Winston Churchill once remarked that Mrs. Miniver, the fictional British housewife featured in Jan Struther’s newspaper columns about quotidian English life, did more for the Allied cause than a flotilla of battleships. As tensions rose across Europe, Mrs. Miniver’s domestic concerns expanded from automobiles and Christmas shopping to include gas masks, keeping calm, and carrying on.
An international sensation when it was first published, this novelized collection of those columns won America’s heart—and broad public support for entering WWII. Mrs. Miniver’s story was so essential to Allied morale that when William Wyler’s film adaption was made, President Roosevelt ordered it rushed to theaters.
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Mrs. Miniver Comes Home
It was lovely, thought Mrs. Miniver, nodding goodbye to the flower-woman and carrying her big sheaf of chrysanthemums down the street with a kind of ceremonious joy, as though it were a cornucopia; it was lovely, this settling down again, this tidying away of the summer into its box, this taking up of the thread of one's life where the holidays (irrelevant interlude) had made one drop it. Not that she didn't enjoy the holidays: but she always felt — and it was, perhaps, the measure of her peculiar happiness — a little relieved when they were over. 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. The spell might break, the atmosphere be impossible to recapture.
But this time, at any rate, she was safe. There was the house, as neat and friendly as ever, facing her as she turned the corner of the square; its small stucco face as indistinguishable from the others, to a stranger, as a single sheep in a flock, but to her apart, individual, a shade lighter than the house on the left, a shade darker than the house on the right, with one plaster rosette missing from the lintel of the front door and the first-floor balcony almost imperceptibly crooked. And there was the square itself, with the leaves still as thick on the trees as they had been when she left in August; but in August they had hung heavily, a uniform dull green, whereas now, crisped and brindled by the first few nights of frost, they had taken on a new, various beauty. Stepping lightly and quickly down the square, Mrs. Miniver suddenly understood why she was enjoying the forties so much better than she had enjoyed the thirties: it was the difference between August and October, between the heaviness of late summer and the sparkle of early autumn, between the ending of an old phase and the beginning of a fresh one.
She reached her doorstep. The key turned sweetly in the lock. That was the kind of thing one remembered about a house: not the size of the rooms or the colour of the walls, but the feel of door-handles and light-switches, the shape and texture of the banister-rail under one's palm; minute tactual intimacies, whose resumption was the essence of coming home.
Upstairs in the drawing-room there was a small bright fire of logs, yet the sunshine that flooded in through the open windows had real warmth in it. It was perfect: she felt suspended between summer and winter, savouring the best of them both. She unwrapped the chrysanthemums and arranged them in a square glass jar, between herself and the light, so that the sun shone through them. They were the big mop-headed kind, burgundy-coloured, with curled petals; their beauty was noble, architectural; and as for their scent, she thought as she buried her nose in the nearest of them, it was a pure distillation of her mood, a quintessence of all that she found gay and intoxicating and astringent about the weather, the circumstances, her own age and the season of the year. Oh, yes, October certainly suited her best. For the ancients, as she had inescapably learnt at school, it had been the eighth month; nowadays, officially, it was the tenth: but for her it was always the first, the real New Year. That laborious affair in January was nothing but a name.
She turned away from the window at last. On her writing-table lay the letters which had come for her that morning. A card for a dress-show; a shooting invitation for Clem; two dinner-parties; three sherry-parties; a highly aperitive notice of some chamber-music concerts; and a letter from Vin at school — would she please send on his umbrella, his camera, and his fountain-pen, which leaked rather? (But even that could not daunt her today.)
She rearranged the fire a little, mostly for the pleasure of handling the fluted steel poker, and then sat down by it. Tea was already laid: there were honey sandwiches, brandy-snaps, and small ratafia biscuits; and there would, she knew, be crumpets. Three new library books lay virginally on the fender-stool, their bright paper wrappers unsullied by subscriber's hand. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed, very softly and precisely, five times. A tug hooted from the river. A sudden breeze brought the sharp tang of a bonfire in at the window. The jigsaw was almost complete, but there was still one piece missing. And then, from the other end of the square, came the familiar sound of the Wednesday barrel-organ, playing, with a hundred apocryphal trills and arpeggios, the "Blue Danube" waltz. And Mrs. Miniver, with a little sigh of contentment, rang for tea.CHAPTER 2
The New Car
Mrs. Miniver woke up one morning with a sense of doom, a knowledge that the day contained something to be dreaded. It was not a crushing weight, such as an operation, or seeing one's best friend off to live in Tasmania; nor was it anything so light as a committee meeting, or a deaf uncle to tea: it was a kind of welter-weight doom.
