Period Piece

The Cambridge Childhood of Darwin's Granddaughter

Gwen Raverat

Illustrated by Gwen Raverat

The captivating memoir of an unusual 19th-century childhood from pioneering wood engraver, and Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, Gwen Raverat.

‘Period Piece is an altogether delightful book … the humour is infectious, the figures endearingly ridiculous and admirable human beings … Mrs Raverat is not a Darwin for nothing.’
  1. Times Literary Supplement

Gwen Raverat (1885–1957), granddaughter of the legendary Charles Darwin and friend of Virginia Woolf and Rupert Brooke, is widely recognised as one of the finest wood engravers of the 20th century. But Period Piece is her outstanding achievement, a minor masterpiece of English autobiography, that combines the nostalgia of Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie and the dry wit of the Grossmiths’ a The Diary of a Nobody with a charm that is all its own.

Production Details

Bound in ’Cambridge Blue’ in printed cloth blocked in gold

Set in Caslon

304 pages

Title-page spread and 76 integrated black & white illustrations

Plain slipcase

8½˝ × 6¼˝

A captivating memoir of Gwen Raverat’s eccentric childhood

The faint flavour of the ghost of my grandfather hung in a friendly way about the whole place, house, garden and all. Of course, we always felt embarrassed if our grandfather were mentioned, just as we did if God were spoken of. In fact, he was obviously in the same category as God and Father Christmas.

In a series of 14 themed chapters, Raverat presents what she calls ’a drawing of the world when I was young’, covering everything from religion to romance, education to the vagaries of female fashion, politics to the horrors of the dancing class. The result is a vivid child’s-eye view of life in Cambridge at the end of the 19th century – a lost world of penny-farthing bicycles, lamp-lighters and long-suffering servants – alongside hilarious and touching pen-portraits of her eccentric family: her free-spirited American mother, her father and uncles – the sons of the great Charles Darwin – and her extraordinary aunts. At the heart of it all is Raverat herself, a thoughtful adult in her late 60s, looking back forgivingly at the tomboyish misfit she once was.

This new edition restores Raverat’s text to its original format, designed specifically to showcase over 70 of her evocative line drawings, as well as echoing the distinctive ’Cambridge Blue’ binding of the first edition. It also features ’Georgette, a rare short story drawing on Raverat’s adult experience of an unusually dramatic evening in a sleepy French town.

About Gwen Raverat

Gwen Raverat (1885–1957), granddaughter of Charles Darwin, was an artist and illustrator, prominent in the Bloomsbury Group as well as Rupert Brooke’s Neo-Pagan circle. Raverat was an accomplished wood engraver with an international reputation, and stood apart from her contemporaries (such as Eric Gill and John Nash) by crafting a more modern style of engraving, more reminiscent of paintings. Her first engravings date from 1909, and by 1920 she was the only female artist to join Eric Gill, Lucien Pissarro, Edward Gordon Craig, John Nash, Robert Gibbings and others in founding the Society of Wood Engravers. She contributed greatly to the revival of wood engraving as an original art form, and was one of the first women to insist on and achieve professional training as an artist. Although she is mainly associated with Cambridge, Raverat also lived in Hertfordshire, Vence near Nice, and London and drew upon her surroundings for both artistic and literary inspiration. After her husband’s death in 1925 (the French artist Jacques Raverat), she returned to England and reinvented herself as an art critic and book illustrator. She wrote Period Piece when she was 64 years old; it was one of the surprise literary hits of the 1950s, and has never been out of print since.


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