Tizzie by P.D.R. Lindsay
Review by Louise E. Rule.
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I have a great interest in book covers, and what goes into the making of a great cover. The cover design for Tizzie, by Dawn Keur, gives abstract clues about what lies within, and I like that conundrum. For example, the countryside to the left, the quintessential Yorkshire landscape, and the staircase to the right. What could that staircase mean? Keur's cover design is such that it filled me with a need to look inside. It is only after one starts to read the book, however, that the clues on the cover gradually reveal themselves.
This is a book which demonstrates the stark contrast between the life of the single woman and the married woman in the 19th century. P.D.R. Lindsay’s story is written in retrospect, first beginning in the summer of 1897, then regressing to January of 1887. The story takes place during 1887, with each chapter being headed as a season and a month, which gives a palpable sense of progress through the farming year. Our eponymous character, more to the point, our heroine, works on the family’s farm in Yorkshire, inherited by her brother, Jack Cawthra, and his wife, Maggie. The work is hard, and Tizzie is expected to do so much more than her fair share of the work, which includes not only milking the cows, and making the cheese and butter for the family, but also making and selling butter and cheese on market days.
Tizzie’s niece, Agnes, who is ten years of age, is set to follow in her aunt’s footsteps if her father and mother have anything to do with it. Tizzie is determined not to let this happen. Agnes is treated badly by all except her aunt, so she cleaves to her as her only companion and comfort. Agnes’ brothers are given every advantage, as was often the way in the 19th century, but Agnes, who is a bright scholar and has dreams of becoming a teacher, is destined to be a drudge for her eldest brother when he takes a farm of his own. This is where this riveting story really begins, as Lindsay cleverly reveals, little by little, the story of Tizzie. Lindsay begins her story in media res, hooking the reader immediately into Tizzie’s world.
Tizzie leant against the kitchen range, ears straining. Were that Jack stirring? By, she hoped her brother wouldn’t catch her still inside. He wouldn’t half carry on.
Straight away Lindsay has made the reader aware that there is a history of friction between Tizzie and her brother, and that he has her life mapped out for her. For me, her life equates to familial slavery, as each member of the family treats Tizzie with such disdain, and as Lindsay takes us through the following events, page by page, it is evident that Tizzie feels this too.
The parlour clock struck six. The cows waited, and Jack’d be clattering down stairs, champing to get some milk into cans and off on the milk train to Leeds. Best move now she were warmed up. Tizzie bent to place her hands as close as she could to the fire door. At least she’d take warm fingers out to start with. Footsteps boomed overhead. Jack, already in a bate by the weight of that tread. Best keep out of his way, or he’d start her day with name calling, older brother insults, Skinny Lizzie, or Twiggy Tizzie, them being the most polite, and go on to ranting about sisters who didn't do their duty or their proper share. Not the best way to start a day’s toil being on the rough end of a Cawthra temper storm. She grabbed her woollen hat, gloves, and scarf, flung her heavy work shawl over her homespun jacket and slid quickly out of the back door.
This short extract is very revealing. The bullying brother, the cold weather, the hard work, and clothes that were homemade, by cloth woven by themselves, painting vividly the divide between the farming community and the local gentry. The book is narrated throughout in the Yorkshire dialect, but not so heavily as to be unreadable. At times I was unsure if it was Tizzie narrating the story, or was it her thoughts. I even considered that it was the person relating the past events, but there are many moments of which that person would not have been aware. Eventually, therefore, I decided it was a way of keeping the story firmly set within the bounds of Yorkshire, especially as there were many dialectal words used throughout, not only in the narration, but, of course, in the speech of the characters.
The characters are well formed. I could imagine them clearly in my mind’s eye: how they looked, how they dressed, how their voices sounded, and their mannerisms. These traits Lindsay has cleverly woven into the story without the descriptions being obvious and intrusive, rendering a gentle assimilation of the characters into the readers psyche, if you will.
I love language, and dialectal language particularly. I did find that I had to look up some of the dialectal words as their meanings were not evident to me. This was easily done with the help of a good dictionary. For example, Hagman Heigh was easy enough, Hogmanay, but shippon and lanthorns I had to look up. They mean cattle shed, and lanthorns is an archaic spelling for lanterns. Two more words, which I found completely baffling, were thole and snecked. Thole is archaic Scottish and means ensure without complaint, and snecked means latch on a door or window – (opened or closed). I read them out loud and loved how they sounded. Using language in this way adds layers to a story that would otherwise have been missing, and the story lacking because of it. It also adds authenticity to the characters.
I quickly began to have a great admiration for Tizzie, not only in she as a person, but in what she is able to achieve throughout her working day. Then there is her unequivocal love for Agnes, the daughter that she would never have, and here we are quickly brought to understand that Agnes is her driving force, a driving force which carries the story forward.
Although the story starts slowly at first, it gradually builds into an ever increasing battle of dilemmas, taking the reader on such a ride, that the bucolic scene of milking cows and the quintessential dairy maid ideal, with buckets of milk hanging around her neck on a yoke, are quickly dashed. The harsh and often brutal reality of life on a farm in the late 19th century, entwined with the habitual cruelty that Tizzie and her niece, Agnes, have to endure is heart-breaking. Will Tizzie and Agnes ever have a better life to enjoy? Will brother Jack and sister-in-law Maggie ever appreciate all the hard work that Tizzie does? Or will their lives just get harsher? There are so many questions needing answers as the story progresses.
In conclusion, I would have to say that Lindsay’s unique style of prose has the subtlety of being able to manipulate the reader into the belief that they themselves could actually help Tizzie and Agnes. Whether it is the continued use of the Yorkshire dialect, or whether it is the undeniable investment the reader gives to the characters, I am not sure. What I would say is this: whichever it is, or maybe it’s both, Lindsay succeeds in such a way that on finishing the book I was surprised to find that I was, in fact, still in the twenty-first century, and not back in the nineteenth century, so wrapped up was I in the story.
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About P.D.R. Lindsay (from her Amazon biography)
Born in Ireland, brought up in Yorkshire, educated in England, Canada and New Zealand, writer P.D.R. Lindsay is also Mrs. Salmon, Ms. Lindsay-Salmon, and even for eight years in Japan, Professor Lindsay-Salmon.
So many facets to my life have made for a lively and interesting existence. Certainly all those different roles and the places around the world where I have lived filled my head with stories. Stories I can now tell.
Home is beautiful Otago Province in New Zealand. A place of peace and space, most conducive to writing.
My stories are mainly contemporary, but my novels are historical, because what I want to write about is clearer seen at a distance. Readers would not sympathise with a modern hero or heroine in the situations I put them in, but seen at a distance my main characters are more understandable. The people of 17th century England, 19th century England or New Zealand or India have much to say to us today.
Louise E. Rule is author of Future Confronted.