At first it puzzled her. So far as she knew, she had no appointments that day, either pleasant or unpleasant, and that in itself was good. To be entirely at leisure for one day is to be for one day an immortal: according to the Chinese proverb she ought to have been feeling god-like. But the small, dull weight continued to drag and nag.
Clem put his head in, dishevelled from a bath. Not for the first time, she felt thankful that she had married a man whose face in the ensuing sixteen years had tended to become sardonic rather than sleek. It was difficult to tell, when people were young and their cheek-lines were still pencilled and delible. Those beautiful long lean young men so often filled out into stage churchwardens at forty-five. But she had been lucky, or had a flair; Clem's good looks were wearing well. The great thing, perhaps, was not to be too successful too young.
At the moment his expression was anything but sardonic.
"She ought to be here by nine," he said eagerly, and vanished.
Mrs. Miniver remembered with a bump, felt dismayed, knew that her dismay was unreasonable, and tried to argue it out of existence. A new car was a thing to be pleased over; it was high time they had one. The old Leadbetter had got to the stage when nothing less than an expensive overhaul would do any good; it had developed sinister fumes, elusive noises, incurable draughts; it was tiring for Clem on his long drives. And a week ago, when Clem, straight from the Motor Show, had spent the whole evening musing happily over catalogues, she had realized that the game was up. Her usual attitude — that they didn't really need a new car — was plainly untenable, and this time she could not even fall back upon a plea for economy. They could perfectly well afford it now. Clem's plans for the new building estate had gone through; and there was the Vanderhoops' country house as well — a plum. Besides, this scene had been replayed, with variations, many times, and they both knew that the basis of her invariable reluctance about new cars was not thrift but sentiment. She simply could not endure the moment when the old one was driven away.
Mrs. Miniver was a fool about inanimate objects. She had once bid furiously at an auction for a lot described as "Twelve kitchen chairs; also a small wicker knife-basket." Clem, knowing the size of their kitchen, made urgent signals to her across the room. She stopped bidding, and the lot was knocked down to someone else for more than its value by a grateful but mystified auctioneer.
"You got mixed up in the lot numbers, didn't you?" Clem said afterwards.
"No," she said, guiltily. "I'm awfully sorry. It was that knife-basket. I suddenly thought — so wretched not to be grand enough to be in a lot by itself. Just tagged on to kitchen chairs like that Clem — a small wicker knife-basket...."
As for cars, they were in a class apart, somewhere between furniture and dogs. It wasn't, with her, a question of the pathetic fallacy. She did not pretend to herself that cars had souls or even minds (though anybody, seeing the difference that can exist between one mass-produced car and another, might be excused for believing that they have at least some embryonic form of temperament). No, it was simply a matter of mise en scène. A car, nowadays, was such an integral part of one's life, provided the aural and visual accompaniment to so many of one's thoughts, feelings, conversations, decisions, that it had acquired at least the status of a room in one's house. To part from it, whatever its faults, was to lose a familiar piece of background.
She got up and turned on her bath. Even through the rushing of the water she could hear the old Leadbetter coming down the square: a garage-hand brought it round every morning just before nine. She listened for the gear-change as it picked up speed after the corner, then for the squeal of the brake, the stopping of the engine, the slamming of the door, the man's footsteps receding up the square. It was really ridiculous, she thought, to mind so much; and gave herself an extra handful of bath-salts as a futile antidote to woe. Almost at once there was the sound of another car drawing up, a smooth virile purring, the discreet opening and closing of a solid well-fitting door. Then Clem's voice in the square and Judy's feet jigging on the pavement. It was intolerable. Old horses one pensioned off in a paddock, where one could go and see them occasionally. Or one even allowed them to pull the mowing-machine in round leather boots. But this part-exchange business —
Judy came racing upstairs and hammered on the door, shrill with excitement.
"Mummy! The new car's come!"
"Lovely," called Mrs. Miniver.
"And I've been helping Daddy clear the maps and things out of the old one before they drive it away."
Heavens, how relentlessly children dotted the i's!
"Run along," called Mrs. Miniver. "I'll be down quite soon."
She turned both the taps full on again, put a thick lather of soap over her ears, and began to sing, noisily.CHAPTER 3
Guy Fawkes' Day
They didn't take the children down to Starlings much in the winter, until the Christmas holidays. When the days were short a week-end was scarcely worth while. They made an exception, however, for Guy Fawkes' Day, that kindly and prescient spirit having planned his crime to coincide — or as nearly as makes no difference — with the autumn half-term.
