The Village by Marghanita Laski – a Persephone book of a postwar village divided

The Village by Marghanita LaskiMarghanita Laski

The Village by Marghanita Laski


On VE Day, the 8th May, 1945, the Second World War officially ended in Europe. In the imaginary village of Priory Dean at the heart of Laski’s 1952 book, reprinted by Persephone , life will never be the same again. The strict social divisions in a village – the gentry, the tradespeople, the servants, have been overcome during the preceding years as the war has forced people to cooperate for the common good. The celebrations which mark the end of the war are led by excitable children lighting bonfires, but underneath the excitement there are those who are little sad that they can no longer meet for the wartime duties that have meant so much. Rationing will continue, there will be housing shortages, there will be an end to some old divisions, but essentially there are those who will have money, and those who do not, those who have an indefinable “class” but those who are without, a fact that does not always go together. This is the case with the Trevors, Gerald and Wendy, who have a family name and background, but very little money. There are those in the village who are from more humble backgrounds, but whose trade is bringing in a far more generous wage. As newcomers to the village try to find their feet and position, it is obvious to everyone that whatever people may or may not have financially, there are the silent rules.  This is a book which looks back to a definite period of uncertainty, change and challenge.


Mrs Trevor and Mrs Wilson choose to spend the night of the VE celebrations in the Village Hall, in the first aid post that they had staffed during the war. “Down the hill from Wood View, Priory Hill came Wendy Trevor and up the hill from 15 Station Road came Edith Wilson to meet in the porch of the Village Hall”. Priory Hill is the place where the middle class people live, such as retired army officers, solicitors and others live, some impoverished, some maintaining their expectations. Wendy Trevor has slipped from having servants and a good quality of life to making do with little as their latest business has failed. They are investing in their daughters, Margaret and Sheila, hoping that they will either marry well and achieve their independence at least, if not also help their parents. Margaret is not doing well at school and seems to have no interest or talent for anything except home making. Sheila is the clever one, likely to get scholarships and be set on the path to career success. Margaret’s ambitions extend to getting married and having a home. Wendy despairs of finding a “suitable” husband for Margaret, but when the large house “Green Lawns” is sold she has her hopes. The entire village, meanwhile, is divided on what happens next, as well as the incidental events of life with unspoken rules. 


This is a powerful book which exposes the class divisions and snobbery that survived the War, but which were being challenged everyday. There are some harsh words spoken, some sadness revealed, but there is also some amusement to be found in an account of a community which is still divided between them and us. The rules of hospitality, of minor slights, of misunderstandings make for a sometimes amusing, always fascinating novel. Laski can be criticised for her hyper awareness of class, but this is a truthful account of the way that people divide people along unwritten lines, and it is a very readable novel of a time seventy five years ago.


I looked out this book from my Persephone collection because of the references to it in other books I have been looking at around the VE anniversary. It is a typical Persephone book in that it is by a less than well known British woman author. Persephone have also produced three of her other books, a political satire, a book of a lost child in wartime France, and under a pseudonym, “To Bed With Grand Music” which goes some way to upset the idea of everyone pulling together in Wartime Britain. They are well worth reading!

Tory Heaven or Thunder on the Right by Marghanita Laski – A bitterly insightful Persephone

Image result for tory heaven marghanita laski

This is a most unusual book, even for Persephone who have managed to bring out a wide variety of novels and other books which reflect life in the Twentieth century. This is an extended satire in the form of a short novel, in which certain characters are depicted as living in a nearly familiar setting of a post war Britain most unlike they expected. Its bitterly insightful message, that rigid divisions in society are more than unfair, shows a world in which some people seem to get everything, while the vast majority serve or suffer. It is not a political manifesto as such, but a dystopian vision in which some things seem familiar yet frequently painful. It has disturbing echoes of a society in which nothing had changed after the cataclysmic events of the Second World War, yet in this version of life, so much was different. Its skilful writing avoids melodrama, yet manages to convey so much about the daily lives of so many people.

As the novel opens, set in 1948, five people, including a young man called James, are rescued from an otherwise deserted island. Echoing Persephone’s “Miss Ranskill Comes Home” by Barbara Euphan Todd, the castaways discover a different Britain from the one that they had left a few years previously. James is pessimistic about his return, as despite a comfortable background and a public school education, he had not found his role in life or indeed a means of supporting himself. He discovers to his astonishment that it is his very background which gives him automatic status as a class A citizen, able to live a largely idle life supported by non executive directorships and the fact that the vast majority of citizens are ranked below him. Indeed there is one class of people, C, who are totally dedicated to serving As. He soon finds the lifestyle of privilege and virtually unlimited credit much to his liking, as he discovers other As who are soon suited with women who are either available to marry or ideal mistresses. Women generally within his class are no longer expected or allowed to study at University or work for money; their expectations should be for neatly arranged marriage. Other women must work within the constraints of their own classes or aspire to a relationship outside marriage; James is soon ‘provided’ with a maid for his immediate needs. His family are delighted to welcome him back, but sad that they must live a circumscribed life, not allowed to mix with those in a different class on any level. James sees some of the other castaways, some of which have not been so comfortably settled. It is the political changes which have been introduced that convince him that no change will be possible. Those with a vote preserve the status quo, those without cannot change a system which remorselessly enforces the chasm between the haves and have nots.

This is both a book of its time, but also a book which arguably speaks to society today. We know what happened to Britain after the Second World War; the austerity, rationing and shortages which affected everyone. Here the solution is to toughen the divides so one class has as much as it wants, while the rest of society has to make do. The system of democracy has reverted to control by the already powerful and rich, with Trade Unions and intellectuals being ruthlessly suppressed. This is a skillfully written book, full of wry observations on a society with not totally unfamiliar elements. It is a story, a work of imagination, yet engaging in its black humour and recognisable characters. It is a strange satire, yet a readable novel for times beyond the 1940s. I was very grateful to receive a review copy of this book, which I found an really good, unusual read.

This book is one of the three new Persephone books just released.  I have actually got another review of an older book to post, so watch this space for more Persephone books!

Persephone Post – and one of their books

One of the interesting things about the Persephone Books website is the link to which offers an unusual, historical picture, often of women reading, working or just as an alternative view of the world. Here is today’s

which is an interesting image of a woman operating a printing press. I’m using it today because I want to post about Persephone no.86, To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski.

This book,  in some ways, fulfills the expectation of a book by this small but excellent publishing house.It is written by a woman in the twentieth century and it certainly warrants reprinting. I enjoyed it. It is a book set in World War Two, and features a young wife and mother, Deborah, left to look after her small son while her husband is posted to the Middle East for the duration.But this is where the book begins to diverge from the expected. Instead of being yet another ‘brave woman on the home front’ account, Deborah exploits the freedom offered by an absent husband and a willing housekeeper to go to London and find a job. She begins by regretting a one night stand and becomes a solitary, respectable war worker returning to the countryside at the weekend. She changes into a different person gradually, staying in London more, meeting a man and then another who change her life view.

What is so good about this book is the depiction of her reasoning with herself which enable her to justify to herself what she is doing. It is written in the third person, but accurately captures her thought processes, even when the reader is willing her to make a different choice, take different action. Not that I would condemn her outright; women were in a unique position of being given so many new choices and responsibilities. The traditional ways of life were going, and women for the first time had more than marriage, home and children to concern themselves with. This is a short book, with an understandable heroine. I liked reading this alternative view of what women really did in wartime, and it is another memorable book in my Persephone collection.