Cover image for The fifteen streets : a novel
Title:
The fifteen streets : a novel
Author:
Cookson, Catherine.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2002]
Physical Description:
vi, 246 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Great Britain : Macdonald & Co., 1952.
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780743236782
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Catherine Cookson was one of the world's most beloved writers. Her books have sold millions of copies, and her characters and their stories have captured the imaginations of readers around the globe. Now, available for the first time in this country, comes one of Cookson's earliest and most stirring historical romances: The Fifteen Streets. John O'Brien lives in a world where surviving is a continual struggle. He works long hours at the docks to help support his parents' large family. Many other families in the Fifteen Streets have already given up and descended into a dismal state of grinding poverty, but the O'Briens continue to strive for a world they are only rarely allowed to glimpse. Then John O'Brien meets Mary Llewellyn, a beautiful young teacher who belongs to that other world. What begins as a casual conversation over tea quickly blossoms into a rare love that should have been perfect. Fate steps in, however, when John is accused of fathering the child of a local girl, and Mary's parents forbid her to see him. The couple begins to realize that the gulf of the Fifteen Streets between them is a chasm they could never bridge-or might they still find a way? In these pages Catherine Cookson displays the irresistible plotting, scene-setting, and characterization that have made her a recognized master of historical and romance fiction. Fans of her novels, with their larger themes of romantic love and class conflict, will be delighted to find that even at the beginning of her illustrious career, Cookson had the power to captivate audiences. Filled with passion and compelling drama, The Fifteen Streets is a rare treat for lovers of romantic fiction.


Author Notes

Catherine Cookson, 1906 - 1998 British writer Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock, Co. Durham. She was born illegitimate and into poverty with a mother who was, at times, an alcoholic and violent. From the age of thirteen, Catherine suffered from hereditary hemorrhage telangiectasia. She also believed, for many years, that she was abandoned as a baby and that her mother was actually her older sister.

Catherine wrote her first short story, "The Wild Irish Girl," at the age of eleven and sent it to the South Shields Gazette, which sent it back in three days. She left school at the age of thirteen to work as a maid for the rich and powerful. It was then that she saw the great class barrier inside their society. From working in a laundry, she saved enough money to open an apartment hotel in Hastings. Schoolmaster, Tom Cookson, was one of her tenants and became her husband in 1940. She suffered several miscarriages and became depressed so she began writing to help her recovery.

Catherine has written over ninety novels and, under the pseudonym of Catherine Marchant, she wrote three different series of books, which included the Bill Bailey, the Mary Ann, and the Mallen series. Her first book, "Kate Hannigan" (1950), tells the partly autobiographical story of a working-class girl becoming pregnant by an upper-middle class man. The baby is raised by Kate's parents and the child believes them to be her real parents and that Kate is her sister. Many of her novels are set in 19th century England and tell of poverty in such settings as mines, shipyards and farms. Her characters usually cross the class barrier by means of education.

Catherine received the Freedom of the Borough of South Shields and the Royal Society of Literature's award for the Best Regional Novel of the year. The Variety Club of Great Britain named her Writer of the Year and she was voted Personality of the North-East. She received an honorary degree from the University of Newcastle and was made Dame in 1933.

Just shortly before her ninety-second birthday, on June 11, 1998, Catherine died in her home near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. "Kate Hannigan's Girl" (1999), was published posthumously and continues the story of her first novel.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

