The Lark on the Wing (1950)

The Lark on the Wing.

The Lark on the Wing is written by Elfrida Vipoint and is the second book in a five-book series about the Haverard family. The first two, The Lark in the Morn and The Lark on the Wing, are explicitly about Kit Haverard and her journey from school to becoming a professional singer. The frontispiece of The Lark on the Wing contains a large and sprawling family tree to help the reader navigate the intricacies of the family-members’ relationships.

 In The Lark on the Wing, Kit Haverard goes to London despite family opposition, determined to pursue her singing career. She studies with her mother’s old singing teacher, Papa Andreas, and works part-time at the Quaker headquarters, the Friends’ International Service office. Sharing a flat with her two best friends (in Marylebone, lucky them!), and surrounded by siblings, cousins, suitors and various well-wishers, she devotes herself to her music studies. But the path is a long and difficult one, with distractions and tempting short-cuts. At the end, she performs in her first major concert, to great acclaim, and realizes she is in love with her singing partner.

Elfrida Vipoint (1902-1992) had a long and illustrious writing career. She’s best known for The Elephant and the Bad Baby, a picture book she collaborated on with Raymond Briggs. She herself trained as a singer, before working as a headmistress of a Quaker school and writing more than a dozen books for adults and children.  Vipont paints a detailed picture of two worlds she had personal knowledge of; that of the young music student, and the busy life of the committee-bound Quaker. The depiction of Quaker beliefs and customs was as fascinating, but some of the religious passages felt overly esoteric for today’s reader.

The Lark on the Wing is an example of the teenage novel which was later to take over the Carnegie Medal, but the romance angle is so old-fashioned as to be nearly nonexistent. Several attentive boys hang about, but Kit remains irritatingly oblivious to the reason. When the question of love suddenly rears its head at the end of the book she chooses Terry Chauntesinger (a cringe-worthy surname if there ever was one) despite his rather arrogant ways. There were other things that grated; Papa Andrea’s titulation of  Kit as “my Janey”, the inconsistent and extremely old-fashioned use of ‘thou’ and numerous examples of hackneyed prose along the lines of this conversation between Kit and Terry:

“I’m nobody. It’s different for you”.

“Nonsense, Kit! You’re just being scared. Remember, Sir Hugh gave you his word. He’s depending on you”.

“Are you sure, Terry? I don’t want you to think I’m scared – because I’m not really – only – can’t you understand? It’s such a big thing”.

“I do understand, Kit”, he said earnestly. “and I know it’s a big thing – you see – I am depending on you too”.

Contemporary critics were overall positive. Marcus Crouch (Treasure Seekers and Borrowers) felt that The Lark in the Morn and The Lark on the Wing must be considered together (which is probably correct, the reader needs to be a bit more invested in Kit before reading The Lark on the Wing) and thought them ‘radiant’. But he could also see their shortcomings: “In the short view, the Lark books lacked distinction of style; their merits were not literary [a rather large issue for a book that won the Carnegie medal], but they were so firmly based in understanding and faith that they rose far above the level to which they superficially belong”. The long view has shown that these books have not stood the test of time – they are now out of print and have been so for a while.  The best things about The Lark on the Wing, in my view, are the plethora of minor characters; friends, siblings, neighbours and co-workers. They are alive and bring the book to life – and the fact that I am charmed by the fact that the three subsequent books are not specifically about Kit is also very telling. 3/10

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