” “And as for recipes, a stew’s a stew whether you fill it with odds and ends and call it Raggout Victory or not, I say!” And I must admit that after many experiments with New War-time Suggestions I couldn’t help feeling that Kate had right on her side.”
I’ve been rather ignoring the kindle of late- I’ve been so proud of myself for making some sort of indent on the TBR that I’ve been ignoring the virtual stacks.
I have really enjoyed the few Furrowed Middlebrow books I have read, as I knew I would- it’s one of the first blogs I started reading. I read A Chelsea Concerto and The Dancing Bear not long before I started this blog and I couldn’t put them down- if you haven’t read these memoirs I can’t recommend them strongly enough. They are both written by Frances Faviell, the first about her time as a nurse in London during the second World War, and the second is about her time living in Berlin not long after the war ended.
Anyway, I knew that by picking up a Furrowed Middlebrow title there was a decent likelihood that I would enjoy the book. I went with Winifred Peck’s Bewildering Cares. I have read her two mystery novels but that is all. It was published in 1940 and is narrated by the vicar’s wife as she tells us about life in the small parish of Stampfield in the North of England in the early days of the war.
” “Oh, not that old ‘has-been’!” was the reaction of the working-party, as they settled down to their work —the pink flannelette in its most curious size and shape was all ready. As my feelings about George Eliot are, alas, almost identical, I tried instead bits of The Diary of a Provincial Lady and The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell, with unparalleled success. They would hardly allow me to stop; we omitted the last hymn, as Mrs. Jones candidly stated that stop laughing she could not, not even if it was for “Brother thou art gone before us”. I could only realize, later, that Mrs. Weekes will think more poorly of me than ever, and the ghost of George Eliot will haunt me eternally.”
There’s a gently humorous tone to her descriptions, and yet there is also a grimness and a real depth to the writing as she tries to find her faith and keep it in this state of war. I found the balance of these mostly very well done, one moment I am amused and the next pondering, although as the book goes on the level of introspection does increase. I have to imagine that some of the author’s personal thoughts and worries are being channelled through the character of the vicar’s wife.
Their only son has joined up, although it is not clear where he is stationed. There are frequent memories of things Dick has done in similar situations or the narrator imagining how her son would react to something that has happened or that she has said. It makes it imminently clear that her son is always on her mind, and though her worry for him is not frequently alluded to it is nonetheless evident throughout that he is preoccupying her thoughts at all times.
“I see myself then, in my search for true Faith, as someone groping his way through a huge dark, shuttered house, in this black-out of our lives. At last I see a crack of light, and enter one room where there is an open, undarkened window at last, though the window indeed is small and high up in the wall. That there is a great and glorious view from it, if I could reach up to it, is certain; but that view, the vista of the whole truth of God’s scheme for the universe, I must leave to faith. While we must be in the house, our tabernacle of the body, we cannot hope to see the whole.”
The book is divided into days, and takes place over the course of one week. The main thread running through the novel is the havoc caused by the Curate, Herbert Strang, when he takes one of the services and talks about pacifism and not fighting the Axis powers. This causes fall out in the small village. However, what we really see is how busy life as a Vicar’s wife is, and how hard it was for small communities to hold together when all the young people of the area have left. Peck, was the daughter of a Bishop and so whilst not a Vicar’s wife herself, it is clear that she understands the life of the clergy well.
Overall I enjoyed this novel. It was very witty and I found the period details intriguing. Perhaps, the musings on religion were a little much for me and sometimes went on a bit, but in general I think it was handled well and was clearly suited to the setting of the novel. I loved the characters Peck created, I felt I could really see them. The narrator always having to bite her tongue; Kate, their one domestic servant, outspoken but kind always wanting to leave early to spend time with Private Jenkins before he leaves; poor, highbrow Miss Croft who struggles to make ends meet. I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in the home front during the early years of the Second World War. I’m really glad I read this 1940 addition to my A Century of Books challenge
“I hate to put visitors in Dick’s room, but I didn’t dare to risk the black-out in the spare-room, as we have just had a new air-raid warden appointed to this district, and he is unlikely to have sunk into the easy-going ways of Miss Boness, who said candidly that if the Germans were fools enough to bomb Stampfield in the snow she’d let them.”