Mrs. Tim Carries On by D.E. Stevenson – Everyday life in the Second World War as a fascinating story

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Hester Christie would have been a familiar character to readers in the 1930s who had encountered “Mrs Tim of the Regiment”, D.E. Stevenson’s book which introduced a military family. This book is a sequel, published in 1941 to improve morale in the first part of the Second World War. It tells the gentle story of a group of soldiers families, in much the same way as the slightly later “Spring Magic” was to do. This novel is written in the form of a diary or journal, reflecting Hester’s own thoughts and conversations. She does not cover every day; indeed for one rather difficult period she is largely silent, but she conveys a lot about her children and friends, guests and those she feels responsible for by reason of her husband’s military rank. She reveals how she feels about the dangers which her husband and others face, but also how her friends point out that he may be safer in France than Britain, given the dangers caused by the backout and the predicted bombing of the barracks near to where they live. 

 

Hester’s son is away at school, and sends entertaining letters while there, and goes for interesting projects when home. Her younger daughter Betty has an amusing view on wartime life, and those who she likes. Hester has a friend, Grace, who is pregnant and given to strange ideas about the son she is sure that she is going to have imminently. A young guest causes a stir in the area, as the younger soldiers are very interested. Hester has responsibilities to the soldiers and frequently to their emotional needs, and this can involve her in interesting situations. Stevenson has a keen ear for dialogue and the humour of everyday situations. This book does not contain great drama but the sort of everyday events that prove fascinating in Stevenson’s masterly hands. Her common experience of shortages, sending small items to soldiers abroad, fancy furnishing in lodgings and wartime travel would have struck a chord with the first readers, and for those who can enjoy this reprint today provide the details that make this book really come alive. While this is a book of its time, it is a fascinating account of life in the Second World War which really comes alive in Stevenson’s experienced and skilled hands. I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent bookmade available once more by Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press.  

 

The characters in this book are memorable and unique. Miss Browne Winters is a devotee of past lives, while some people are very open to listen to her. Polish soldiers with their halting English and friendly disposition become a feature of local society, just as foreign soldiers of various kinds would have done all over Britain. Romance invariably plays its part in a small group of people where tennis parties are still popular and the cinema is a venue for couples and friends to spend time together. 

 

Altogether this a gentle and undemanding book, but full of interest and with many enjoyable characters. It is full of the details that an eyewitness could supply, and a narrative that flows well throughout. While true to a real chronology, this is a proper story which moves along well throughout. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in life on the Home Front during the early part of the War, and it provides a good story which transcends its setting. It is a really fascinating book of life, love and the everyday which has so much insight and humour.

 

I really enjoy the Furrowed Middlebrow books – I have one or two in the house really to read and review. As the latest group are set in or just after the Second World War, they will be very interesting insights into what was actually experienced, without the benefit for some writers of knowing what was to happen.

Spring Magic by D.E. Stevenson – a Furrowed Middlebrow reprint of a cheerful book from wartime

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Dorothy Stevenson wrote many good books in the middle of the twentieth century, and this is one of the most approachable and delightful. While on the surface it is about a young woman who travels to a small Scottish village to escape the drudgery of working for impossible relatives and the bombing of London in the Second World War, it is actually a sincere look at relationships. Stevenson wrote many books in the mid twentieth century, some featuring a number of characters on a series basis. This book is a one off, but still achieves a certain lightness and insight. It combines excellent characterisations of individuals with an accurate portrayal of complex relationships in both the civilian village and the army base.  The book’s heroine, Frances Field, is a well written character as her innocent view of a new environment and the complications of new people allow the reader to explore alongside Francis in her new life. The range of characters is enormous, from the flirtatious colonel’s daughter, the small boy with a big vocabulary, and the secretive lord of the manor. The setting of the small village, seashore and countryside is wonderful, as well as the glimpses of the stricken south of England. The war in the background means that there is threat and change beneath the surface of the narrative; it is significant that this book was originally published in 1942. I am so pleased that the good people of Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press have given me the opportunity to read and review this most enjoyable book. 

 

The book begins with the twenty five year old Frances coming to terms with her lot as unpaid housekeeper for her selfish and demanding aunt following the death of both of her parents some years before. Her only hope is Dr.Digby, who recommends that she must have a holiday, and she accordingly heads north to a small fishing village, Cairn. She is unsure how to even get accommodation, but manages to reawaken a hotel. This is really helpful when she encounters three army wives keen to find housing near their husbands, Elise, Tommy and Tillie. Through them and their husbands she meets many more people from the army base, including the intriguing Guy.  Frances witnesses much and begins to understand the underlying stories of those on the base and in the village. For a small community there is plenty going on, and Frances has several adventures. While there is a war in the background, this is not a novel of blitz and bombing, but of the way the upheaval and movement of people changes lives. 

 

The general sense of this book is cheerful and hopeful, despite the timing. Much is going on amidst the seashore, hotel and small house, Sea View. This book has an exciting climax, though much of its power comes from the careful build up of characters through the novel. While Frances is seen as an innocent, she begins to see that her new life is very different from her previous invisibility in London, and she becomes involved in the lives of others. Stevenson’s eye for detail picks out the small, significant elements of the surroundings which will have some importance later. She also has a telling way with dialogue which is not only amusing but reveals much about character. I recommend this book to all fans of mid twentieth century literature for its plot, characters and setting, and overall air of optimism from a dark place.

 

This is only one of the many wonderful reprints of hard to get books from the mid twentieth century written by women. Available in paperback and ebook, they are generally great reads which have slipped from lists unjustly.  Some more wartime books have been recently been made available, and I recommend them (as you will see if you look at some of “their” authors I have reviewed). Why not take a look at their website, where you will find the full Dean Street range https://www.deanstreetpress.co.uk/main/middlebrow ?