Posts Tagged ‘The 1940s’

Queen Anne's Lace - end of summer - two years ago at White Rock, B.C.

Queen Anne’s Lace – end of summer – two years ago at White Rock Beach, B.C. Seems like that particular road trip happened only just yesterday… insert desired cliché about the ever-more-swift passage of time here…only four more months of this particular year left now – where did it go?!


This second completed decade in my 2014 Century of Books Project consists of books which are, predictably because of the era, either directly concerned with World War II, or refer to it as an off-stage plot element. Only two make no reference to it at all, namely Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County (published in 1940 as pulp magazine serial – pure entertainment), and Miles Franklin’s My Career Goes Bung (written several decades before its 1946 publication.)

There were so many books to choose from in reading for this decade; the difficulty was not in finding likely candidates but in deciding which ones to set aside. As it is I have doubled up (and in some cases tripled and quadrupled) on many of the years; I have had to say firmly to myself: “No more!”

Digression alert! Regarding the ratings out of 10 – these are merely a reflection of my personal response to what I am reading, and how satisfying an experience it turns out to be for me. The ratings in no way represent “literary merit”, for Hugh Walpole’s novel The Blind Man’s House, rated below at 5.5, is decidedly superior in every literary sense to D.E. Stevenson’s The English Air (9) and Crooked Adam (6.5). But I expected more from Walpole, and his relatively lesser rating means merely that I didn’t feel that my readerly desires were fully satisfied compared to how well they they could have been from a writer of his calibre. Not meaning to pick on Hugh Walpole, and to audaciously celebrate D.E. Stevenson – merely using them for examples as they are handily first on the list.

Now we may proceed. 🙂

I’ve again highlighted a few as worthy of extra notice – scroll down to the bottom for another award lists.


And here they are, in their (mostly) tattered and well-read glory.

1940 ~ The English Air by D.E. Stevenson ~ A half-German, half-English young man visits England in the year before the start of World War II. Is his visit strictly social, or something more sinister? A rather low-key storyline compared to 1942’s super-dramatic Crooked Adam, but quite lovely in its character portraits. (9/10)

1941 ~ The Blind Man’s House by Hugh Walpole ~ A complex psychological drama concerning the effects of the blindness of  Sir Julius Cromwell on his wife, his friend, and the many characters who make up the Cromwell household and social circle. I thought it reminiscent of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, though – I hasten to add – without the “John Thomas” scenes. Walpole’s Ladyship doesn’t indulge in such extra-marital escapades. (5.5/10)

1942 ~ Crooked Adam by D.E. Stevenson ~ Schoolmaster Adam Southey, refused entry into the Services due to a childhood injury, instead proves his patriotism by chasing down Nazi spies in the wilds of Scotland. Highly contrived, and hugely unlikely, but a good example of a “Hurray for our side!” wartime entertainment. (6.5/10)

1943 ~ Lady in Waiting by Rory Gallagher ~ A frothy and light satire about an upper-middle-class American pregnancy, with few of the details spared. Vintage Mommy-Lit, in other words, and really rather fun in its own way, though the relentlessly chirpy voice of the narrator occasionally has me wanting to (temporarily, not fatally) smother her with one of her voluminous pregnancy smocks. (6.5/10)

1944 ~ Yours is the Earth by Margaret Vail ~ Non-fiction/personal account. A sober yet impassioned personal account of an American woman’s wartime experience in France. Married to a member of the French upper class and left alone to care for their young daughter and the family estates when he is interned by the German forces, Margaret must decide for herself how to proceed, which she does with steadfast resolve and an immense contempt for the enemy race. (10/10)

1945 ~ The Gilded Ladder by Laura Conway ~ A formulaic historical fiction/domestic drama about a social climbing Victorian and her musically adept young niece. By the prolific author Dorothy Phoebe Ansle, who published 100 novels between the 1920s and 1980s, under various pseudonyms including Laura Conway and Hebe Elsna. Well-written for its genre but ultimately forgettable. (5/10)

1946 ~ My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin ~ Another version of My Brilliant Career’s Sybylla rants against the misunderstanding her teenage bestseller has attracted, as she finds her way into and out of Sydney literary society. Published several decades after its completion, and a bit dated in its references, but nonetheless a diverting read with a gloriously full-of-herself heroine. (9/10)

1947 ~ The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding ~ A cleanly written noir novel centered on a devoted mother’s protection of her teenage daughter from a blackmailer after an inconvenient man turns up very dead. (9.5/10)

1948 ~ North Face by Mary Renault ~ A gloomy post-World War II novel concerning the emotional traumas of Neil and Ellen, and their coming to terms with their tragic pasts and gleam-of-hope futures. A rock climbing theme prevails, all Freudian and symbolic. (6/10)

1949 ~ The Wooden Horse by Eric Williams ~ Non-fiction/personal account. A clever and dangerous escape from Stalag Luft III is described by one of the participants. Enthralling! (8.5/10)