British readers have been familiar with this early novel by Cookson for five decades, but this reissue will please American fans who crave the late author's sudsy historical novels. John O'Brien, born in the Tyneside area of Northumberland called the "fifteen streets," is caught up in the vicious circle of poverty, drink and deeper poverty endured by the residents of this slum district. He works as a laborer on the docks, trying to add to the family's precarious finances, keep his mother and sisters safe from his drunken father and brutal brother and protect them from the religious violence that often roils the largely Irish Catholic neighborhood. John thinks only sporadically about a better life until a non-Catholic family moves nearby. The kindly Brackens, who preach spiritual healing, are feared and persecuted in the neighborhood, even by John's own family, but they persevere in their message of tolerance and intellectual empowerment, and open John's eyes to a different way of thinking and believing in God. At the same time, John meets his sister's beloved young teacher, Mary Llewellyn, who opens not only his eyes but his heart. Their love affair is scandalous, since Mary is the daughter of a prosperous shipbuilder. Slander, violence and death take their toll before the lovers tentatively plan a new life together. Cookson's strong and touching characterizations and atmospheric setting carry this narrative, which dramatizes the cruel legacies of religious bigotry and the rigid British class system. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Brothers 'Hannah, drop that an' come an' see. The O'Briens are at it again...blue murder! Come on. Come upstairs, you can see better from our top window.' Wiping the soap suds from her arms, Hannah Kelly hastily lifted the lid of the wash-house boiler, scooped off the grey scum with an enamel mug, dabbed the contents of the boiler with a stick, then ran out of the wash-house and across the backyard, thinking as she did so, 'Eeh, I haven't got time for this...And our Joe warned me.' She caught up with her neighbour as she was opening the stair door. 'Who is it this time? The old man?' 'Yes.' 'Who's he at? Dominic!' 'Aye.' 'Are they drunk?' 'Are they ever owt else?' They scurried across the kitchen to the front room, and automatically took up their stations, one at each side of the window, bodies close to the wall, heads held slightly to the side against the mesh of the Nottingham lace curtains, their arms wound tightly in their aprons. 'My God, what a mess, Bella!' 'He must have thrown them two pictures out since I came down for you.' 'Eeh, God Almighty! It's a shame. Just as Mary Ellen was getting things pulled together again.' 'Look' - there was glee in Bella's voice - 'there they are at the window throttling each other. Christ!' she exclaimed as something came hurtling through the window into the street, 'which one missed that, I wonder?' 'Eeh! he's thrown the pot through the window. Oh, Bella, that'll bring the pollis. God Almighty, it's awful! It's enough to bring on the bairn...she's at the worst time, on eight months.' 'Best thing that could happen. Who wants a bairn at forty-five, I ask you? She should have been more cute. Anyway, she wouldn't listen to me. I told her I could get her a bottle of white mixture from our Harry's Emma, who scrubs the wards up at the grubber; the nurses would have given it to her. It would have skited everything out of her.' 'Well, you know she wouldn't do that, she's a Catholic, Bella.' 'Catholic, be damned! They tell 'em to have bairns, but do they bloody well keep them? I'd like to see any priest tell me I must have bairns. Do you know what I'd say?' Hannah chuckled. 'I've a pretty good idea...Look, there she is, there's Mary Ellen. She looks like death.' They both became silent and watched the woman below picking up the two picture frames from the road. The loose glass splintered about her feet as she shook the frames, and as she shooed some children away from the broken chamber, Hannah remarked, regretfully, 'Pity about that. It was a boody one, too.' Unblinkingly they watched the woman edge her way indoors, with neither a glance upwards nor to the right or left, although as they knew, she was fully aware of the watchers. Only the children were on the street, staring silently until the door closed, when they drew nearer, and some daring spirits, braving the glass, hitched themselves up on the high window sill to get their faces level with the hole. But as they did so the blind was dropped, and Hannah exclaimed, clicking her tongue, 'She shouldn't have done that - dropping the blind right down before dark - it's the sign of a death. It'll be the bairn, likely.' 'Damn good job too. Better if it was her old man though, in case he lands her with another.' They turned slowly from the window, and Hannah said, 'By, that wouldn't have happened if John had been in; he'd have put a stop to that...Funny, isn't it, Bella, that the old man doesn't go for John.' 'Not funny a bit. He's afraid of him, if the truth was known. Old O'Brien and Dominic are both alike, full of wind and water. That's why they fight...By God! I wish I was in Mary Ellen's place for five minutes. I'd lay those two sods out with the poker! She's soft, that's what she is, soft as clarts...Are you going to stay for a cup of tea?' she added. 'I'll put the kettle on, it won't be a minute.' 'No, lass, I'm not half through, and it's getting on for dark.' Bella glanced sideways at Hannah. 'Should you come across Mary Ellen - you see her more than I do - and she tells you what it was all about, knock up.' 'Aye, I will. But there's small chance. She's close, is Mary Ellen. You know that.' 