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on 13 November 2010
I truly enjoyed this book. The outside is very pretty and fooled me in to thinking it a more serious book. I had no idea it was going to be such a funny book. The entire book reads as several letters wrriten between 1939 and New Year's Eve 1941. If I have one complaint, it is that I wish she had written more, why not covering the entire war?
The letters are supposed to be addressed to an old friend of Henrietta's, that she has grown up with, a soldier named Robert, that serves on the front. She has promised him to not write about the war and burden him with sad things when he obviously is not having too much fun himself. Instead she writes about her daily life in a "safe area" in Devonshire.
Henrietta might have been like the ordinary house wife in those days. She's the wife of a country doctor that is too busy to mind what his wife is up to. Her two children are grown and serving as soldier and nurse. Henrietta tries to be the heroic woman that her country asks her to be but she fails at being brave. She fails most things as a matter of fact. Dig for Victory is one of the things she is supposed to do but how can she when she has no talent for gardening? Through the book she tries her hand at several things and takes all new regulations with stride. Almost longing for invasion or bombs to fall so that she can prove herself. Her hardest hardship is to not get to be in a pretty uniform or feeling useful when everyone else seems to be doing their bit.
It's a funny book, hilarious at times because the village is so full of original characters. I truly recommend this book and I am glad that Bloomsbury has decided to publish old gems like these. They are probably all wholesome. There are several more like this in a sort of series. Readers choose for readers.
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on 29 September 2009
Henrietta's War actually started out as columns in Sketch. Dennys was an artist who has many successful collections though once married and a mother in the late 1920's her life became a domestic one in the English countryside and so needed something to take her frustrations out on. Out came Henrietta's wartime letters to her `childhood friend' Robert who is `out on the front' and eventually became published as a collection and a novel in the form of this wonderful book.

Henrietta is a `doctors wife' (which all the local women think is very important in a slightly unconvinced way) to Charles and mother to Bill and Linnet living in Devon. As we meet her World War II is raging though where she lives the only real way that war is effecting them is the rations and `people are talking cockney up and down the high street'. Having home help she spends most of her time trying to join in the War Effort, joining local clubs, doing good, gossiping with her friends (wonderful characters like the bossy Lady B and Mrs Savernake and the flirty Faith who `The Conductor' is in love with) sunbathing on her roof, writing letters to Robert and getting a lot of bed rest.

For some people the war wasn't all bombs and terror, for some in the middle of nowhere it must have felt somewhat removed in many ways and Dennys addresses this. She also looks at how these people lived, admittedly in a comical tongue in cheek way, when the greatest crisis they had was not having enough sugar to make marmalade for the villages `Marmalade Week'. We see how the villagers coped and in some ways continued as normal, or as normally as they could, having jumble sales to raise money, joining drama clubs and even at one point getting arrested as Henrietta does.

Most war novels focus on the awful things that happened during that time, what Dennys does with these fictional letters is try and see the light in these dark times and to look for a way to entertain people during the difficulties with laughter. I haven't smirked, giggled and laughed out loud at a book so much in quite sometime. If you love books by Nancy Mitford, or that show WWII from a different view point, or have you laughing out loud on public transport, or like books set in villages that house wonderful quirky characters (or all of these) then this is most definitely a book for you. I am so pleased that this gem has been brought back and into the mainstream for people to enjoy.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 November 2012
Delightful little book featuring Henrietta, wife of a Devon GP. In letters to a Childhood Friend serving in France, she shows the lighter side of the early years of WW2.
Featuring such wonderful scenes as her daughter's preparations for the expected evacuee: 'Even going so far as to lay a bar of chocolate on the lonely pillow and fish her old teddy-bear out of a box in the attic. At half-past five a youth of sixteen, just under six feet tall, was deposited on our doorstep.'
And 'a most enjoyable rehearsal of an air-raid warning...You would have thought that siren was a herald of good tidings instead of possible death and destruction...People in the streets were wreathed in smiles and some were doubled up with laughter...I haven't seen this place so gay since the Coronation'.
Rationing, the black-out, the struggle to procure meat for the pet dog - I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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This book consists of fictional letters from the pen of Henrietta Brown, a housewife and mother, married to local doctor Charles, written to her childhood friend Robert. However, much of the life of Henrietta mirrored that of Joyce Dennys; born in India, she attended Art School in Exeter (in the book, her lodger was also a fellow art student) and she was also the wife of a doctor, a mother and a writer and artist. During the way, the character of Henrietta became a propaganda tool; a comfort to those people who read the letters in Sketch magazine, as well as helping her own frustration at not being able to work as a writer. Husband Charles amazement when somebody sends her an unexpected food parcel from Australia after reading one of her, "mouldy little stories" probably shows her resentment more than any other line in the book. These letters were compiled in book form in the 1980'sand it's good to see them re-released on kindle for a new audience to enjoy.

