Category Archives: WWI

Downton Abbey

The World of Downton Abbey by Julian Fellowes who wrote the series.

My lunch hour at the park; where I thought it would be fun to share with you some eye candy from the book that accompanies the mini series Downton Abbey.  The visuals are just beautiful and full of interesting information about how ones would have lived back then.  And how the actors felt making the series.

It would be a lovely book to add to your library.



High Wages. by Dorothy Whipple

I got this book from the library, it came all the way from the Oswego Lake Library, doesn’t that conjure up some rather picturesque images in your mind.

Actually one year when Rob was about eight we took a trip up to Canada, past the One Thousand Island in the St. Lawrence River.  We camped at a State Park campground on this Lake Oswego, in New York State.  It was a very nice campground, with some sites right on a sandy beach by the lake.  Quite sort after I’m sure.

High Wages set before and after the WWI  Is about a young girl Jane who works in a haberdashery, that’s where people would come and buy all the things they would need and then send to the dress maker to have a costume made up.  It gives a full picture into the life of a shop girl in Lancashire then, living on the premises and being over frugally kept by the shop owner.

This was the time when ready made dresses and clothes were just becoming available.  Jane sees that this will catch on and dressmakers will be a thing of the past.  A kindly benefactress lends her the money to set up a shop of her own.

There are two love interests.  The ever faithful Wilfred and Noel, good looking and from the upper class. 

Of course the class system of that era was very strong and it comes out in all it’s vagaries in this book.

I did enjoy this book, it gives you a wonderful insight into a shop girls life then, moves along at a good pace and has a satisfactory ending.

Of course you could probably tell by the grey cover and inside frontispiece that this is a Persephone Book.  I always love their face cover designs which they choose from the era of the book.

There is a forward by Jane Brockett.


The Story of Lucy Gault, by William Trevor

Set in the turbulent 1920’s Ireland, when many Anglo-Irish are coming under arson attacks. Although having lived on their affluent estates for centuries. They feel at odds in a land that has been home to them. Here enters Lucy Gault’s family. Disturbed and upset by the attempt to set fire to their house, they are thinking of returning to England. Lucy their daughter does not want to go, she loves her home.

On the day they are to leave she runs off. On the search for Lucy her parents mistakenly think that she is dead. They leave as planned and are torn apart by their loss. Lucy returns home and does get to stay there, with the family servants, who get to stay on.

Her parents never truly settle, drifting on to Italy and Switzerland, with no forwarding address for them.

Lucy grows up, lonely and sad. In comes Ralph who she really does love and he her, but feels she cannot commit to love unless she reconciles with her parents. Unfortunately WWII starts and they are left in Europe, where her mother dies. Her father eventually does return to his old estate, but too much time has passed for Lucy to regain what has been lost. Ralph has married someone else.

Eventually Lucy feels somehow responsible for the young man her father wounded defending his home against the arsonists. Trying to make a distorted recompense for her lost and stunted life.

I did not especially like this book, so wouldn’t recommend it.


To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

Reading To The Lighthouse was easier than reading Mrs Dalloway, because now I’m in step, my mind has caught the rhythm of her writing. I can follow her steps easily in the sand, the distance, the pace, the interlude.

I can imagine Woolf always carrying a moleskin notebook, with a thin pencil that slips into the spine. she would be wearing one of those large baggy twenties cardigans, with turned up cuffs and baggy pockets. and there in a cuff or a pocket she would sequester the notebook, ready at any moment to record a thought, a phrase. Later she sits at her desk, gathers all those ramblings of her mind, in the cup of her hands, and throws them at the canvas of her page, to be sorted re-arranged and assigned.

Of course she may not have done this but this is my image.

I enjoyed this book, a gathering of family and summer guests at their summer house on the Isle of Skye. The setting is based on Woolf’s own childhood summers spent in Cornwall, at Talland House in St. Ives. All the description of the scenery is Cornwall. And having just visited the Isle of Skye and also having visited Cornwall and St. Ives, I can ask the question, did Woolf ever visit the Isle of Skye?

