Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Mrs. Miniver

Frazzled after a long day of work, we drove 40 miles to return our books to the university library.  We didn't stay long, because it was finals week:  groups of students chatting in the lobby, swilling diet drinks and eating cereal, rummaging through backpacks, staring at computers and iPads, an occasional book open, and a general air of panic. 

I almost checked out Jan Struther's Try Anything Twice:  Essays and Stories, but then I realized I hadn't read Mrs. Miniver.  Some people swear by Mrs. Miniver. And it wasn't there.   Serendipitously, when I got home, I surfed the net for a Jan Struther web page:  I found that you can read The Collected Works of Jan Struther online here

So I'm reading Mrs. Miniver.  Jan Struther, who wrote for Punch magazine in the 1930s, was recruited by Peter Fleming, an editor for The Times, to write a series of columns about "an ordinary sort of woman who leads an ordinary sort of life - rather like yourself". The  columns were collected into book form in 1939.  And Mrs. Miniver was made into a movie with Greer Garson in 1942.

I'm charmed by these slight sketches.  In a parallel life, I would love to be Mrs. Miniver, who is the contented wife of an architect, with three comical children (one at Eton), servants, a house in town and the country, friends, charming Christmases, funny dinner parties, and leftist leanings.  She has a sense of humor, but also is sensitive to nature.  The sketches are almost like diary entries, proceeding chronologically through the seasons, a mix of family events and nature description.   My favorite essay so far is "The New Engagement Book."  It is very fitting that Mrs. Miniver, Struther's alter-ego, should be fascinated by the diaries in a stationery shop.

"As usual, she had meant to buy one before leaving London for Starlings; but as usual, there hadn't been time.  It is a thing, she knew, which must never be done in a hurry.  An engagement book is the mos important of all those small adjuncts to life, that tribe of humble familiars which job along beside one from year's end to year's end, apparently trivial, but momentous by reason of their terrible intimacy."

She browses through several planners.

"One was bound in crimson leatherette, one in brown calf, and one in green lizardskin.  She rejected the leatherette at once.  In a spasm of post-Christmas economy, she had once bought a very cheap engagement book, and it had annoyed her for twelve months; everything she put down in it looked squalid."

The beautiful green lizardskin is too expensive, so she compromises with the brown calf.  But then on the bus...  

Mrs. Miniver is an excellent mother.  The Minivers's Guy Fawkes Day is idyllic.  Christmas is also good, as Struther recounts the delight of older generation in the children's pleasure in their gifts.  

But, typically, I'm less interested in her life as a mother than I am in her as an individual.

Her musings and meditations are sometimes slightly offbeat.  She manages to describe a visit to the dentist entertainingly.  She satirizes her attempts to answer him when he asks if she's all right.

"Eye aw eye," said Mrs. Miniver.  Oh, quite all right.  Grand.  I love it.  This is just my idea of the way to spend a fine afternoon in early spring.
Halfway through the book, World War II is beginning.  Mrs. Miniver is horrified by the news of Hitler. Her lovely domestic life begins to be affected by the outside world.

Mrs. Miniver is a little like The Diary of a Provincial Lady--not as well-written, but charming, the slightly idealized life of an Englishwoman in the home in the 1930s.

1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

I loved the film of this, but haven't made time for the book yet. Good to know that it's Provincial-Lady-esque!