Saplings by Noel Streatfeild (1945)


is the story of the Wiltshire family: Alex and Lena and their four children, Laurel, Tony, Kim and Tuesday, who are by all accounts a successful middle class family, well off and happy. That is, until the war began.
With the bombing of London imminent, the Wiltshire children were evacuated to the country to stay with their grandparents. Alex was involved in special war work and had to stay in London. He wanted Lena to go to his parent’s home with the children but she refused to leave him.

‘The children were darlings, but she was not a family woman, she was utterly wife, and, if it came to that, a mistress too, and she meant to go on being just those things.’

As the war progressed, the grandparents had to give up their large home to the military and move to a smaller place. There was a change of schools for the older ones and the children were farmed out to different relatives creating much unrest and misunderstanding.
Lena had unshakeable poise and was pretty and narcissistic.

‘There was nothing she liked better than to be envied and admired.’

‘For all her perfection you couldn’t help feeling that Lena was more blown together than built on a foundation.’

Bit by bit the family disintegrates and Lena loses her control over the life she had built for herself. She was unable to cope with the changes forced upon her by the war and with no inner resources to call upon, she was extremely needy and neglected her children.

In Saplings, Streatfeild examines the effect of trauma and separation on children. Her ability to view the world from a child’s perspective is just superb. I was reminded in some ways of Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s book, The Homemaker. They are very different books (I think Fisher’s is the better written one) and Saplings is definitely a much darker story, but both authors display very astute insights into how children interpret their experiences of the world and the attitudes of those around them.

It was interesting that while there were a number of kindly and warm-hearted people in the lives of the Wiltshire children, Streatfeild often concerned herself with the seemingly small comments, attitudes and decisions that can impact children who are already insecure. She uses the thoughts of these people to highlight their concerns about each of the children’s inner struggles and does this very well.

This is definitely an adult book, unlike many of her others which were written for children.
It felt unfinished to me. I really wanted a more decisive closure but I think that was possibly Streatfeild’s way of showing the nature of trauma and its lingering effects.
This book has been republished by Persephone Books. I love their covers!



Linking to Back to the Classics Challenge 2020 for a Classic About a Family;
Reading Classic Books: 3) Read a classic that takes place in a country other than where you live & to the Classics Club


13 thoughts on “Saplings by Noel Streatfeild (1945)

  1. People that cannot care about their children are beyond my comprehension. Children are so helpless. I used to have nightmares about my son when he was young. I would dream that I got off of a bus only to realize I left him behind. It wounds like a good book and maybe the author was hoping to cause self awareness in some people, although I don't know if that is possible.


  2. This sounds like a great read. I enjoyed some of Noel Streatfield's books for younger readers way back when I was at school. Her writing quality is excellent and I never knew she wrote stories for an older audience too.


  3. I am almost positive I read (and loved) Ballet Shoes as a child. But if yes, I should reread it. I have heard that Saplings does have a darker tone than her children's books. I agree with you 100% about how children see the world differently from adults. Even in the best of circumstances, they can be easily wounded and misunderstood. In my lifetime I have spoken to a handful of people who were children during the Great Depression in the U.S. and during WWII in Germany and they definitely carried some of that trauma of deprivation and insecurity into adulthood.


  4. Ruthiella, the Depression certainly marked children and influenced their later lives. For one of my Grannies it meant that forever after she was ridiculously thrifty, as was another relative who used the same car battery for years, emptying the water out after each drive. For my husband's Grandma it gave her a hatred of using anything secondhand.


  5. Pingback: The Classics Club: A New List | journey & destination

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