Post-War Books: Peace Breaks Out by Angela Thirkell


published 1946


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…..



Peace Breaks Out after PO 1946



[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.”
 
Peace Breaks out 2
 


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.









Comments

  1. It certainly does sound like a fascinating look at a particular era, Moira. And the writing style evokes the times effectively. Not sure I could take large doses of Thirkell's sociopolitical views either, but this sounds interesting all the same.

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    1. Small doses is definitely the secret with Thirkell, Margot - and she can be very witty and perceptive.

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  2. I'll leave you to enjoy these and I'll stay to my side of the street I think. Is that the first cock you've featured on the blog?

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    1. Thanks for raising the tone as ever!

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  3. Moira: A photo of Dovima holding a chicken would be divine.

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    1. That's such a great image in my head... you made me laugh...

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    1. Ok in it's day I suppose - though I wonder, there's a startling couple of double entendres in another of her books, along with a village called Winter Underclose....

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    2. WINTER UNDERCLOSE? Bwahahahahhahahahahahha! Love it!

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  5. Nice example of paralepsis.

    Book now on my wish list.

    Stevie Smith just crossed out "war" and replaced with "postwar" in one of her books - The Holiday - wd love your opinion. Very strange. Middle-class people sitting around a dining table for one of those interminable meals and they all start quietly weeping...

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    1. I have downloaded it to my Kindle! Sounds most intriguing, thanks.

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    2. Half-way through, and do not know what to make of it! Very strange book indeed.

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  6. I like Thirkell and always have...have you read Three houses? And side stepping in that same arena the wonderful Period Piece?...and refuse to make any apologies for doing so! I also adore Mitford and Waugh, and Lord knows, but neither of them were exactly a delight to know. One cannot place the present upon the past.
    I discovered Thirkell when I was 14, there were piles of them in my ancient Great Aunt's...I could have rivalled Bertie Wooster in the Great Aunt stakes, both known and unknown..."parlour", along with the Miss Read books. I found them a great comfort and still do so, it's that I don't want effort, just to feel warm and eat chocolate and read. I also refuse to apologise for the Miss Read! There are those snobs who would require one to do so, but I have read long and wide and when I want easy comfortable slippers I will take them, so there ; )

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    1. Thanks for the spirited and most welcome defence! I think my attitude to Thirkell varies with the books, and also with my mood. And of course I know what you mean. About Miss Read I always say: I loved them when I was young, and then later went through a period of thinking they must be rather low-rent. But now I'm older I simultaneously don't care, but also think they have enormous intrinsic worth.
      And anything that helps us get through the days has got to be a good thing anyway.

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    2. Oh and also - Period Piece! Yes, love it. I did one blogpost on it: it is full of wonderful clothes, and I thought I'd do more, but Raverat's illustrations are so perfect I don't like to add anything.

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  7. And before I forget, I love Thornyhold by Mary Stewart. Another which I have seen book snobs sucking their teeth over! I find it is one I pick up when I want to feel safe and escape for a while...which is what I capture the Castle, and The blue Castle do for me as well...it's quaint and I love the way everything comes right for her in the end.

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    1. I like Thornyhold, though it's not my favourite of Stewart's books. I capture the Castle is one of my top 10 books of all time. The Blue Castle I had to look up - I haven't read much of LM Montgomery apart from Anne of Green Gables, and was completely unfamiliar with this one.... I will have to investigate further....

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    2. Oh, do! I adore it, one of my favourite books since I was 14. An eccentric gem.

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    3. OK will definitely have to read it....

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  8. I don't think Thirkell appeals to me, but without giving at least one book a try I should not say that. Based on what you say here, Nancy Mitford might be better for me.

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    1. When you've read all the crime books Tracy! And then definitely go for Mitford rather than Thirkell...

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