Singled Out and Maisie Dobbs – Leftover women

One of the fascinating areas of reading popular at the moment – or is that every Remembrance Sunday – is the other effect of the carnage of the First World War, being the sheer number of women who survived the War, despite their often risky war work. Mathematics alone shows that there must have been many women who could no longer hope to marry or have relationships with men, so many young men having died or been terribly injured.

Not that I want to dwell on the tragic aspects of this era, but it did mean that women had to enter and become proficient in occupations that they would never have considered possible before. The lovely Persephone Books deal with this subject in some of their reprinted novels, but a factual book which seems to be quite positively dealing with the women’s fates is Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson, subtitled “How Two Million Women Survived Without Men after the First World War”.

This seems on my reading so far to be a positive account of what these women did. It scores a hit with me because it mentions Winifred Holtby and even quotes from The Crowded Street, her novel recently reprinted by Persephone

The Crowded Street

(No.76) which is a moving account of the fate of young women who cannot fulfill their intended destiny of respectable marriage. Not one of Persephone’s most cheerful offerings, but an absorbing read which draws the reader into the plight of women living not so long ago. I would recommend it as an excellent account of the sheer hopelessness (and not in a feeble way) of these women.

Which is a long winded way of getting to today’s book, An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear, being the fifth Maisie Dobbs Mystery. For the uninitiated, Maisie is a girl who though born in the servant class in London, is supported by a wealthy patroness, begins studying at Cambridge, then becomes a nurse in the First World War.  Through the novels she becomes a Private Investigator who looks at different cases using her experiences and intuition. This latest novel fits the pattern well, reflecting the mystery-solving theme amongst some rather poignant events. I read this book quickly, enjoying picking up the clues early (for me, anyway) and the observations on life and death. It is not a cheerful book, but one which is interesting on several levels.

I have commented before that there are several series of books in which an independent female soles murder mysteries in the 20s and 30s. Of all of them, this series is the most sombre and arguably the most obviously well researched. This novel depicts the gypsy way of life, which Winspear has apparently studied carefully. which shows in some laboured passages of description. It is also a little tedious on Maisie’s abilities to become a miraculous diviner.

Those things said, this is an interesting series of books which are worth reading if you are interested in the period of history, murder mysteries and the long term effects of the War on many levels of society.