REVIEW: The Spirit of the Age and Other Stories From the Home Front by E M Delafield
Originally published under Little Fiddle- On-The-Green Still Smiling, E. M Delafield’s The Spirit of the Age captures in a collection of vignettes the impact of WW2 on the Home Front.
The people of Little Fiddle-on-the-Green lived a very peaceful life. They went to cricket matches. They discussed the works of Shakespeare. They lived out quintessential British country lives. That was before the War started. Before the Germans tried to drop bombs on their heads. That was an inconvenience indeed!
As the war years drag on, the people of Little Fiddle-on-the-Green still carry on with a smile on their faces, but the village talks turn to Hitler and Mussolini as well as gardens, dinner parties and games. After all, there are far more pressing things than politics to discuss… It will take more than the threat of total invasion to knock the British people off their stride.
Told with characteristic wit and charm, E. M Delafield’s The Spirit of the Age is a glowing testament to the stiff upper lip attitude of the Home Front.
Someone here has recommended EM Delafield to me before but up until now, I’ve never followed up on that. This however, seemed a perfect little nugget to try. It’s filled with deliciously droll English humor as a small, country village Carries On.
Rumors of Trouble on the Continent may swirl but the citizens of Little Fiddle-on-the-Green are still busy going about their day to day lives and dealing with village politics. There are several Very Strong Personalities in play and though the exchanges may be couched in the most polite of terms – most of the time – that does little to mask the determination to get one’s own way be it at the Women’s Institute or the Wednesday afternoon knitting circle.
Soon though that inconveniencing Mr. Hitler has turned village life topsy turvey what with officious wardens monitoring for chinks in one’s blackout curtains – done up with old petticoats and brown paper since the very last length of black fabric had just been sold before one reached the counter – and somewhat silly persons trying to lecture the women on how to economize by dying old fabric – and who has any of that? – with rare Irish herbs before turning it into telephone covers. What nonsense.
Meanwhile the very annoying elderly neighbor of the author calls for assistance at least 4-5 times a week, or so Charles grouses, all while stoutly denying that anyone must take any notice of her little complaints as they’re nothing, really nothing. But Miss Littlemug does have everything planned should those dastardly Germans dare to parachute into the village and land at her house during the sewing circle. Meanwhile Laura, the niece of other neighbors, slips wicked sotto voce asides into conversation which often annoy the old battleaxes of the group.
Besides being a record of how English villagers did manage to make do when it was needed, this is a lovely glimpse back in time before televisions took the place of watching everyone else. One’s life – imagine, General and Mrs. Battlegate are going on separate vacations?? – was thoroughly discussed by the neighbors over breakfast and someone was sure to see everything that went on.
Fund raisers and jumble sales to raise money for the war bored everyone but the thought – make that threat – of a display of tableaux vivants was enough for most of the men to pay to get out of – thus ingeniously raising twice as much. Out doing each other in furnishing one’s bomb shelter becomes a spirited – though always teeth grindingly polite – competition. Miss Littlemug demands that all villagers be willing to follow the example of the Russians and engage in a scorched earth policy should the need arise. The village fervently hopes the need never will. Of course her cottage would be the last to go up in flames.
I loved the – made up? – names given to neighboring villages. Bangbottle Regis, Fiddle Magna, Porchwinkle Magna, Bottleby St. Ham, Bottleby St. Oggin, Ham St. Foggarty, Bottle-St. Barnaby, Ham St. Jinnock and last but not least Hop-St.-Hamilton. I’m getting slightly dizzy with all the Bottlebys and Hams.
The book is delightfully full of English matrons in tweeds and their – ever so slightly hen pecked – husbands stoutly getting on with things in the face of adversity, rationing and war. As it was published in 1942, neither they nor the readers of the time knew what would come next but to be sure, they had no doubt of the final outcome. B+