The Miniver family had a passion for fireworks; and a fireworks display in a small London garden is an emasculate thing, hampered at every turn by such considerations as the neighbours, the police, and the fragility of glass and slate. So on Saturday morning they picked up Vin at Eton and drove across country to Starlings. Mrs. Miniver was relieved to find that public school had not made him too grand to enjoy playing road competitions with the two younger children. He was, like his father, a timeless person, uninfluenced by his own age and unconscious of other people's. Judy was quite different. She was as typically nine now as she had been typically six, and three. Age, to her, was an important and exciting quality: she was never quite at ease with other children until she had asked them how old they were. As for Toby, he remained, in this as in most other matters, unfathomable.
In childhood the daylight always fails too soon — except when there are going to be fireworks; and then the sun dawdles intolerably on the threshold like a tedious guest. There were no clouds that day, and even after sunset the western sky remained obstinately full of pearl-grey light. It was not so bad for Vin, who was helping his father to pin Catherine-wheels on to the fence and to prop up rocket-sticks in bottles on the lawn; but Judy and Toby, their noses pressed against the inside of the window-panes, were rampant with impatience long before Clem decided that darkness had officially fallen and the show could begin.
Swathed in coats and scarves, they went out and sat in a row on the little flagged terrace. The evening might have been ordered with the fireworks; it was cold, still, and starry, with a commendable absence of moon. And when the first rocket went up Mrs. Miniver felt the customary pricking in her throat and knew that once again the enchantment was going to work. Some things — conjurers, ventriloquists, pantomimes — she enjoyed vicariously, by watching the children's enjoyment; but fireworks had for her a direct and magical appeal. Their attraction was more complex than that of any other form of art. They had pattern and sequence, colour and sound, brilliance and mobility; they had suspense, surprise, and a faint hint of danger; above all, they had the supreme quality of transience, which puts the keenest edge on beauty and makes it touch some spring in the heart which more enduring excellences cannot reach.
It was certainly the best display they had ever had. Mrs. Miniver herself, when buying fireworks, was apt to be led away by fantastic titles; she would order Humming Spiders, Witches' Cauldrons, Mines with Serpents, Bouquets of Gerbes, and Devils among the Tailors, largely in order to see what they were like. But Clem knew that with fireworks, as with cocktails, the sober, familiar names usually produced the most interesting results. He laid out a certain amount on Roman Candles, Catherine-wheels, and Tour-billions, but for the most part he rightly concentrated on rockets.
There was one bursting now, a delicate constellation of many-coloured stars which drifted down and lingered in the still air. Watching it, she thought that of all the arts this was the one which showed the greatest contrast between the raw materials and the finished work. Words, pigments, notes of music — all of these, unmarshalled, possessed a certain beauty of their own; a block of marble had at least an imaginable relationship with the statue which it was to become; stone, brick, and concrete, Clem's materials, did not seem impossibly remote from the houses which he would make of them. But this fiery architecture, these fragments of luminous music, these bright, dreamlike, and impermanent pictures in the sky — what had they to do with nitre, sulphur and charcoal, with gummed paper, cotton-wick, and a handful of mineral salts?
The show was nearly over. Vin and his father were letting off the last few rockets. Their faces, occasionally lit up, were absorbed, triumphant, serene. Judy was shivering with cold and excitement. Toby, his feet sticking out over the edge of the seat, was completely immobile, but whether from profound emotion or too many coats it was impossible to tell. As for Mrs. Miniver, she was having a race with time. Some half-remembered words had been haunting her all the evening, a line of poetry, perhaps, or an old saying, something about brightness, something exquisitely appropriate. "Brightness ..." What was it? The rest of the phrase eluded her, though she felt the rhythm of it; and she knew that she must remember it before the fireworks were finished, or it would be no use.
The final rocket went up, a really large one, a piece of reckless extravagance. Its sibilant uprush was impressive, dragonlike; it soared twice as high as any they had had before; and the moment it had burst, Mrs. Miniver remembered. "Brightness falls from the air" — that was it! The sparks from the rocket came pouring down the sky in a slow golden cascade, vanishing one by one into a lake of darkness.
Beauty is but a flower Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air;
Queens have died young and fair;
Dust hath closed Helen's eye —
It was quite irrelevant, really, a lament by Nashe in time of pestilence, nothing to do with fireworks at all. But she knew that it was just what she had needed to round off the scene for her and to make its memory enduring. Words were the only net to catch a mood, the only sure weapon against oblivion.
