Sunday, 17 April 2011

Mrs Miniver - Jan Struther

Forget about the film of the same name and its star, Greer Garson; which was turned by Hollywood into a rather good propaganda film showing how the Brits managed, with a stiff upper lip, to just get on with things whilst Hitler did his best to take on the whole of Europe. The book, first published in 1939, and republished by Virago Modern Classics in 1989 is totally different. Mrs Miniver was a thoroughly upper middle class character, similar in so many ways to the author (professional husband, three children, second home) and she was invented to be the star of a regular column of articles for the Times newspaper, which were put together and published in book form just after the outbreak of WW2 in 1939. It's clear, once you know this, that each chapter of the book is a sort of stand-alone short story, and you can see them as the published newspaper articles that they were; but linked together, they form a coherent whole. Also important is that here is a little piece of real social history. Mrs Miniver had servants - a cook, a nannie for the two youngest children, and a maid; and at the second home a housekeeper. The second world war was the catalyst for great change in domestic circumstances: we may pay a cleaner or gardener for a few hours a week if we can afford it, and those with more money may have an au pair until either the children are grown, or the husband runs off with said servant! - but only the nouveau riche or the truly upper classes have full time paid staff now. Towards the end of the book are a few letters written by Mrs M to her sister in law, and these were added to the 1989 edition. It's a short book, and the language certainly shows its age, but so worth a read for its insight and charm. If you read and enjoyed Can any Mother help me? by Jenna Bailey you might like to read this too.