'I know she doesn't like me. Thinks I can't mind me own business.' And she's right there, thought Hannah. 'And anyway, I'm not the same colour as them,' went on Bella nodding her long horse-face. 'Me St Patrick's Day's colour's blue. Wait until next Thursday week when Dominic's wearing his shamrock. There'll be skull and hair flying then. The fifteen streets won't hold him...My God, remember last St Patrick's Day? That was a do, eh?' She laughed at the memory. 'Eeh, Bella, I must be off.' Hannah unwrapped her mottled arms, and banged out the creases in her coarse apron. 'Well don't forget to knock up if you hear owt.' 'I won't.' Hannah went down the stairs, walking sideways in case she slipped, as the stairs were too narrow for her feet encased in an old pair of men's boots. By the time she reached the bottom she had also reached a decision: she wouldn't tell Bella Bradley what she heard, if she heard owt at all. Too nosey was Bella, by half. She'd rather keep in with Mary Ellen, narrow as she was. At least she minded her own business. And her Joe warned her only last night against Bella Bradley. He said he'd bash her face in if he found her upstairs again - he was nettled after hearing what she said about their Nancy not being all there. He knew Nancy wasn't all there, but it maddened him to hear anyone say it. More so now that Nancy was growing up...Hannah sighed. What would become of Nancy? She didn't know. And anyway, there was no time to think now, the washing had to be finished. Across the road, in number 10 Fadden Street, Mary Ellen O'Brien worked in the semi-darkness behind the drawn blind. She adjusted the block of wood under the chest of drawers - the leg had been kicked off during the last row - and screwed in the knob of the top drawer. She picked up the grey blanket and patchwork quilt from the floor and spread them again over the lumpy bare mattress on the iron bed. She pushed the wicker table back into the centre of the room, and stood leaning on its weak support, breathing heavily. Her eyes, dry with the pricking dryness of sand, looked round the walls. They were quite bare...Well, they would remain so. The only two pictures in the house were now gone. Never again would she try to build up. She had told herself, if they went this time it would be the last. She looked towards the closed door, which led into the kitchen. She knew that beyond, on either side of the fireplace, they'd be sitting, spent. Their rage and passion flown, they would be like the two halves of one body, accepting each other now that the conflict was over for a time. She lifted her apron and wiped the sweat from her forehead. If only they weren't so big...like giants. She hadn't dared go between them this time because of the bairn...She put her hand on the raised globe of her stomach and felt a movement. It brought no sense of feeling to her other than that of apprehension. Why, oh why was she to have this all over again? Hadn't she been through enough in her time? During the twenty-six years of her married life she had given birth to eleven bairns, and only five were alive, for which she thanked God. What she would have done with thirteen in these three rooms only the Almighty knew. A pain through her breast made her gasp, and she covered it with her hand, lifting up its weight. Last year this time they'd been flat...flat for all time she'd thought, for it was ten years since Katie was born. Practically every year since she was married she'd been dropped, but from Katie there'd been nothing. The pain shot through her again, and she remembered such a pain from the past. It was before John was born. She was as strong as a horse then, as small as she was, and she enjoyed the feeling of the pain, anticipating the tugging of the young mouth on the nipples...if it lived. It did live, and it was John...John, who had never given her any trouble. Oh, if they were all like John, and, at the other end of the scale, Katie. Funny that these two should be alike and the others so different from them. Dominic was different from the day he was born, the year after John. She had always been slightly afraid of Dominic, even when he was a child. It wasn't that he alone suffered from the O'Brien rages, for they all did, except Katie. It was rather that there was something fiendish about Dominic. It showed in everything he did, in his teasing, in his laughter, and especially in his good-looking face. Like John and Mick, he took after his da for his looks. But although they all took after their da, Dominic and Mick were better looking than John. When she looked at her eldest son she had the feeling that the features which made the other two good looking made him ugly, and in some strange way this pleased her. To her mind it separated him entirely from them. It was his nose that made the difference, she supposed, with that funny little nob on the side of the nostril. He got that when he climbed the dock wall to get some coal that bad winter. He slipped and his nose was cut on the broken glass set in the top of the wall. The cut did not join properly and gave his face a quaint look from the side. But it wasn't only his nose; John's eyes were different from the others. They were large and brown too, but a different brown...dark and kind. That was it, they were kind, like Katie's. She sighed and rubbed her hand gently round and round her breast. Then, hearing a shout coming through the kitchen from the back-yard, she moved her head impatiently - she never thought of Molly unless the girl made herself felt by sight or sound. Molly was...well, she couldn't place Molly. She was of a too apparent mixture of them all, and so had no