Ever since the latest season of Downton ended, I’ve been searching for something to fill the void. Though there’s nothing quite as funny as watching Maggie Smith talk about weekends, I found a few substitutes. It’s only natural that I turned first to historical fiction set in the 20s before moving on to fiction set in the 40s.
First up is I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan.
It’s January 1943 when Rita Vincenzo receives her first letter from Glory Whitehall. Glory is an effervescent young mother, impulsive and free as a bird. Rita is a sensible professor’s wife with a love of gardening and a generous, old soul. Glory comes from New England society; Rita lives in Iowa, trying to make ends meet. They have nothing in common except one powerful bond: the men they love are fighting in a war a world away from home.
Brought together by an unlikely twist of fate, Glory and Rita begin a remarkable correspondence. The friendship forged by their letters allows them to survive the loneliness and uncertainty of waiting on the home front, and gives them the courage to face the battles raging in their very own backyards. Connected across the country by the lifeline of the written word, each woman finds her life profoundly altered by the other’s unwavering support.
A collaboration of two authors whose own beautiful story mirrors that on the page, I’ll Be Seeing You is a deeply moving union of style and charm. Filled with unforgettable characters and grace, it is a timeless celebration of friendship and the strength and solidarity of women.
Summary from Amazon.com
This one is an absolute joy to read — it’s a mixture of nostalgia, romance and the power of friendship. Written as a series of letters between two women whose husbands have gone off to war, the novel show the intense impact the war had on those at home. Glory and Rita are endearing as women, mainly because the authors have allowed them to be imperfect. All too often in historical fiction women are shown as perfect wives and mothers, not so here! This book is guaranteed to make you pull out your stationary and write a letter to a friend!
Next up is a book that I haven’t quite finished but am absolutely adoring, House-Bound by Winifred Peck.
Penelope Fitzgerald wrote: ‘If I could have back one of the many Winifred Peck titles I once possessed I would choose House-Bound. The story never moves out of middle-class Edinburgh; the satire on genteel living, though, is always kept in relation to the vast severance and waste of the war beyond. The book opens with a grand comic sweep as the ladies come empty-handed away from the registry office where they have learned that they can no longer be “suited” and in future will have to manage their own unmanageable homes. There are coal fires, kitchen ranges and intractable husbands; Rose is not quite sure whether you need soap to wash potatoes. Her struggle continues on several fronts, but not always in terms of comedy. To be house-bound is to be “tethered to a collection of all the extinct memories… with which they had grown up… how are we all to get out?” I remember it as a novel by a romantic who was as sharp as a needle, too sharp to deceive herself.’
Summary from Persephone Books.
House-Bound is part of a delightful series of books published by Persephone Books. Persephone takes books written by women over the past 200 years and gives them new life. Often these are the books that have fallen out of print with time or, in the case of several of their books, were never printed at all. House-Bound is a lot of fun to read but certainly isn’t as action-packed as modern novels. It’s the perfect answer to what to read before bed.
Rating: Withheld as I’m not finished yet!
In case you’re looking for a quick fix, here are two television series I highly recommend that capture both the glamour and the scarcity of wartime. (Bonus: they’re both available on Netflix!)
- Land Girls: A fun mini-series about girls who have joined the Women’s Land Army in England. Though most of them are used to hard work, when an aristocratic girl who has never lifted a finger shows up hilarity ensues.
- Bomb Girls : This series follows Canadian women who are employed in a munitions factory during the war. Tensions are high as pressure is put on the factory to produce more bombs.