REVIEW: Henrietta’s War – News from the Homefront 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys
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
For those looking for more D.E. Stevenson, Miss Buncle Married, Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, and Young Clementina are all available as ebooks now, in addition to the first Buncle book. I liked Henrietta’s War and enjoyed it for the history and the writing style, but IMHO Joyce Dennys writing does not have quite the same bite in the subtle humor that I find in D.E. Stevenson’s books.
A friend who shares my love of the Provincial Lady books told me about these and I got them for Christmas. Pleasant, but not as memorable as the PL or the Mrs Tim books.
Wow. Checked the Kindle Stevensons on Amazon and Amazon. co.uk and there are half a dozen ‘new’ Stevensons out, old manuscripts discovered in the attic by her daughter. Some look promising ::empties piggybank:;
@wkw: I agree that Dennys isn’t quite as funny as Stevenson’s Miss Buncle books though I found it funnier than “The Young Clementina” which I will be reviewing soon. According to Amazon, the next Buncle book will be released early next year.
@Jane Davitt: Oooh, thanks for the heads up.
If you might enjoy a non-fiction version of something similar, Jayne, I can recommend the various editions of Joyce Grenfell’s letter-exchanges. There’s a book about her letter exchanges with her mother living back in the US during the war, there’s a book about her diary of going to two tours of the Middle East and India as an ENSA entertainer, and there is her decades long letter exchange with her best friend Virginia Graham, which spans from the 1920s to shortly before her death in 1979.
She also recorded her first autobiography for the BBC, which is a pleasure to listen to, and also has bits about that part of her life.
She started as a fascinating poor relation of Nancy Astor, with an American mother and a half-British father, and became Britain’s answer to Ruth Draper. You can find loads of clips of some of her sketches (she recorded them for TV when she was over 60) on Youtube.
@Estara: I love Joyce Grenfell! Love, love her. Thanks for pointing me in this direction. I will definitely check these out.
Jane, if you liked this then you need to read the brilliant – Nella Last’s War, the second world war diaries of “Housewife, 49”. -These are the diaries of a lady called Nella Last, who, as part of the Mass Observation project, kept a record of her experiences – and it makes for fantastic reading. ( it’s also been filmed – as Housewife,49. with the magnificent Victoria Wood – but I don’t know if it’s available in the US)
@Cate: Yes, it is available. I just put the ebook on hold at Kobo. Thanks for pointing it out.