Saturday, October 1, 2011

Knitting in Literature

Everyone who's read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities remembers Madame Defarge knitting.

But when I was trying to find knitting related quotes for the sidebar of this blog, besides the Madame, and Jamie and Claire - and later, Dorothy Parker - I was hard-pressed to find anything beyond throw away lines. Even about Miss Marple! She knits, of course, but steadily in the background, and there are only brief mentions here and there of her creating fluffy pieces for new born babies.

The latest reference I've seen is in Carole Anne Carr's Thin Time, a breathless adventure story, where the Three Sisters at the Well of Wyrd knit. With frog skins!

Now I've discovered a new-old author. In the last Knitting Daily newsletter, Kathleen Cubley wrote about the latest issue of Piecework, where Ileana Grams-Moog talks about knitting and reading, and mentioned Patricia Wentworth, "who was born in India in 1878 to English parents, began her writing career early and continued until her death in 1961. Though she won a prize for her first novel, which is set during the French Revolution, and wrote a number of other novels, she is best known for her mystery series featuring Miss Silver", a governess-turned-detective.

"Knitting is not that common in literature, and it usually serves as a sort of stage prop, like a style of dress, to indicate something about the character of the knitter: that she is old-fashioned, or industrious, or a harmless old lady. While Miss Silver is both old-fashioned and industrious, she is not a harmless old lady. She is aware that her knitting conveys an impression that helps her in her profession. She takes advantage of that, but her knitting is not a prop. She is a real knitter and takes her knitting wherever she goes. In a given book, we may watch her cast on a garment, finish it, assemble and trim it, and immediately cast on for the next one."

Apparently, there are 32 Miss Silver books, beginning with Grey Mask (1928) and ending with The Girl in the Cellar (1961). And Wentworth also wrote another 33 novels!

Oh dear! As if my To Be Read pile wasn't already spilling off the bookshelves...

Any other knitting authors out there? Do you refer to knitting or other needlework in your books? I've got brief mentions in my novel, Out of the Water, where Santiago is telling his daughter Rosa how he courted her mother, Magdalena:

"I ran all the way to Magdalena's, stopping only to straighten my clothes and hair. Her mother recalled my face from the night before. She permitted me to enter, to wait for her husband. They assumed I had come from my ship; I did not disabuse them of the notion. They sat, knitting, in the parlour, while I did my best to hide my bruised knuckles and charm them.

"Her mother – your grandmother – would not retire and leave us alone, of course. I cast looks at Magdalena. I contrived to touch her fingers when she showed me what she was knitting."

"But –"

"Yes, her father came home. Too soon for my liking. And that's when he realised what I had done, and why."


  1. You make the books sound very interesting. Oh, if only I had the time to stop an' read even one very interesting book, my life should be far more bearable. Drama inserted for effect::

    Could you please post a little more each time I return so's I can, over a period of several years, come to un'erstan' jus' what the story is that we are reading? You may hafta' re-read some parts on accounta' I might not un'erstan' everything you've read if I go away for big stretches of time. *grin* Thanks.

    ~ Yaya

  2. You know, I've never stopped to think about knitting in literature. I do think of either a grandma or someone who is old fashion when I think of characters who may knit.

    Great post!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier.

  3. I am looking for more blog friends, so I hope you won't mind joining my site.
    I have just joined your beautiful site.
    take care.

    Will be looking forward to hearing from you.

  4. Hi denise!
    you may now join my site too.
    Thank you.
    Next time hopefully, I will try to give my critical analysis/ comments on your future post.

  5. thanks so much for stopping by and for bday wishes :) nice to meet you. great blog :)

  6. Thanks for visiting. And your blogs on knitting have given me ideas for my current project - never thought of the clicking of needles. Thanks.

  7. Thanks Pauline - glad I could be of help!