REVIEW: Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945 by Joyce Dennys
World War II is now in its third year and although nothing can dent the unwavering patriotism of Henrietta and her friends, everyone in the Devonshire village has their anxious moments. Henrietta takes up weeding and plays the triangle in the local orchestra to take her mind off things; the indomitable Lady B, now in her late seventies, partakes in endless fund-raising events to distract herself from thoughts of life without elastic; and Faith, the village flirt, finds herself in the charming company of American GIs. With the war nearing its end, hope seems to lie just around the corner, and as this spirited community muddles through, Lady B vows to make their friendships outlast the hardship that brought them together.
Joyce Dennys was born in 1893 in India. The Dennys family relocated to England in 1896. Dennys enjoyed drawing lessons throughout her schooling and later enrolled at Exeter Art School. As she got older, her drawing took a backseat to the domestic and social duties of a mother and doctor’s wife and she became increasingly frustrated. She voiced her frustrations through the character of Henrietta, a heroine she created for an article for Sketch. These writings were later compiled to form Henrietta’s War, first published in 1985.
Goodness me, it’s been nine years since I read the first volume in this series “Henrietta’s War.” Well good intentions and all that and here I finally am reading more about “Henrietta Brown” the slightly klutzy wife of a country village doctor in Devon during World War II.
Joyce Dennys wrote these for “Sketch” in the form of letters from “Henrietta” to her childhood friend “Robert” who is serving overseas. In them she tells him all about the village and villagers – their triumphs, their feuds, their attempts to cheer each other up, show each other up, keep Carrying On in the face of rations, blackouts, and evacuees from London whose lips curled slightly at these people far from the bombs and then flying bombs that devastated the capital.
‘The people whose windows have been blown in are very scornful of the ones whose windows have not been blown in,’ said Lady B. ‘And the people whose doors and windows have been blown in are scornful of the people whose windows only have been blown in, and the people whose houses have been knocked down are scornful of everybody.’
‘Snom bobbery is rife,’ I said.
‘What, dear?’ said Lady B, peering at me anxiously.
‘She’s probably suffering from shock,’ said Charles to Lady B in a low tone.
We are all very proud of our home town, Robert. Nobody made a fuss and everything worked smoothly, rather to the disappointment of the Visitors who prophesied Muddles.
Some wonderful things occur – babies and parties that remind everyone of prewar days – as well as terribly sad news that arrives for some villagers whose sons won’t be coming home. Through it all Henrietta keeps going along with the support of her unflappable husband Charles, the redoubtable Lady B, and in the face of sometimes shrewish Mrs. Savernak.
Charles and I greeted our old friend the waiter with tears of recognition, but there wasn’t any lunch. Yesterday had been market day and there wasn’t anything left. Sadly we stepped into the street and threaded our patient way to a More Expensive House. ‘Could we have lunch?’ we asked meekly, standing on the mat. Authority looked us up and down. Yes, it thought it might manage something.
Joyfully and effusively we expressed our thanks and fought our way to the bar, which was full of people we didn’t know. There, over drinks which called themselves Gin and French, we cheered up a little. ‘I think it is probably what is called Hooch,’ said Charles, ‘and will make us blind.’ When I asked him which sort of blind he said, ‘Both sorts.’
Dennys’ humor is subtle rather than “laugh out loud” and the feel is very much of one friend writing about the little everyday things in life to keep another’s spirit up with news of people he grew up with and would know intimately. Amusing sketches accompany the letters which take the reader all the way through the bonfires lit to celebrate VE day. Were I Robert, these are letters I would have looked forward to getting to remind me of home. B
‘Think of London,’ I said passionately. ‘You only know the people you want to know in London.’
‘Pooh!’ said Lady B. ‘Any fool can live in London, but it’s an art to live in a place like this, at peace with your neighbours.’
This had never struck me before, and I turned it over in my mind.
‘Living in a small town,’ went on Lady B, ‘is like living in a large family of rather uncongenial relations. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s perfectly awful, but it’s always good for you. People in large towns are like only-children.’
‘What a sage you are, darling Lady B,’ I said.