And the “bonus” books:

1940 ~ The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County by Edgar Rice Burroughs ~ The epitome of pulp “western” fiction, by the creator of the immortal Tarzan. Wrongly accused of the murder of his romantic interest’s father, rancher/deputy sheriff Buck Mason seeks the real killer while visiting a dude ranch disguised as an Eastern polo player. He sorts everything out, nails the real villains, and finds true love. Did we ever doubt the outcome?! (4/10)

1941 ~ Above Suspicion by Helen MacInnes ~ An Oxford don and his wife undertake a secret spying mission in Europe as the clouds of war gather overhead. (8.5/10)

1942 ~ Assignment in Brittany by Helen MacInnes ~ An English officer is sent to Brittany on a spying mission, with the lucky coincidence of being able to masquerade as a convenient double who was evacuated to England at Dunkirk. Much drama and a fair bit of bloodshed. (9/10)

1942 ~ Pied Piper by Nevil Shute ~ Shute’s fast-moving and exceedingly likeable propaganda novel, starring a stoic elderly Englishman rescuing an eclectic group of endangered children from Nazi-occupied France in the early years of World War II. Not very believable, perhaps, but a good yarn nonetheless. (9.5/10)

1942 ~ The Sea-Gull Cry by Robert Nathan ~ An über-light novella concerning a winsome pair of Anglo-Polish war refugees shoehorned into a dreadfully upbeat formula romance between the eldest sibling, 19-year-old Louisa, and a middle-aged history professor, Smith. The 7-year-old brother Jeri provides cuteness and pathos. (3/10)

1942 ~ West with the Night by Beryl Markham ~ A slightly uneven but overall excellent memoir telling of the author’s youth in Africa and her experiences training racehorses and later learning to fly small planes. Beryl eventually became the first person to solo-fly the Atlantic from East to West. An amazing woman; a very readable personal account of her earlier days. (9.5/10)

1945 ~ Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood ~ A series of linked episodes gleaned from Isherwood’s own experiences in mid-wars Berlin, 1930-33. Utterly chilling from our historical perspective; utterly fascinating for the character portraits the author produces. This is the “I am a camera book”, and one of those character portraits is off the now-ubiquitous Sally Bowles. (Made famous by Liza Minnelli, and now a staple turn in every small town triple-threat dreamer’s stage-struck repertoire.) (10/10)

 1946 ~ The Sudden Guest by Christopher La Farge ~ A bitter, deeply egotistical elderly woman copes with a rising hurricane at her Rhode Island summer home and mulls over the differences between now and the last great storm only a few years earlier. Perhaps a metaphor for American and her stance regarding world politics of the time? (7/10)

 1948 ~ Beowulf by Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman) ~ A London teashop in the Blitz is at the heart of this linked series of vignettes and character portraits. This is fantastic, in a beautifully subfusc way. A writer to explore further. (9.5/10)

1949 ~ The Black Opal by Dorothy Maywood Bird ~ A sweetly charming period piece aimed at the teen girl set of its day. Laurel heads off to co-ed college and mixes her studies with a full social life, the acquisition of a beau, and the solving of an old murder mystery. Pure fluff; great fun! (6/10)

1949 ~ Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple ~ The tale of two families and their unequal relationship, due in large part to a secret wrong perpetrated by the father of one family upon the widowed mother of the other. (9/10)

1949 ~ Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski ~ Verging just the tiniest bit on bathos is this suspenseful tale of an English officer returning to France immediately after the end of WW II to seek for the little boy he saw only once as a newborn baby, child of a tragically brief wartime marriage with a French Resistance worker. (7.5/10)

1949 ~ My Heart Shall Not Fear by Josephine Lawrence ~ A complicated domestic drama following a number of characters through times of challenge in post-World War II America. Domesticity and the roles of women are key features here. The writing is nothing special, but acceptable; the plot has moments of interest but the author tends to over-emphasize her key points, driving them home with a sledgehammer – a certain lack of finesse. (5/10)

 Most Beautiful Writing Award:

  1. West with the Night by Beryl Markham ~ 1942
  2. Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood  ~ 1945

Marshmallow Award (for purest fluff):

  1. The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County by Edgar Rice Burroughs ~ 1940
  2. The Black Opal by Dorothy Maywood Bird ~ 1949
  3. Lady in Waiting by Rory Gallagher ~ 1943

Don’t-Expect-Many-Smiles Award:

  1. The Sudden Guest by Christopher La Farge  ~ 1946
  2. The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding ~ 1947
  3. North Face by Mary Renault ~ 1948

Sturdy British Manhood (Fictional) Award:

  1. Crooked Adam by D.E. Stevenson ~ 1942

Karma-is-Grand Award:

  1. Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple ~ 1949

Waste-of-Precious-Reading-Time Award:

  1. The Sea-Gull Cry by Robert Nathan  ~ 1942

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