Mistress Masham's Repose

Mistress Masham's Repose

Mistress Masham's Repose (1946) is a novel by T. H. White that describes the adventures of a girl who discovers a group of Lilliputians, a race of tiny people from Jonathan Swift's satirical classic Gulliver's Travels. The story is set in Northamptonshire, England, during or just after the Second World War; in one chapter Maria plays at being General Eisenhower greeting grateful subject peoples. Yet there is also a strong flavour of the 18th century, both the fictional land of Lilliput and the British Empire of Swift, Gibbon, and Pope. Imperialism, and the need for self-governance, is a major theme in the novel.

Plot

Maria, a ten-year-old orphaned girl, lives on a derelict estate, her only companions a loving family Cook and a retired Professor of Ancient Latin. These are often unable to protect Maria from her tall, fat, strict Governess, Miss Brown. The Governess makes the child's life miserable. She takes her cue from Maria's guardian, a Vicar named Mr. Hater, the reason why Maria is poor and abandoned. The little girl does not go to school. In church, she has to walk all the way to her seat in over-sized boots which make a great deal of noise. She is shy, lonely, and starved for affection. Meeting the Lilliputians, and being tempted both to fear and to bullying, she must save her friends and herself.

Setting

The ruinous estate Malplaquet has a name and palace similar to that of from Blenheim Palace, the residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. The name is an historical in-joke; it depends upon knowing that Blenheim was the first of the first duke's great battles, and Malplaquet was his fourth and last. The titular Repose is a tiny forgotten island in the middle of the lake in the grounds of Malplaquet, which is occupied by descendants of the Lilliputians, brought to England two centuries earlier. It provides the perfect setting for their timid and secretive civilisation, as it is only accessible by boat and protected by a wall of brambles, carefully cultivated by the island's occupants. Many of the monuments in the grounds of Malplaquet recall notable figures of the early 18th century; Mistress Masham's Repose commemorates Abigail Masham, a close confidante of Queen Anne, who however has no other significance to the story. However, she was a cousin of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, thus providing another link between the fictional Palace of Malplaquet and the real Blenheim Palace.

Reissue

The book was out of print for many years but was re-issued by The New York Review Children's Collection.

In the UK, it was printed in, at least, the years 1947, 1963, 1972 and 1979. 2000, it went out of print in 2009.


It is scheduled to be republished by Red Fox Books in 2011


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