There are two volumes of the Henrietta letters and this is the first, which covers the period 1939 to 1942. Henrietta lives in Devon, a `safe area' in rural England. However, that is not to say that residents do not have their own concerns - from the threat of invasion, to taking in evacuees, digging for freedom, running sewing bees and jumble sales - these people were the backbone of the country during wartime. Anyone who has read anything about the Home Front knows that the WI virtually fed the country during wartime, while women volunteered as nurses, drivers and in so many ways kept things at home running. It is this that Henrietta reports on - reassuring those at home and in the forces that everything would be there for them when they return; that people could cope and would not fail in their task.

As a book though, this is utterly charming. We enjoy meeting Henrietta's friends and neighbours - the attractive Faith, who has the `Conductor' following her everywhere, boring people with his tales of unrequited love; Lady B, who writes letters to Hitler before bedtime, sternly informing, "just exactly what she thinks of him," and the rather argumentative Mrs Savernack, who sits on committees and "bosses everyone." Henrietta is frightened of big bangs, although when Londoners appear with their tales of the blitz, it results in some bad feelings between the locals and visitors. However, when Henrietta does re-visit the capital, "Here I am," says London, "knocked about a bit, but still here, and ready to give a welcome to a Country Cousin." I am delighted to give space to Henrietta, whose letters still read with warmth and humour. If you read and enjoy this, then I urge you to read the second volume, "Henrietta Sees It Through," which follows the news from the home front from 1942 - 1945.
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on 4 July 2009
Quite simply, Henrietta's War is wonderful, and I never wanted it to stop. It was originally a series of articles in Sketch magazine during the Second World War. In the 1980s Joyce Dennys was doing her Spring Cleaning and came across the articles - and they were published in two collections. Henrietta's War and Henrietta Sees It Through. They take the form of letters from Henrietta to Robert, a childhood friend away at war.

The humour is very similar to other books of the period, like EM Delafield's Provincial Lady books - self-deprecating, and appreciative of the ridiculous even while she is proud of England's bravery. The letters are also accompanied by Dennys' own delightful sketches.

Henrietta represents the middle-class women in England, plucky and determined to carry on as normally as possible. They garden and chat and squabble - resisting the overly-zealous scrap metal collectors, and slowing down the knitting bee so as not to finish too soon, can be slotted into their daily lives. 'There's not much glamour on the home home-front. Ours not the saucy peaked cap of our untrammelled sisters [in the ATS]. Ours rather to see that the curtains are properly drawn, and do our little bit of digging in the garden. Ours to brave the Sewing Party and painstakingly make a many-tailed bandage, and ours to fetch the groceries home in a big basket.' In the background are Henrietta's husband, Dr. Charles; friends and occasional enemies Faith, Mrs. Simpkins and Mrs. Savernack; Henrietta's children Linnet and Bill.

I think this quotation demonstrates the mixture of pluckiness and ability to laugh at oneself, which characterise both Henrietta's War and so much writing of the period:

'I was thinking to-day,' said Lady B dreamily, 'that if all we useless old women lined up on the beach, each of us with a large stone in her hand, we might do a lot of damage.'
'The only time I saw you try to throw a stone, Julia, it went over your shoulder behind you,' said Mrs. Savernack.
'Then I would have to stand with my back towards the Germans,' said Lady B comfortably.

Henrietta's War is quite simply a wonderful, witty, charming, and occasionally very moving book. It deserves to be in the company of Diary of a Provincial Lady and Mrs. Miniver as great chroniclers of the home-front - and I can only hope that Bloomsbury will reprint Henrietta Sees It Through at some point in the future.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 June 2014
The eponymous Henrietta is a middle-class, middle-aged housewife who lives in a small rural coastal town in Devon (based on Budleigh Salterton) that abounds with stereotypical World War 2 era English characters.

