A couple of years ago I posted here about Nella Last’s War, which was made into a TV drama, Housewife, 49 starring Victoria Wood. Now the book has been followed up by Nella Last’s Peace, a selection from the millions of words she continued to write for Mass Observation when the war was over. I think it’s inevitable that the follow-up is less interesting; more of the same without the bombs and the fear for local boys in the forces.
I was writing just recently about how J G Ballard, returning to England as a teenager after the war, thought the country seemed defeated and tired. This is just the feeling one gets reading Nella’s diary. She comments frequently on her own tiredness and of feeling comfortable only when she gets to bed with a book. (Her comfort reading was the Herries chronicles by Hugh Walpole.) Demobilisation is slow, people worry about jobs, there are still shortages of essentials. Nella herself disapproves of the Labour government and wishes Churchill were still in charge; she is anti-American but is shocked by the way others hate not just the Germans but the French. There was of course a lot of resentment that goods had to be exported to make money or donated to help shattered Europe when the ‘victors’ were so short. (See also post-war fiction here.)
On the whole I find Nella’s views on the world situation and her philosophical ramblings much less fascinating than the minutiae of her housekeeping. She never tires of listing what she has bought in the shops, the meals she contrives at home so that her husband says he has ‘never noticed any shortages’, her mending and sewing. It can’t have been just the war which tired her out but the housewifely pressure she put on herself; I certainly wouldn’t feel the need to ‘vacc and dust’ as she puts it, after a day out.
I find it irritating that the publishers have chosen a typical misery memoir cover for the book. Nella and her husband lived in a modern, semi-detached house with a garage and a large garden. They had a telephone, a car and in 1946 Nella admits, strictly to her diary, that she has spent eight guineas on a dress (over £200 today). She may complain about the years of scrimping, saving and making do, but she was not poor. Anyone who likes reading diaries will enjoy this one, especially as it was never written for publication.