Mrs Miniver (Virago Modern Classics) Paperback – 24 Aug 1989
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Mrs Miniver, you feel, could rule the world (VALERIE GROVE)
* captures a woman's private world with the affection and good humour of
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The first half of the book - before the war - gives glimpses into Firework Night, Christmas shopping, holidays at their second home in Kent - all seen through the thoughtful and astute eyes of Mrs Miniver. I found certain passages would so resound with me; thus her reluctance to go to stay with friends:
"It wasn't shyness. It was more like a form of claustrophobia - a dread of exchanging the freedom of her own self-imposed routine for the inescapable burden of somebody else's."
And I'm sure many will understand Mrs Miniver's change of heart after buying a cheap diary, when she runs back to swap it for the dearer lizard-skin one:
"An engagement-book is the most important of all those small adjuncts to life, that tribe of humble familiars which jog along beside one from year's end to year's end, apparently trivial, but momentous by reason of their terrible intimacy."
And then comes the onset of War; Mrs Miniver recalls the irrational hatred of all things German in the last war:
"feeling towards Dachshund puppies the uneasy tenderness of a devout churchwoman dandling her daughter's love-child."
But as life begins to change, Mrs Miniver still finds time to celebrate the beauties of Nature - and the social revolution that is taking place alongside war. Charming, touching, thought-provoking, humorous - certainly not a plot-driven work but poetic and utterly beautiful.
"Mrs. Miniver looked towards the window. The dark sky had already paled a little in its frame of cherry-pink chintz. Eternity framed in domesticity. Never mind. One had to frame it in something, to see it at all."
The pieces which make up "Mrs. Miniver" were first published in the Times and as such they provide a vivid insight into the atmosphere in England just before the war. As Mrs. Miniver goes about her business the wider political situation sometimes intrudes: the family get fitted for gas masks, trenches are being dug in the park, and the word 'Jews' is glimpsed in a newspaper headline.
I think that Mrs Miniver's life was as near as can be to Jan Struther's own - both English, middle-class, married with three children, living in London during the outbreak of war in a comfortable home with servants. But do not be put off by thinking that this is very predicable stuff and not worth bothering with. Mrs Miniver has a very particular way of looking at life - perceptive, funny, generous and wise. Never snobbish, quite the opposite in fact. Both Mrs. M and her author shared a zest for life - "an accidental gift, impossible to acquire and almost impossible, thank heaven, to lose."
An enthusiast for life, she describes the everyday, ordinary things - walking through Westminster on the first day of Spring, hop-picking in Kent, Guy Fawkes night,pruning an apple tree, driving to Scotland, buying gas-masks, observing her fellow guests at a dinner-party, Christmas shopping, buying a new diary - but all seen through the eyes of a very perceptive person. Never mundane, Mrs Miniver's world is shared with us in delightful detail.
Mrs. Miniver in the dentists' chair:
"...the refinement of civilised cruelty, this spick, span and ingenious affair of shining leather and gleaming steel, which hoisted you and tilted you and fitted reassuringly into the small of your back and cupped your head tenderly between padded cushions. It ensured for you a more complete muscular relaxation than any armchair you could buy for your own home; but it left your tormented nerves without even the solace of a counter-irritant. In the old days, the victim's attention had at least been distracted by an ache in the back, a crick in the neck, pins and needles in the legs.......But now, too efficiently suspended between heaven and earth, you were at liberty to concentrate on hell."
If you're old enough to remember this era, the book will bring memories flooding back.If you're not, you will enjoy Mrs Miniver not only as social history but also as something which will, hopefully, make you think about life in not quite the same way ever again.
Buy this book, as I have, for your dearest friends - the ones with whom you can talk about "such trifles as love and courage and kindness and integrity and the quite astonishing resilience of the human spirit."
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