Saturday, 22 November 2014

Henrietta Sees It Through by Joyce Dennys

published 1986, written 1942-45







Lady B and I entered for the Bowling Tournament. She drew the Admiral as her partner, and I drew Colonel Simpkins. Neither Colonel Simpkins nor the Admiral was pleased, but they generously decided to make the best of it. Lady B and I were, of course, delighted when we found we had drawn each other in the first round as opponents.

[The women play, then leave the men to get on with it]

‘Now they’ve got the whole rink to themselves,’ said Lady B, settling herself comfortably on a seat. ‘I like your shirt, Henrietta. Where did you get it?’

‘I made it out of some of Charles’s old pyjamas. I used the legs for the sleeves.’

‘My dear, how brilliant of you! I often wonder why men wear out the seats of their pyjamas the way they do. The collar’s good.’

‘I lined it.’

‘Just pull up your jersey and let me see the back. Yes, it’s definitely a success. And the colour is delightful. Charles must have looked sweet in it.’

‘He did rather.’

A shadow fell across our knees, and we looked up to see the Admiral standing before us. ‘Would it be too much to ask you ladies to pay a little attention to the game?’ he said in a shaking voice.



observations: This entry explains how I first came across Henrietta, via my friend Chrissie Poulson, and Henrietta is also one of my Older Women Winning Through, list here

When I finished Henrietta’s War, I instantly downloaded this one, the second volume, and read it straightaway. It is just as good as the first one, and takes us right through to victory. Again, there are fascinating contemporary issues as well as the excellent jokes: A burning question of the day seems to have been how much compensation was paid to those who lost relations in air raids, with the insult that women are valued less than men. This leads to one of the group speculating on potential widowhood for her husband’s benefit:
‘Well, if I were left a widow I know what I’d do,’ said little Mrs Simpkins, clearly and unexpectedly. ‘I’d move into a much smaller house, and I’d sell your roll-top desk.’ After that there was an awkward silence.

In the section above, the two women were looking forward to the game as a chance to chat, but Lady B suddenly & disappointingly gets good at bowls – ‘Halfway through the game she had a brandy and soda brought out to her from the bar’. Luckily, eventually ‘inspiration left her and she began playing in her old and, to me, more attractive style’ – as Lady B says ‘Being good at games takes all the fun out of them.'

The two women stare at a beautiful new hat in a shop window, but they can’t justify buying it.
‘If you were to wire the brim of the hat you wore at the Thomson wedding, you could make it very like that one.’

‘But I’d never get a quill that colour. I like the quill.’

‘There are seagulls on the beach,’ I said, ‘and I have some coloured inks.’
- the result, apparently, is splendid.

Henrietta’s daughter is called Linnet: the only other instance of this name I have come across is in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile – Linnet Doyle, the richest girl in the world.

The picture from the Imperial War Museum shows a young woman making her own blouse – probably a lot smarter than Henrietta’s, and not made from old pyjamas, but illustrating the make-do-and-mend attitude of the war.

18 comments:

  1. Moira - Linnet is such an interesting name. And this does sound like a terrific look at the era and the way people coped with life, with the war, with post-war shortages and so on. I really do like the wit in it too. Those comments about getting good at games are priceless!

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    1. The two books have great charm, Margot, as well as giving such a good picture of the era.

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  2. Moira, the passage you reproduced right at the top is delightful and it's what makes books like these a pleasure to read, even if one might not fancy the plot or the premise of the story.

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    1. Exactly, what a very good description Prashant. I like to be amused and entertained, and this book certainly achieved that.

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  3. Another pass from me! Glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. It's been slim pickings for you here lately Col - I need to change my reading habits back!

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  4. It seems a pity that there aren't more Linnets - such a pretty name. I have it filed in my brain with 'Lettice', thanks to Agatha Christie! There's also Linnets & Valerians where it's a surname.

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    1. I'd forgotten Ls&Vs. I don't know why, the name always fascinated me, when I first read Death on the Nile I spent time wondering if it was pronounced like the bird, or like the name Lynnette. I've actually found another one since then - you don't come across one for 30 yrs, then they all come along at once...

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    2. Ps but yes, Lettice could be pretty, but is just unfortunate because of the salad overtones.

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  5. Glad that you love Henrietta as much as I do, Moira. By the way are you good at making clothes? I had to make a blouse at school (Girls Grammar School in the sixties/seventies) and by the time I had finished it was as limp as a rag with tiny spots of blood where I'd pricked myself. And that was the end of my dress-making career.

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    1. When I saw the cover of these books, I remembered seeing them when they came out in the 80s, but I'd always dismissed them - I think I thought the covers were sub-Mapp & Lucia (popping up for my list...) which just shows how wrong you can be, I missed out because of cover-prejudice. That's an interesting topic isn't it?
      NO, hopeless at sewing. I claim that in a year at school I failed to finish the sewing bag we were meant to make first to keep our work in. My great friend, sitting next to me, made herself a maxi coat. (and that's despite taking time out to try to help me now and again - I couldn't even thread up the sewing machine.)

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  6. There's a Linnet in the Green Knowe books by Lucy M. Boston - she's one of the 17th century Knowes.

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  7. Oh yes, and Tolly's fabulous Grandmother (who appears in all the Green Knowe books) is also called Linnet - I'd forgotten that!

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    1. Now I'm definitely going to have to start a collection of Linnets in books... tell me if you remember any more....

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  8. This does sound interesting... as did the first one. Maybe someday I will squeeze it into my TBR pile.

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    1. If the books turn up at the booksale, grab them!

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  9. There's also Linnet Muir in Mavis Gallant's stories.

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    1. Oh thank you Sara - I read a lot of Mavis Gallant at one time, but have no recollection of that.... I'll look her up.

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