I came across The Bloomsbury Group of novels while checking at Amazon to see if any more D.E. Stevenson books were available. One is – which I’ve now bought – along with this book which sounded charming. After reading the initial pages and then crossing my fingers, I ordered a copy.
As other reviewers have said, the fictional letters written by one Henrietta Brown, small English village doctor’s wife and mother of two grown children, are a sweet and often humorous glimpse into wartime England. Though the tone is more gently amusing rather than sarcastically biting wit.
The “letters” were originally written by Joyce Dennys for Sketch during the war and are from Henrietta to a childhood friend named Robert who is in the Army and serving initially in France – though he must change locations after June of 1940. In them we see village life carrying on in much the way it always has with everyone knowing everyone else’s business, growing envious over who has the best gardens and is able to get rid of bindweed, singing in the village choir and enjoying sea bathing during the nice summer weather.
Yet things are also not normal as the villagers cope with blackouts, air raid sirens, evacuees, worry over loved ones in danger then later rations and, almost worst of all, the Bomb Snobs from London and Kent who sneer at these Devonians with their untouched houses. It takes some clever insinuation of danger on the part of the redoubtable Lady B – after all, the Devon beaches would be perfect for German landing craft – for the villagers to get a little of their self respect back.
The letters are meant to be a message of cheer to the fictitious Robert. See, all’s still well at home as everyone keeps up a Cheerful Front in the face of danger. Quietly carrying on and maintaining their English pluck and fortitude with a dash of gentle laughter. By the and of the book, I’d come to know and admire klutzy and slightly vague Henrietta, her endlessly patient husband Charles, glamorous Faith, ruthlessly efficient Mrs. Savernack, the proper Admiral, genial Lady B and Perry – the little dog who rules the Brown household.
I’ve already ordered and am looking forward to the second half of their story “Henrietta Sees It Through.” B