individuality of her own. She was swayed, first one way and then the other; even her rages could be deflected by a stronger will. No, Molly would be no heartache, for she aroused no feeling. Mary Ellen straightened her shoulders and refastened the top button of her blouse over her straining breasts before walking towards the kitchen door. It was no use standing here thinking; thinking got you nowhere. It was close on five o'clock and John would be in at half past. She'd have to get on with the tea...Thank God they fought in here and not in the kitchen. They might have knocked the pan of broth off the hob, and there was nearly fourpennorth of vegetables in besides a twopenny scrag end...Well, if you searched hard enough there was always something to be thankful for. As she expected, her husband and son were sitting one each side of the fireplace, their brows puckered over half-closed eyes. Shane's grey hair was standing up straight in tufts; there was blood on the hair near his temple, and his high cheek-bones were showing blue under the tightened skin. At the first glance she saw that his rage wasn't entirely spent, for the muscle was moving in his cheek as he clenched and unclenched his teeth, and his limbs, as always, were jerking with the nerve tick. His knees, in their reddened moleskin trousers, were wide apart, and his feet were crossed below his hands, which were gripping the seat of the wooden armchair. His body looked as if it was still ready to spring...No, his rage wasn't spent yet, because he was sober. He'd had only two shifts in this week and had tipped the money up. But Dominic had a full week. For three weeks now he'd worked full weeks. Not that it made much difference to her - she was lucky if she got ten shillings out of him. She often had to meet him at the dock gates to get even that...or send Katie. But Dominic's rage was spent because he was drunk and happy. She took Dominic by the shoulder and shook him. 'Here! Get yourself to bed.' He lifted his head and smiled crookedly at her, cracking the dried blood on his mouth as he did so. He looked at her out of one merry, brown eye, the other being hidden behind a curling lock of light brown, youthful hair. 'All right, old girl.' He rose obediently to his feet, and some detached part of her marvelled for the countless time at his docility towards her when he was in drink. Why was it she could manage him when he was drunk? She even found herself liking him in this state. She had no fear of him in drink, when he spoke civilly to her, often with a touch of affection. But it was strange that even in drink she could have any affection for him now, for she remembered the look in his eyes during these past weeks when they lit on her stomach...ridicule, scorn, and something else...a something for which she could find no word. She pushed him before her into the bedroom, her head coming just to the bottom of his shoulder blades. She always wondered, when close to them, how she gave birth to such great men. Dominic sat down with a plop on the side of his bed and began to laugh. 'If he wasn't my old man I'd have knocked him stiff. But I'll break his bloody neck the next time he interferes with me. I didn't ask to be set on the ore boat - they want the young 'uns down the holds.' He fell back on the bed and lifted up his legs, and Mary Ellen immediately swung them down again. She took off his boots and loosened his belt, then unbuttoned his trousers and tugged them off his legs, leaving these looking particularly ludicrous in their tight long pants. Never in all the many times she had pulled trousers off them had she yet been able to conquer the feeling of revulsion. Husband or son, it was the same. She heaved him up by the shirt front and dragged off his coat. Then she let him fall back on to the bed. She threw the quilt over him and put his coat on top of it, and lifting his trousers quietly from the floor, she put them across her arm and went out, through the kitchen, past her husband, who now sat hunched up over the fire, and into the front room, where she turned out the contents of the trousers pockets on to the table. There was a half-sovereign, two two-shilling pieces, and four pennies. The half-sovereign he would have to stump up for his board, so she put that back into the pocket again, together with a two-shilling piece. The other two-shilling piece and the coppers went into a little cloth bag that dangled from a pin fastened to the inside of her skirt. It already held tenpence. She had taken to this device of the bag when Shane came back from the Boer War, because he lifted every penny he could get his fingers on for drink. She went back to the bedroom and quietly placed the trousers over the bed rail, and as she returned to the kitchen the window was darkened by a distorted bulk, and a gentle tap-tap came on the door. Mary Ellen sighed. As inevitably as the calm which followed the storm would come this tap-tap on the door after any disturbance in the house. She often thanked God for an upstairs neighbour such as Peggy Flaherty. Many a one, placed as she was above the noise and fighting that was almost part of the weekly routine, would have done more than object, she would have brought the pollis; and after a number of such vi Continue... Excerpted from The Fifteen Streets by Catherine Cookson Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 The Brothersp. 1
2 A Day of Bonny Lassesp. 25
3 St Patrick's Dayp. 45
4 The Conflictp. 59
5 The Comicp. 79
6 The Visitp. 91
7 Christmas Evep. 109
8 New Year's Evep. 135
9 Nancyp. 155
10 Mary Llewellynp. 171
11 Ask and Ye Shall Receivep. 181
12 The Aftermathp. 199
13 Renunciationp. 219
14 Whither Thou Goestp. 231