The island does not fit her descriptions. First of all Cornwall is a 300 mile train ride from London, the Isle of Skye is over 800 miles.

“Never mind the rent was precisely twopence halfpenny: the children loved it; it did her husband good to be three thousand, or if she must be accurate, three hundred miles from his libraries and his lectures and his disciples:”

There is not a town, near a lighthouse, where you could just walk into town. And certainly not one, except for maybe Portree where a visiting Circus would come. But still we can secede to literary license. Just why wouldn’t she set it in Cornwall, with the sand dunes and hotter summers. Maybe she did not want to acknowledge too much similarity to her childhood.

The Ramsay family are a large family. Mr. Ramsay a published philosopher in his early sixties, feeling that his best days are behind him academically and Mrs Ramsay in her fifties, the Victorian wife still, although set just before the first world war, about 1912. The visiting guests are Lily Briscoe an artist and single lady in her thirties, William Bankes in his sixties, Mr. Carmicheal a poet and retired teacher who had been in India, and married incorrectly; which had not been helpful for his career; an old former college mate of Mr. Ramsay’s. Charles Tansley a student, working on his dissertation. Plus Minta and Paul Rayley, soon to be engaged.

The book opens with the scene of James cutting out a picture of a refrigerator, and his persistant wish to visit the lighthouse; which requires a boat ride across to it. This visit hangs upon a tyrant father’s whim and the weather. You feel like two dogs are playing tug of war with a rag, backwards and forwards. James and his mum willing this visit to the lighthouse to happen. Knitting the socks for the lighthouse keeper’s son; and measuring them against James’s leg to see if they are long enough. Willing this event to happen for her youngest. The father so self-centred, smashing any hopes with cold logic that the weather will be bad tomorrow.

Of course he knew how important this was to James. As all those years later, at the end of the book after Mrs Ramsey’s death he demands that James and Cam come with him to the lighthouse. In remembrance of a day never fulfilled.

Mrs Ramsay is an interesting pivotal part of the family, many times mentioned as beautiful.

“But was it nothing but looks people said? What was there behind it – her beauty and splendour? Had he blown his brains out , they asked, had he died the week before they were married – some other earlier love, of whom rumours reached one?

This reminds me of Clarissa Dalloway, is there or isn’t there more beneath the surface?. In both woman I think there was. I think they lived the lives they wanted.

Bankes’s view of her as mother and child and Lily Briscoe’s close complicated but rewarding friendship with Mrs Ramsay and the family.

I have to mention the dinner party of Boeuf en Daube. The gathering together of all in their finery in a run down tattered old house. Here again I feel shades of Mrs Dalloway.

“But already bored, Lily felt that something was lacking…

Mrs Dalloway thinks the party is going to be a failure and then says no, no, no the party comes together, just as the Mrs Ramsay’s dinner party, after a stilted beginning comes to flow. Lily helps her by engaging the prickly socially inferior feeling young man Charles Tansley.

“… but what haven’t I paid to get it for you? She had not been sincere.”

The book is in three sections, before WWI, Mrs Ramsay dieing, Andrew the son who was close to Mr Carmicheal is killed during the war. Prue another daughter who dies in childbirth as the middle section. Plus the deterioration of the house the visits of a local lady to keep it in order; which is impossible. The house seems to reflect the deterioration and change in the Ramsay family, with so many deaths. And then the return to the summer house after the war.

The final curtain of taking the trip To The Lighthouse and Lily Briscoe at last capturing in her painting the family’s summer house.

You have to read the book, you cannot capture or even gain the essence of the book in a short review.


Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

Mrs Dalloway, the events of a single day in which Clarissa prepares for a party.

