AFTER LAST WEEK’S LIST OF WARTIME HOMEFRONT BOOKS, AND THE COMMEMORATION OF THE VE DAY 70TH ANNIVERSARY, THE BLOG IS GOING TO FEATURE SOME POST-WAR BOOKS…..
[Rose arrives] She was elegant, her sleek hair was perfectly arranged, her eyebrows had a perfect arch, her dark eyes were luminous, her nose what one could only call, even if it sounded like a bad novel, aristocratic, her mouth an exquisite shape, her camellia complexion ravishing. Her figure was perfect, her stockings silk, her shoes just right. And just right were the linen coat and skirt she wore, the think woollen lace jumper, the single string of pearls, the diamond clip.
[Emmy arrives] Suddenly round the side of the house appeared a girl in Land Army dress, perhaps a little on the stout side for breeches, but with a pleasant face and a mop of tawny hair. “I say have you got Stock Breeders’ Gazette? I can’t find it in the office.”
observations: This is a light-hearted novel about exactly what it says in the title. In terms of contemporary detail it couldn’t be more different from the Josephine Tey book Miss Pym Disposes, same year - I said there was nothing to pin that book down to any date. This one is the opposite. It is fascinating for that reason, as the cast of characters wait for VE Day and then Vay Jee Day (everyone keeps getting the name wrong). And there was no time for Thirkell to change her mind, or use hindsight, because it was published so quickly.
I enjoy her books – and am grateful, yet again, to Kate Walker for pointing this one out – she also got me to read Northbridge Rectory, dealing with much earlier days in the war. Kate and I are on a search for trouser references in these books…
As ever, Thirkell has the same area and some of the same families and characters – the bad boy David Leslie is still causing trouble, as he did in the carefree books set in the 1930s. A group of people get to know each other, socialize, give their opinions on this and that, get romantically entangled, and eventually end up with the right person. She does it very well, and keeps control of a large number of characters and plot strands. But, also as ever, I can only take her in small doses because of the devastating, excruciating snobbery and elitism of her toff views. The Labour victory in the July 1945 election was obviously a very sore spot with Thirkell (good) and she doesn’t leave you in any doubt that she considered it a disrespectful calamity. (Very important not to mention contemporary UK events at this point.)
I think the difference between Thirkell and Nancy Mitford (apart from the fact the Mitford was an avowed champagne socialist, to the great disgruntlement of her close friend Evelyn Waugh) is that as a reader I feel excluded by Thirkell’s shallow thoughtless aristos, whereas Mitford manages to persuade us that she feels the lower orders are perfectly heavenly. Thirkell makes you wonder why there wasn’t a Russian-style revolution in England, Mitford explains why not.
Anyway, when I stop feeling bolshy about that, there is much to enjoy here, lovely details and descriptions. Someone goes mafficking in the true sense of the word, as discussed on the blog in this Gladys Mitchell book, to celebrate peace. There are land girls and tennis parties, people are quite horrified by the peace, there are fox furs ‘worn like sables’ and hideous evacuee frocks, there are two Sales of Work. Good fun, in parts.
It’s quite likely that the ‘linen coat and skirt’ was actually a suit – this is a subject close to CiB’s heart, with various other entries on the phrase – but the top picture (from the lovely Dovima is Devine photostream) seemed just right for the annoyingly-perfect visitor. The other is one of my favourites of all the pictures I have ever used on the blog – I bought a copy of it to hang on my wall. It is a Land Girl from the Imperial War Museum collection, previously used on this John Banville entry.