Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Mrs Miniver

Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame in case one day she should find herself unable to get back.
Mrs Miniver began as an occasional series of articles to The Times by Jan Struther. Observations about family life, day-to-day events, thoughts and reflections are collected under enticing headings such as The Last Day of the Holidays, Christmas Shopping and Choosing a Doll and were published as a book in 1939.

The opening is delightful. Mrs Miniver is returning to her London home carrying a big bunch of chrysanthemums. She rejoices in the early autumn sunshine, the astringent scent of the flowers, the bright fire in her drawing room and the unsullied new library books laying on the stool.

There are similarities in the style and form between Mrs Miniver and The Diary of a Provincial Lady, but I have to say that at times I found Mrs Miniver a little too smug which I never found with the PL. However, the excellent introduction by Valerie Groves informs us that Jan Struther had a very privileged life and reminds us to keep a sense of time and place. The book takes on a more sombre tone after the outbreak of war.

I suspect Mrs Miniver works best as a series of articles rather than a novel, nevertheless this is an enjoyable read by an intelligent and vivacious woman.

18 comments:

lifeonthecutoff said...

You have reminded me in your review here of one of my favorite movies, Mrs. Miniver. I didn't know it was based on a book (or maybe the series of stories). Thank you for reviewing it here - I now have an author to go with the story and will need to find it.

S. Mehrens said...

I just read this book earlier this summer. I really enjoyed the book although I was very surprised to find it nothing like the movie. In all honesty I almost liked it better. Though I love Greer Garson. If you like Mrs. Miniver you'll like D. E. Stevenson' Mrs. Tim books. They have a similar flavor, albeit quite a bit funnier.

callmemadam said...

A long time since I read this and I think it's time for another go. Does Valerie Grove mention that Jan Struther wrote When a Knight Won his Spurs? It was my daughter's favourite hymn at junior school and I sang it at school, too.

Steph said...

Whenever a novel starts off with a woman looking for/carrying flowers, I get flashbacks to Mrs. Dalloway! I realize it's such a superficial comparison to draw, but I can't help it!

mary said...

I love it that when the maids are on holiday, the charwoman comes in to do their breakfast and they have the rest of their meals out ... I'm sure I'd have Mrs Miniver's sunny disposition if I never had to lift a finger to achieve all that domestic perfection! I was born in the wrong era (except I'd have probably been the charwoman!)

makedoandread said...

Mrs. Miniver is one of those books I reread every year. There's definitely an element of smug complacency at times, but I still find myself returning to it. I think about her every winter when I buy my daybook/calendar for the coming year! :)

bookssnob said...

I've had this on the TBR pile for TOO long. I can imagine it's a lot more of a privileged lifestyle than PL, but then I do find PL a bit smug in places too. It's hard to sympathise with someone who hasn't got a lift a finger around their home and can afford to pack their kids off to boarding school!

potterjotter said...

Oh, thankyou ... I never realised my fave film was based on a book and am now going to read it. I did love Provincial Lady, so I expect I am in for a treat with this one.

frisbeebookjournal said...

Thanks for writing about this! It's one I've always meant to read and seems to be a favorite among onliners. I like your more sedate approach: it can't be as good as Provinical Lady or Nella Last! I haven't seen the movie, either.

Chrissy said...

Hello Nicola - I'm new to your blog (found through Rachel at Booksnob).

I admire Jan Struther's writing style. She makes me nostalgic for a period I didn't live through.

I recently read 'The Real Mrs Miniver' by her granddaughter, Ysenda Maxtone Graham. Quite an eye-opener! Jan and Mrs M shared the same sense of humour and love of family but the author's life was quite different to her creation's. She was not admired or approved of when her true story came out after the war. Many people were disappointed in her but she was definitely before her time.

A Bookish Space said...

Thanks for writing about this book, and reminding me that this is another in my massive tbr pile!

Nan said...

I love this book beyond words. I read it seven years ago and vowed to buy a copy which I haven't yet, but shall. It was a year of the "Mrs." books for me: Mrs. Miniver, Mrs. Tim, Mrs. Appleyard. They were all wonderful.

Shelley said...

My work is about as far from England as you can get (Texas), but I know the movie and am intrigued by that sentence that you quote at the top.

Interesting to think about Miniver and Dalloway at the same time....

Chrissy said...

At this very moment, Amazon are selling classic DVDs for under £4, including Mrs Miniver.

Vintage Reading said...

lifeonthecuff, I've not seen the film - apparently Struther did not approve of the portrayal. I need to check it out to compare it with the text.

S Mehrens, I'll check out the Mrs Tim books - I love humour in novels and it's so difficult to do well - Nancy Mitford being one of the best comic writers.

callmemadam, yes Valerie Grove mentions the hymn your daughter loved and also that she wrote Lord of all Hopefulness, Lord of all Joy. If you haven't a copy of Mrs Miniver you are welcome to have mine if you send me an address to post it to as I probably won't re-read this one.

Steph, it reminded me of Mrs Dalloway in places, too. Probably it's closer in tone to The Diary of a Provincial Lady.

Mary, Struther was born into wealth and apparently went to school with the Queen Mother and dipped her plaits in ink!!

makedoandread, I enjoyed the diary buying episode too. She wouldn't make do with the cheaper version because she would have to live with it for a whole year! I can empathise with that ...

booksnob, certainly there is something a little smug in Mrs
Miniver at the start of the book, but as with so many vintage
novels, war breaks out and everyone is sadder and wiser afterwards.

potterjotter, please let me know how you get on with it - I must watch the film.

frisbee, the Prov Lady will always be my favourite and I've re-read it many times. Not sure that I'll ever re-read Mrs M or even Nella's diaries.

Hello Chrissy, Book Snob followers (of which I'm one) are always welcome here! I'd not heard of The Real Mrs Miniver. I've probably made the classic mistake of confusing Mrs M with her creator so it would be very interesting to read a different view.

A Bookish Space - move it right to the top of the pile asap!!

Nan, ooh another mention of Mrs Tim - I need to check it out. I've offered Call Me Madam first refusal on this book but if she doesn't require a copy I'll send it to you if you want to give me a postal address.

Shelley, yes there are quite a few similarities between Dalloway and Mrs M, but Mrs M was that rare thing - an exceptionally happy woman - and so was Struther.

Chrissy, thanks for that - time for me to order a copy.

Nan said...

Wow! What a kind offer. My email may be found by clicking the 'about me' under the blog header, and then 'view my complete profile' -but I'm a ways away, you know. :<)

LizF said...

Found a copy of Mrs Miniver in a charity shop at the weekend. Yippee!
Already have a copy of Mrs Tim - well it would be rude not to bearing in mind that I am a Mrs Tim! Haven't read it yet though - sadly I am much faster at buying books than reading them but its time will come!

Vintage Reading said...

LizF - so glad you've got your copy! Enjoy Mrs M and please let me know how you get on.