The Eve of the Shoot
Every year without fail Mrs. Miniver received an invitation written in a sloping Victorian hand on lavishly stout cream-laid. The right-hand top corner was embossed in heavy black Gothic with the address "Chervil Court, Crampton." On the left were three tiny formalized sketches — a telegraph-pole, an upright telephone, and a railway engine of the Stephenson period, stocky and high-funnelled — followed respectively by the words, "Great Yettingford," "Buntisley 3," and "Slape Junction." The letter began with old Lady Chervil's unvarying formula:
My dear Mrs. Miniver,
Chervil and I shall be delighted if you and your Husband will stay with us from Friday 19th to Monday 22nd November.
(She would have gone to the guillotine sooner than use the expression "week-end.")(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mrs. Miniver"
Copyright © 1969 Estate of Jan Struther.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Shame on you for not letting customers know this book is incomplete. It only has 101 pages, my guess you are missing over 200 pages. This book needs to be removed so no one else will be ripped off.
I was thoroughly enjoying this book when it ended, mid sentence, on page 101. I was very disappointed to purchase a partial book.
A witty and well written novel about middle class family life on the eve of war. However, it is very unlike the film. The latter is mostly set after the outbreak of war, whereas in the book (published just after the outbreak of hostilities) it is hovering in the near future, e.g. buying gasmarks, accepting evacuated children in the country home. The oldest son, Vin, is here only 15 years old, not getting married and becoming a fighter pilot. No tragic death of a daughter-in-law or prize-winning flower contest. Film and book are both very good, but in different ways.
Mrs. Miniver is a novel and collection of essays that focuses on the day-to-day life of a 1930s housewife. The ¿chapters¿ are more vignettes that focus on the trivial events of Mrs. Miniver¿s life: visits to the dentist¿s, the changing of the seasons, holidays with her husband, an architect, and their three children, and Christmas shopping.All of this sounds, boring, but it¿s not. Jan Struther describes Mrs. Miniver¿s life poetically, with emphasis on the little details. The essays are a reflective look into the thoughts and feelings of one inter-war housewife (although the story is told in the third person). There¿s no plot or character development, but Mrs. Miniver describes her lifelife exquisitely. There¿s also a subtle undercurrent of humor to this book, although it¿s not quite as laugh-out-loud as DE Stevenson¿s Mrs. Tim books or Henrietta¿s War, by Joyce Dennys. On the other hand, though, Mrs. Miniver makes some really insightful comments on a wide variety of topics¿everything from the impending war to her love of engagement books. There¿s not much in the way of plot to this book, but nonetheless, it¿s quite wonderful.
Acquired via BookCrossing 09 Dec 2010 - bookringA wonderful book - I'm amazed I haven't read this before, actually. Columns written for The Times in the late 1930s about family life, with the addition of letters written in the beginning part of WW2. The pieces are so absolutely beautifully written and observed - I particularly liked the one about the different ways the children opened their Christmas stockings, but every essay has a lovely turn of phrase, a gentle humour or a sharp observation. An excellent read, and made me want to go back to the Diaries of the Provincial Lady, which are funnier, but have something of the same tone.I was at the end of this bookring and am allowed to do what I want with it, so do shout if you'd like a read of it and I'll send it along!
A series of vignettes from Mrs Miniver's life with her husband and three children in (just barely) pre-WWII middle-class England, the book is full of keen observations about all sorts of things (marriage, children, motherhood, visiting, war, reading, springtime). It's nowhere near as twee as you fear it might be--I was consistently delighted while reading and was forever recognizing myself, or recognizing someone I hope I will be in ten or fifteen years. And when I did neither of those things, I wished desperately that Mrs Miniver would take it into her head to move in next door. Recommended.