The extent to which you might enjoy "Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942" will depend on your tolerance for reading about the details of Henrietta's early WW2 observations of small town life as related in one-sided correspondence to her dear childhood friend Robert.

It's a quick and easy read, well written albeit in a very breezy and gossipy style, and it offers some insights into civilian life during early World War Two (1939-42) in a small English town. Many seem to adore it however it was not my cup of Earl Grey. It's all terribly British, very dated, relentlessly optimistic, and rather one dimensional. For many, that is all part of its charm, I found it to be more tedious than enjoyable.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 26 April 2013
I came across a reference to this book quite by chance and got a copy to read. It sounded like a jolly barrel of laughs. And it was! Henrietta, living quietly in Devon, finds the Second World War creeping into their lives. Mrs Savernack, Colonel Simpkins, Lady B, Henrietta and her long-suffering husband, among others, have their lives changed by the restrictions and requirements of the War, not to mention the anxiety caused by possible floating mines, gun emplacements watching them as they walk the dog, choirs that cannot sing in tune, and a sad lack of sugar for the marmalade season. Henrietta's letters to Robert, somewhere in the midst of the War, convey witty and often unintentionally funny slices of life. This is a sharply witty, and jolly funny book, a humorous antidote to the often solemn world in which we find ourselves even now. Great fun. I hope to read more of the author's books.
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on 3 January 2012
When this book arrived from amazon I was a bit disappointed that it was so short, and that its pages were peppered with childish illustrations. However, I decided to persevere; you should, as the old cliché goes, never judge a book by its cover. I was not disappointed.

The whole book was in epistolary form, and through Henrietta's affectionate letters to her childhood friend Charles at the front in France during the second world war, the reader learns not just about the global effects of the war, but the impact in the small places, and on the small people. This is about the war for the ordinary individual.

A doctor's wife, Henrietta worries that her role in the war effort doesn't measure up to that of many of her neighbours, and tries at every turn to do her bit for the boys. However it seems her pains are almost always doomed to fail, and the light humour resulting from this made the novel a delightfully easy read.

The characters of Henrietta's hometown became as well known to me as my own friends and family and although sometimes a bit twee and cringe-makingly middle class, it did have me laughing out loud.

Aside from the deliciously light humour - perfect for a Sunday afternoon - it did subtly and cleverly tackle the greater issue of war, most strikingly through Henrietta's omitted mentions and passing comments. She is frightened to broach the subject with her correspondent, not wanting to give him the news of something he is already irrevocably embroiled in, and tries to send him news to cheer him up instead, but as she describes day to day life in the village, the war is always there, a character itself, shaping the course of the plot and the lives of the town's inhabitants. The shadow of the Great War still hangs over many in the novel, and their iron resolve to beat Germany in the Second World War by playing their part, however small, is apparent.

It was a warm and funny read, but also truthful and telling too, and evocative of life at the time for the middle classes. Although it won't be the best thing I've ever read, I've a feeling that it's going to be one of those books I go back to, to cheer me up.
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on 15 July 2009
Delightful little book that you could read in an afternoon.
Originally published as a magazine serial, with Joyce Dennys's own quirky illustrations, this is of the same genre as Diary of a Provincial Lady. As the PL was already well-established in another magazine, my guess is that Joyce Dennys jumped on a bandwagon, but I do think that she has a lighter touch than EM Delafield (Who can feel ever so slightly laboured if you read her at too long a sitting.) However, let's not quibble about their respective merits; if you liked the Provincial Lady, you'll love Henrietta ... and a delicious cast of characters fighting the war from a small town on the Devon coast, all wishing for their chance to give Hitler 'what for.'
Only 70 years ago ... but whatever happened to indomitable, tweedy ladies????
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on 16 January 2014
I absolutely loved this - it is a wonderful fictional account of Henrietta's experience of WW2, written in the form of letters to her friend who is serving overseas. It contains accounts of daily life in her Devonshire village and is full of wry and gentle humour. Its is a lovely read, the only downside being that it is too short. Read it!
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