callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

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After the war was over

I bought this book because I liked the cover. It is written in the first person by Sir Roger Marrion of Wynyates, Surrey, and purports to be his war journals. He and his wife Richenda, one of those Dresden porcelain invalids with an unspecified complaint and always described as ‘a great lady', make Wynyates self sufficient for the war, never forgetting the cottagers. The book is an unconvincing defence of an old, feudal rural order and full of astonishing assertions such as that The Battle of Britain was won by men wearing ‘the old school tie’ and that ‘Eton never surrenders’. It is quite dreadful. I had never before read a book by Warwick Deeping and looking at the long list of titles on the back, the only one I recognized was Sorrell and Son. I now burn to read Mad Barbara.

Warwick Deeping died in 1950 and The Old World Dies was published posthumously in 1954. This set me thinking about other popular authors who were nearing the ends of their writing lives by 1945 and my first thought was of Dornford Yates, who died in 1960. Lower Than Vermin, published in 1949, made me shriek when I first read it as a teenager. The title, of course, comes from Aneurin Bevan’s notorious description of the Tories, made at a meeting of the Labour party in 1948. Yates’s book is another defence of the old ways, showing how a noble family had sacrificed generations of young men for its country, only to be rewarded with the loss of everything they possessed and stood for. Unfortunately the book is full of wildly intemperate and ludicrous statements and the Socialist (Boo!) character turns out to be a murderer. Poor old Yates. He couldn’t stand the new order, which he observed from afar in Southern Rhodesia.

Angela Thirkell is another author who ruined her post war books by constant references to THEM, by which she meant the Labour government. In one she even refers to ‘the happy days of the war’ when England stood alone. Sadly, these writers blamed the new government for what was really the result of five years of total war. Just as unhappy but braver about it was that remarkable woman, Flora Klickmann. Best known today as the editor of the Girl’s Own Paper, she was very popular in her lifetime for her Flower Patch books, about her cottage and garden in Worcestershire. The last of these, Weeding the Flower Patch, was published in 1948. Klickmann was already in her seventies when war broke out and she spent the war years in the country looking after two guests described as ‘evacuees’, two women who seem to have needed a great deal of care. In this book, typically, rather than moaning she cracks on with life, her main complaints being about food and the difficulty of supplying the household.

Two of the most popular writers of the early twentieth century happily ignored the war in their writings and went on with the fantasies which had so delighted their public before the war. Georgette Heyer scarcely modified her style and Arabella, published in 1949, is one of my favourites. Jeffery Farnol (died 1952) brought out The 'Piping Times' in 1945 and made it an idyll of a rural England which never existed even before 1914, full of rolling English roads and foaming pints. I must admit I found it very enjoyable.

The queen of all ‘everything has changed for the worse and nothing will ever be the same again’ books is of course Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. That is so much in a class of its own that I can’t include it here.

Next up, I will be thinking about the writers who saw a brave new world beginning in 1945.
Tags: angela thirkell, dornford yates, flora klickmann, georgette heyer, jeffery farnol, post-war popular novels. warwick deeping
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