“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
“Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
While the tea party in Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland may be the most famous tea in literature, it is not the only noteworthy tea. In honor of National Tea Day, here are five novels that celebrate the glories of tea.
- Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and the talking over its head. ‘Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; ‘only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’
The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: ‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. ‘There’s plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.
Who could resist a crumpet spread with “best butter” and a cup of tea with the delightfully mad crew of Wonderland characters? Apparently not very many, since tea shops bearing Alice related names and filled with novel and movie related goods abound.
2. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
Vera moved to the tea table. “Will you pour out tea, Miss Brent?”
The elder woman replied: ‘No, you do it, dear. That tea-pot is so heavy. And I have lost two skeins of my grey knitting-wool. So annoying.’
Tea! Blessed ordinary everyday afternoon tea!
Normality returned. Philip Lombard made a cheery remark. Blore responded. Dr. Armstrong told a humorous story. Mr. Justice Wargrave, who ordinarily hated tea, sipped approvingly.
While the image of guests gathered around a tea table may appear soothing, things are rarely as they seem in a Christie novel. Murder is on the menu, and poor Vera is closely watched to make sure that she hasn’t slipped anything extra in the tea.
3. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame,
“When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender, of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”
Buttered toast always speak to me, and fool that I am, I can never resist their call. I am a firm believer in sitting down with a cup of tea when I need to save the world.
4. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.”
While I am seriously enamored of scones dripping with butter and jam, I find sandwiches with mystery fillings far less enticing. Still, I suppose Rebecca had more things to worry about than the origins of the caviar topping her nibbles.
5. Manner & Mutiny, Gail Carriger
“We’re a team like tea and milk, or cake and custard, or pork and apple.”
If you haven’t discovered the Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger, you should read them ASAP. Proper young ladies not only learn how to navigate the social limitations of a Steampunk Great Britain, they also learn such niceties as poisoning and medicinal cures. Is that almond extract or cyanide lacing your pastries? Graduates of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy know, and are prepared for a wide range of career possibilities.