First of all don’t you just love that name, Mrs Dalloway, I think it must have appealed to Woolf too, when Clarissa mistakenly calls him Mr Wickham all day and only finds out at dinner what his correct name is. Sally and Peter take up on this and it becomes an inside joke “Dalloway, my name’s Dalloway.”

When Woolf wrote this book she was 43 years old. Seven years after the Great War, the war to end all wars. A war that changed everything, a war that had taken her generation from a time of peace and the thought that world peace was in their grasp, to the world of Septimus Warren Smith. This is why I think Woolf has Clarissa not believing in God, possibly this is how Woolf herself felt after the Great War.

I think it’s interesting the way Woolf carries three threads in this book. Their youth together, their life now and Warren Smith and his wife.

Her description of Warren Smith’s shell shock I think must be amazingly accurate. I have never read a biography of Woolf, but I would be interested to know if she had close friends she knew who were in that state. One would have to think she did. Of course she was older than the generation that went to war. But all were affected by the war.

By the time I reached the end of the book I was thinking exactly these thoughts about Clarissa and Woolf sums them up very concisely.

“But – did Peter understand? – she lacked something. Lacked what was it? She had charm; she had extraordinary charm. …..”

It was Clarissa’s charm that made people think that there were greater depths to Clarissa, that really were not there.

“For said Sally, Clarissa was at heart a snob – one had to admit it, a snob. …”

And the truth was she was a snob and quite shallow. She had married the right person in marrying Richard. He gave her exactly what she wanted. Her social life in London, in Society, her parties. When in fact both Richard and her daughter Elizabeth liked the countryside.

“I love walking in London,” said Mrs. Dalloway. “Really it’s better than walking in the country.”

Her parties,to invite all those people you didn’t like but they were your social circle. But to hold yourself above it as if I’m not like them, but she was like them. Would you have very old friends come and visit and just sit them aside until the end of the party, because time must be spent hostessing?

“She would marry a Prime Minister and stand at the top of a staircase; the perfect hostess he called her …”

But of course Clarissa would, she was the consummate hostess. Appeasing her conscience with the thought that later I can devote my sole attention to them.

Youth and being in ones fifties! Woolf had an amazing clarity of these contrasting times of ones life. Close friendships of youth, that will always stand, what ever you have become in ones fifties, what ever road you travelled to get there, those times together, of youth, stand enchanted, alone. You cannot view the person in ones fifties as being the person of ones youth, and yet they are. Woolf captured this.

“She had the oddest sense of herself invisible; unseen, unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, …..”

Our minds think so many more thoughts than we ever say, but Woolf wrote them.

The scene in Regent’s Park is very poignant. All those thoughts of different people watching the aeroplane.

“Ah; but that aeroplane! Hadn’t Mrs. Dempster always longed to see foreign parts?”

Clarissa’s friendship with Sally, the fleeting kiss.

“Star-gazing?” said Peter.
It was like running one’s face against a granite wall in the darkness! It was shocking; it was horrible!”

“… She had a perfectly clear notion of what she wanted, Her emotions were all on the surface. Beneath she was very shrewd – a far better judge of character than Sally, …”

You cannot capture in a review all the elloquence of Woolf’s words.

Woolf totally captured the social scene of the time. Mrs Dalloway would be a great book to read if you were writing a social history of the time. The difference between 10,000 pounds per year and 300 pounds per year.

Ellie Henderson the poor, looked down upon cousin, who Clarissa showed a coldness to.

“.. by her distressing gentility, her panic fear, which arose from three hundred pounds’ income, and her weaponless state (she could not earn a penny) and it made her timid and more and more disqualified year by year to meet well dressed people …”

Clarissa’s insight into Dr. Bradshaw was bang on though. How sad for Septimus and Rezia. The law was behind him. Must! must! must! Septimus had no choice.

Two scenes which I think are very poignant is the one of Septimus and Rezia laughing together over the making of the little hat.

The second is Clarissa standing in her window alone at the party, looking across the street at the old lady going to bed and thinking about the young man who took his own life. Here is where I think all three threads come together, at that very moment.

