Henrietta’s War: News From the Home Front 1939-1942 – Joyce Dennys
(originally published in 1985)
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This book contains the columns written by Joyce Dennys during the period 1939-1942. The columns are presented as letters written by Henrietta, a resident of a Devonshire town in Britain, to her childhood friend at the front, Robert. They are a window into the life of people in Britain during the Second World War. Often presented in a gently mocking way and/or as a caricature of the manner in which people tried to deal with war in everyday life, they make for surprisingly cozy reading.
I have long wanted to read all of the books in the Bloomsbury Group Ex Libris series, and I have a feeling I may read all of the first five published books before the end of the year. They are surprisingly good reads when you want to escape your current affairs and cuddle up on the couch with a blanket and some tea.
And Henrietta? She is such a dear. Her gentle opposition to the expected manners of women at the time, and the interaction with her funny neighbours makes you feel like you are part of her world: decorating the windows with cloth at the start of the war, the difficulties and solutions to the lack of certain food products made up by her and neighbouring women, her engagement in activities that makes you wonder how they were supposed to help the war effort..
It is surprising how well you feel you know the characters by the end of the book. In her letters, Henrietta makes fun of her neighbours, but at the same time Dennys manages to portray Henrietta as less-than-perfect too. She rather likes staying in bed when she’s ill a little too much, for example. Somehow, the gentle mocking of Henrietta and her acquaintances makes them all the more human and real, and also friendly. I felt for many of these people and though the stories told in Henrietta’s letters may seem inconsequential – as I said before some of the war-time initiatives are very puzzling in respect to what was going on – they all contain the reality of continuing life in the midst of something as tragic as a war. Granted, the Devonshire town has not been bombed, as were the cities and villages of people who come to Henrietta’s neighbourhood as refugees, but in portraying the tensions between these people who can claim to be ‘true victims’ and Henrietta’s neighbours, the abnormality of all life during a crisis of this magnitude is underlined.
I am afraid this makes it sound like a very serious book, when it really is not when you read it. It is very humourous and enjoyable. I simply mean to say that in enabling the reader to laugh at the dealings of people during the war, it also manages to pinpoint some of the difficulties of every day life during a war. Small things we often forget in the face of the big number of casualties and such.
Highly recommended. I cannot wait to read the second book, Henrietta Sees It Through, about the years 1942-1945.
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