January 2016 Club

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Recently married 19-year-old Gwen Hooper travels by sea from England to start a new life in Ceylon, heading up the colonial household in the heart of her husband’s prosperous tea plantations.

But she seems to have more attention from local artist, Savi Ravasinghe, than from her own husband, Laurence, who seems inexplicably distant and seemingly more interested in his glamorous American business associate than his new wife.

Adding to the tension in the household is the constant presence of Laurence’s sister, Verity, who seems overly clingy to her brother and downright jealous of Gwen. Her constant interfering in the running of the household is a source of frustration for Gwen over the years, and escalates to a dangerous level.

The surroundings are beautiful – the house is situated at the side of a lake – and Gwen falls in love with the country, but is intrigued as to why she’s not allowed to venture to the waterfall. And wonders why there is a child’s grave in the undergrowth in the garden.

It seems she lives in a household of secrets, which are gradually revealed one by one, making it a thoroughly enjoyable read. I’d have been interested to hear more of the political situation which bubbles away in the background, but thought the portrayal of 1920s race relations seemed depressingly accurate.

The book struck a chord, as my own grandmother travelled from Scotland to India and married an Anglo-Indian railway engineer. She used to speak of meeting the Maharajah, the colonial champagne parties, the colourful bazaars and of how the servants taught her to cook bhajis (she made the best!)

Colourway inspiration

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a book with so much colour inspiration. Its pages were brimming with colour, from the oranges of the tulip trees to the luminous greens of the plantation hills, and my notes pages were overflowing! Dinah Jefferies has created a Pinterest page of inspiring photos she used for the book – and I’m glad I didn’t see this until after I’d dyed the yarn or I’d have been ever more overwhelmed but they’re interesting to look at if you’ve read the book.

The colour that stood out slightly above the others was purple – from the pale purple haze to brightly coloured saris of the plantation workers. At first I tried to dye up a pale blue-purple to represent the Jacaranda trees, but for the first time in the history of the club (and I’ve dyed close to 100 different clubs in my time), despite triple-dyeing it, it dried an unsatisfactory blue. So the next day, I re-dyed all of the semi-solids a definite purple to represent the Violet Eyes of Gwen, which are a fairly crucial plot point. You should be able to just see the blue showing through slightly, which gives the colourway added depth.

For the variegated colourway, I wanted to capture a bit of England and a bit of Ceylon. Gwen is described as preferring to wear “Sweet Pea” colours and manages to grow sweet peas in the tropical climate. She also describes the intense colours of the saris worn by the local women. So I used the brightest pinks and purple with more delicate pinks and lilacs, added just a touch of pale sea green (another favourite colour of Gwen’s) and left lots of white to bring you a touch of summer in the depths of winter. I called it Sweet Peas and Saris.

The yarn is Splendid – a surprisingly soft and fine blend of superwash merino and nylon.