Mrs. Miniver is a lovely read. Not really a novel or a series of short stories, it is more like a diary. Caroline Miniver is a very appealing woman with a wonderful husband and three delightful children. The year is 1938 and the first half of the book concerns the everyday life of the Miniver family from shooting off fireworks on Guy Fawkes night to the the delights of November on the moors of Scotland, Christmas stockings, and the first day of spring. Mrs. Miniver's biggest worries are matching guests at a dinner party, finding a char to help, tracing down a noxious smell at her cottage in Kent, and explaining "tossing a caber" to the English governess at the Highland Games.She and her architect husband enjoy a privileged life. He designs country houses and she is cozy with the titled gentry. She runs her two homes, one in Chelsea on the river and the other in the country, with a staff of five. Her eldest son is in boarding school and her younger two will join him eventually. Yet, I don't believe any reader would look with disapproval at Mrs Miniver's very comfortable life. She is so good and kind that the reader feels that she deserves an easeful time, if anyone does.But with the chapter Gas Masks, the book becomes more serious. It is the phony war period of 1939. England and Germany are at war but the blitz has not begun, so people have yet to face the horror of bombs and destruction. Mrs. Miniver's husband is in the military and her country home has relocated London children in it. She manages to see humour in the barrage balloons, attends the Dame Myra Hess concerts at the National Gallery, muses how quiet London has become because of so little traffic due to the blackout. She refuses to succumb to the gloomy prediction that "things will never be the same." She is ever the optimist that life actually will be better when the war is over. People who fight for their beliefs surely will find a way to live in harmony and better society.In hindsight, Mrs.Miniver is naive. The war didn't end hatred and banish poverty. It didn't become a slate to write down and erase society's woes. The horrors of the concentration camps showed depravity that Mrs. Miniver, or any normal person for that matter, could never imagine. No one could predict the 75 millions dead, soldiers and civilians. And the end of conflict did not mean the end of tragedy. Too many families were torn apart because of the long separations. (Jan Struther's own 23 year marriage could not withstand the five year separation when her husband was a prisoner of war and they divorced in 1947.)But what a lovely world it would have been if Mrs. Miniver's hopes had been realized.A suggestion: A good companion book to Mrs Miniver is Molly Panter-Downes' One Fine Day. Her novel is set in 1946 and is about how life did change for the upper middle class as a result of the war. The protagonist, Laura Marshall, is also a wonderful woman and I can see Laura and Caroline having tea and discussing how to cope with the postwar world. I do know that they both will continue to believe that there is more good than evil in the world and goodness will prevail.
I bought a used 1942 copy of this book (not ebook) and loved the thoughtful meanderings of this pre-war book. It could almost be viewed as journal entries since there are spaces between the stories representing a slight jump in time. They all read beautifully on their own and as the author admits late in one of the stories, it is good to have a record of the time before the war since so much will have been lost or changed after the war. As others have noted, it is not at all like the movie, however Mrs Miniver and her family members are all present in the book. Since so many negative comments were made about the ebook being incomplete, I would encourage anyone to buy a used book for a few dollars to complete the story.
The book ended on page 101. B&N, stop ripping off your customers!
Back to the public library to finish this wonderful book.
I was raised working class with immigrant parents and don't normally like characters like Mrs. Miniver, an upper middle class British housewife with a country home and servants. Yet I was enchanted by these 37 essays that originally appeared in the London Times between 1937 and 1939. We don't even learn the first name of the lead character until the very end of the book. She is always Mrs. Miniver, and her husband is always Clem. The Minivers are close, but they don't ever act intimate. Even though the essays are in the third person (except for the letter at the end where we learn her first name), this is one of the most intimate looks into a woman's mind I have ever read. The author's love of language and the details of daily life are revealed through the thoughts of this delightful character. The essays were published in the Times every two weeks for the two years leading up to the British entry into World War II. Although the preparations for war are discussed in later essays, they mostly deal with the everyday lives of this typical middle class family. The essays became a symbol of the essence of British life and were published in book form as the war began. The US edition includes an additional essay where Mrs. Miniver prepares her first Christmas shopping list of the war. The American cinema made an Oscar-winning movie with the same title starring Greer Garson, but the plot of the movie has nothing to do with the subject of these brief disconnected short stories. This is a wonderful book that I will cherish for a long time. Highly recommended.
Like so many other readers, I picked this book up expecting the written version of the Greer Garson film. As soon as I read the author's thanks to the Times for allowing her to republish a series of articles carried by that newspaper in the pre-war years, though, I realized that wasn't what I was about to read. So I adjusted my expectations, settled back, and thoroughly enjoyed Mrs. Miniver in her original incarnation. The war doesn't begin until the book's final vignette, although its looming threat is hinted at many times in the earlier ones. Jan Struther's articles share with us the life of Mrs. Miniver, a happily married Londoner who has a second home in Kent and three perfectly normal children. Like other women of her time and class, she has no need to be employed at anything but living the proper social life, and directing the activities of her servants so that husband Clem will have a haven to come to every night and a competent hostess to entertain their friends and business contacts. Clem appears to be a building contractor, which makes such contacts especially important. So far, so boring. Except that Mrs. Miniver has a keen mind, and an equally keen awareness of her own emotions and the triggers that rouse them. Each article's vividly written descriptions of routine events in an average woman's life not only involve the reader's senses they also offer, subtly and therefore effectively, philosophical comments that any thinking person can't help responding to with recognition. We've lived what Mrs. Miniver has lived, all of us, despite being separated from her world by gulfs of time and space. Between those moments (at least one, but usually several, per article) and Struther's beautiful use of everyday language, this book turns out to be a quiet delight.