Woolf herself straddled two worlds and she led us into them.

Looking forward to reading the other three books.


P.S. The book I read Mrs Dalloway in, was from our library, published in 1928, so quite an old copy. With all sorts of pencil markings, which was rather fun to think about who had taken this book out of the library over all those years, what they found of interest.

Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple

As you can see I’m on a run with Dorothy Whipple. Now I’m wondering whether I should save a couple of books to take on holiday, because I know she is always a good read. Greenbanks, the name of the house, starts in 1908, the copy write of the book I read was 1932. And concludes no later than the mid 1920’s.

It is set in the town of Elton in the Midlands. This is the story of the Ashton family, Robert and Louisa, the parents in their forties, and their children. Rose and Thomas , who are both married, and do not feature much in the story. Letty is married to Ambrose Harding, they have Dick, a set of twin boys and Rachel, who live close by. Laura who lives at home and is dating and Jim and Charles who live at home, all are young adults.

Robert has aged well and has always been a philanderer. Louise knowing this, but keeping the peace and family together. Loise is the central character around which all the others orbit. Suddenly a big change comes when Robert and his lady friend are thrown out of a trap and he is killed. Ambrose takes over looking after Louise investments, Jim and Thomas decide that Jim will take over and run the family business, a wood yard and Charles, who all the brothers feel is a waster, but is most beloved of Louise, has been persuaded to try his chances in South Africa.

Jim who is very much influenced by his fiance, eventually leaves home and marries her, much to his mother’s relief, he always found fault with everything. At this time with the loss of Charles, Louisa decides to ask a lady Kate Barlow to come and live with her. Kate was befriended by Louise many years ago when she was just coming out, unfortunately she fell in love with Philip Symonds a married man and become pregnant with a boy, who she gave up for adoption. Kate left town and has been living as a companion, so Louise decides that maybe she can show her kindness by inviting Kate to live with her. Kate proves to be a prickly, frozen individual, so it does not turn out as Louise would have wished.

Laura has been dating Cecil Bradfield and taking little Rachel along as a chaperon, it seems they are quite in love. Laura though who has always been prone to be selfish and prideful, has a tiff with Cyril; which leads to a separation, that is not repaired. So in a silly mood of pettishness she decides to visit her sister Rose down south and meets George, a rather over weight but rich man and she marries him. Letty visits with Laura and basks in all the things money can buy as Ambrose is a penny pincher.

In reference to being married Laura says to Letty, “Oh, Letty said Laura, wiping her eyes. “You’ve got it boiled down to that, have you?” Letty still looked blank. “What’s the matter?” she said. “Nothing …..nothing! Have some more keep – I mean cake. Let’s plaster our souls with chocolate cake, darling. It will perhaps hold them together as well as anything else …”

Rachel is a comfort to her grandmother, and is growing up..Ambrose feels that “He looked forward with pleasure to forming Rachel according to his influence.”

Letty visits her aunt Alice regularly, hoping that some day she will inherit, and have some money of her own. “It’s not really me, having the children and living with Ambrose,’ she would think in bewilderment. ‘This isn’t my life really; it will all be different soon. I shall begin to live as I want to soon.”

Charles who although set up quite well by his family money wise, decides to come back from South Africa, as he has a billiard room invention he wants to work on. His mother hears him playing the piano as she walks up the street home, she knows it’s Charles and is delighted. The Invention does not pan out and his brothers ever glad to get rid of him find a job in the Far East for him. He isn’t there too long when WWI breaks out and he comes home again, only to join up, the others being far to busy making money off the war to join up.

