Cider with Rosie Summary

Laurie Lee

Cider with Rosie

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Cider with Rosie Summary

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Cider with Rosie is a memoir by Laurence Edward Alan Lee, or “Laurie” Lee. Published in 1959 by Hogarth Press, it centres around Lee’s upbringing in the English Cotswolds and how his mother struggles to raise a large family on her own. It was later revealed that Rosie is Rose Buckland, Lee’s cousin by marriage—they kept her identity a secret for over 25 years. Cider with Rosie is the first in Lee’s The Autobiographical Trilogy. Lee was an award-winning English writer who later received an MBE. He died in 1997.

Lee grew up in Slad, which is a small village in Gloucestershire, England. Born in 1914, Lee recalls growing up after the First World War and the impact it has on ordinary families trying to put their lives back together. He grows up with his siblings and his mother, because his father abandons the family when they’re all still young. He goes to stay in London and works for the Civil Service. He doesn’t want the responsibility of looking after so many children. However, he does send maintenance money. Lee doesn’t recall ever missing him.

One of Lee’s earliest memories is around the time of World War I. He and his family move into a cottage in Slad and his mother struggles to keep the place in order. It’s outdated and rickety—for example, they only have a tiny woodfire for cooking. It’s around this time that a man in uniform comes to visit.

The man arrives in the morning for food, which is just another mouth for Lee’s mother to feed. He also uses the fire area to dry out damp clothes from the night before. Eventually, he’s taken away by other soldiers and charged with desertion. Even all these years later, Lee still remembers the scene vividly.

Lee remembers his mother, Annie, very fondly. She works as a maid for much of her youth before meeting Lee’s father. She takes a job as his housekeeper and looks after his four children from a previous marriage. It’s not long before they have three children together, including Lee. Even after Lee’s father abandons them, his mother doesn’t lose her ability to love and gives them all the best upbringing she can.

In Slad, Lee has two eccentric neighbours—old women who don’t get on and go out of their way to avoid each other. Lee recalls watching the pair of them every day and wondering if they’d ever reconcile. They never do, and they die within a few months of each other. It’s a quiet place to live where nothing matters other than what happens in Slad, so Lee focuses on his family and simple dramas like this.

Rosie is one of Lee’s first loves. He remembers the nights they spent under hay wagons, drinking cider and seducing each other. The village is so small that the older residents turn a blind eye to incest, because they know there is little choice. Lee and his siblings all have similar experiences. It’s clear from Lee’s account that he does love Rosie, and that he misses her, even when she does leave the village and marries someone else.

Things change for everyone as Lee’s whole family grows older. His sisters, who work in local shops and looms, find boyfriends with cars who soon become husbands. They move out of the family home one by one. Although Lee’s sad to see them go, he’s happy that they’ve found good lives for themselves. Motorcycles and motorcars will change the way they all live forever.

Cars give them all a sense of freedom they didn’t have before, which affects where they look for jobs and entertainment. The village church suffers because the younger generation wants to go out in their cars instead of attending sermons, and the older generation starts dying off. As Lee gets older, he realizes there’s more to the world than just Slad, and he wants to see it for himself.

Cider with Rosie aims to capture a rural way of life which couldn’t last forever. This is a town which is largely self-sufficient and makes up its own rules. The community only survives the War by relying on each other and retaining a sense of rural identity. Lee wants to show that, contrary to popular belief, small-town living is no easier than making your own way in a big city. In many ways, it’s more difficult.

Lee starts writing poetry around the time his family breaks up and the village changes. For him, it’s important to preserve this way of life somehow so that other generations can understand it. This is a time when family is most important and there’s no technology to make life easier—everyone must fight and struggle for what they have. Lee mocks the idea of the “good old days”—there’s no such thing.