, but does not want to live with, because she'd rather stay with Hannah and Amelia. 

In the second book of the series, The Gardens of Covington, Grace and Bob open a tea room, and the issue of their living arrangements comes to a head. Grace also begins to wonder if she actually wants the commitment that her new business demands of her. This being Covington all is happily resolved in the end, but not in the conventional way. Grace may be traditional but she's finally found her independence, and she manages to hang on to it without giving up the things she values most. I admire her kindness, her strength of character, and her willingness to open her mind to new ideas after years of compliance. And I also admire her baking abilities quite a bit.

Margaret Trevor: The Village by Marghanita Laski

In post war England Margaret's mother Wendy is desperate to get her married off to a suitable man. The family is 'old money' - except all of that old money is gone, and the Trevors are desperately, miserably poor. Unlike her sister, Margaret was hopeless at school and isn't very good at much else; the one thing she can do is cook, but her mother is horrified at the very thought of her becoming someone else's housekeeper. 

Margaret is gentle, straightforward, kind and forgiving (despite Wendy's treatment of her she still nurses her mother through a breakdown), she likes people regardless of their class or status, but when she eventually falls in love with a good, reliable, loving man, their union is opposed on all sides - her parents are outraged, her friend is appalled, no-one can get past the barrier of their very different backgrounds. Is Margaret crushed by this opposition?  No, she is not. She and Roy remain quietly determined to stay together, and in the end, without any high drama or Scenes, their perseverance wins through.

I love Margaret because she is such a sweet, good-natured, person, but when it comes to the crunch she fights her corner without losing any of her quiet dignity. I am quite sure that I could never be as stoic, patient and generous as her, but I wish I could. (My review of The Village is here.)

Daisy Miller: Daisy Miller by Henry James

Daisy is with her mother and irritating younger brother Randolph on the Grand Tour of Europe that so many Americans undertook in Victorian times. Daisy is young, pretty, flirtatious and (probably) innocent. While being courted by the rather proper Frederick Winterbourne she is also socialising with various Italians; this, and her family's closeness to their courier, Eugenio, invokes the disapproval of other wealthy Americans in the area, but Daisy remains joyously oblivious of - or possibly, simply impervious to - their criticisms, going her own way and agreeing to whichever social engagements she wishes (her mother appears fairly indifferent to Daisy's activities.)  

Eventually Daisy develops a particular friendship with an 'unsuitable' Italian; despite Winterbourne's protestations. she refuses to give Giovanelli up, and when Winterbourne sees them in the Colosseum one night, she ignores his warning of the risk of catching the 'Roman fever' (malaria) and sends him away. The ending is not a happy one.

Daisy is a wonderful, carefree character, a good role model for embracing youth and opportunity. She never worries about the future, lives each day for itself, and deals with approbation by simply shrugging it off or affecting not to understand it. Although her fate is sad, I can't help feeling that she has at least had a good run for her money, unlike the risk-averse Winterbourne, who will no doubt go on to marry a sensible woman and settle down in New England.  

I found this challenge very enlightening; the characters I like best are feisty, independent, optimistic, good-humoured and kind. They don't lead enchanted lives, but they face their problems with courage and determination. And above all, they don't let others decide what's good for them. They live their own lives.


  1. I've read three of your books, Tales of the City, The Story of the Treasure Seekers and The Village of course. All excellent and I agree with you about Margaret Trevor. I own the Mary Stewart but have not read it, must put that right at some stage as it sounds rather good.

  2. Well I still haven't read that particular Mary Stewart 'properly' Cath, but I did enjoy the radio adaptation a lot. I had several of Stewart's books on my shelves for ages, not realising who she was or what the books were like - I think I had an idea that they were historical fiction or something. Once I'd taken down Rose Cottage and actually read it, I kicked myself for not having read her sooner.


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