War brings changes in Elton. “The spoon of war stirred the contents of the provincial pan very thoroughly and Mrs. Spence called at Greenbanks one Saturday afternoon to ask Kate Barlow to join the Bandage Class.” Ambrose with his solid good looks and southern diction, that fell pleasantly on Lancashire ears, helps in a figurehead position with the War Relief , Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association. “I don’t care what you do it for,’ said the woman. ‘But I’d like to know what yer mean by being late with my money, ‘And it over. I’m waiting to go out.’ ‘Savages.’ muttered Ambrose …. I love this comparison.

By the gate, under the laurel bushes there were snowdrops like little congregations of White Nuns at prayer….’ It is March and news is received at Greenbanks that Charles has been killed in action. Laura comes home for the funeral, bumps into Cecil on leave and all is reconciled between them, leaving George out in the cold. Laura in her usual way leaves it to her mother to break the news to George. As she takes off with Cecil to seize happiness. He goes back to the front and she becomes a nurse and gets assigned to France.

Time moves on, the war ends. Cecil and Laura move to Kenya to live. ‘But in spite of the fact that she did not come home, it got about that she had gone away with Cecil Bradfield. There was not the sensation in Elton that there would once have been. The war had blown most peoples ideas sky-high, and the pieces had not yet come down. When they did come down they would never fit together again as they had before the war.’

Rachel is now seventeen. She has passed all her exams with flying colours and has been offered a scholarship to Oxford. Her father will not think of letting her go, to be a blue stocking. It’s interesting he says that as Vera Britain in her autobiography writes that her father said the same thing. Girls of that time were just not expected to go to college, just marry well. Rachel does not hold back in telling her father a few home truths, about how he has always spoiled everything through out their lives and that is why all the boys left, Dick to work with his uncle in the engineering firm and the twins to South Africa.

Dorothy Whipple writes, ‘Children make parents as wretched as parents make children; but children do not really believe that. They can’t understand how it is that those whom they take for tyrants can be hurt by the victims of the tyranny.’

Rachel mopes around for a year and even her father has to admit, that maybe he made the wrong choice, and allows her to attend Liverpool University three days a week. Laura writes, can her mother intercede with George as she is expecting a baby and she must have a divorce.

Again Laura leaves it to others to sort things out for her. Letty and Louise go to visit George and this time he is only to happy to comply, maybe he’ll be landed with a wife and baby this would upset him and his finances.

Who turns up one day at Greenbanks, John Barlow, Kate’s son and guess who he falls in love with? Letty’s aunt dies, will she stay with Ambrose?

Well of course I have sketched out the bare bones and one must read the book to feel the ambiance of Dorothy Whipple’s writing. Now should I move on to the Lockwood’s or take it back to the library and save it for another time.


Alfred & Emily, by Doris Lessing

This is an interesting book. It’s about Doris Lessing’s parents, who both went through WWI. Her father loosing a leg and almost dying and her mother a nurse, where she met her father, in hospital.

The first half of the book she has imagined how her parents would have been if WWI had never been and the second half of the book is how her parents actually were. Interesting, but I found the second half a little fragmented, but still worth reading.

She quoted from D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

This I think so applies to ones who have been through war.

And dimly she realised one of the great laws of the human soul: that when the emotional soul receives a wounding shock, which does not kill the body, the soul seems to recover as the body recovers. But this is only appearance. It is, really, only the mechanism of re assumed habit. Slowly, slowly the wound to the soul begins to make itself felt, like a bruise which only slowly deepens it’s terrible ache, till it fills all the psyche. And when we think we have recovered and forgotten, it is then that the terrible after-effects have to be encountered at their worst.

So with Doris Lessing’s parents.

My neighbour G., went through WWII, he actually was stationed near, and went to the Pub in Earles Colne, the village where my mum lived as a girl, funny to think of them being so close and moving in different circles.

In any case his eldest son was in the Vietnam War. He came home, married, he had a thriving business, then after 40 years all of a sudden he starts getting flash backs. He can’t concentrate, he lost his business, his wife, after all that time. Not that the signs weren’t there before.

So when I read the above quote from D. H. Lawrence, it made me think about my neighbour’s son and so many others.