Entering the world of blogging was for me much like pushing through the wardrobe to Narnia or discovering the Borrowers living under the floorboards. It has opened up all sorts of new experiences and introduction to books by readers the world over; bookish bloggers whose reviews and recommendations are as good as, if not better than, those I find published in magazines and newspapers. I have discovered so many books I might not otherwise have heard of, or given a second glance.
Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struthers is one of those books.
I’ve known Mrs. Miniver for a very long time through the movie of the same name. Much like “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I’m not sure when I first saw “Mrs. Miniver”. It is as if I’ve always known it. I still enjoy the varied characters in the village, feel frightened as the Nazis nightly bombard the town and Mrs. Miniver hurries the children into the shelter. I still smile at the scene where the Miniver Rose is given the trophy (and thought of this scene when a similar one played out in Downton Abbey last season). I still cry at the loss of Carol as she and Mrs. Miniver travel by car in the darkest of night and I still feel a sigh of relief when Vin flies overhead to let his mother know he is okay.
All these years, of which I have many, I did not know of Mrs. Miniver the book until recently. How did that happen? How could I have missed such a rare treasure trove of stories so simple and rich?
However this book has gone unnoticed, I’m glad it found me. To read it is both a surprise and a comfort that I had my nose buried in all weekend.
The book is really a series of vignettes set around Mrs. Miniver. They are simple stories in short chapters that were published in the London Times between 1937-39. The essays are fiction, though said to be based upon the life of the author, and take us through the everyday, common moments of life. With no major plot, mystery or adventure, they are exquisitely written and I found myself always wanting more.
The chapters are delightful as we enjoy the first day of August, search for a new charwoman, visit the zoo, have strawberries and tea among the strawberry plants with Aunt Hetty. We observe Mrs. Miniver and her husband, Clem, discussing who to invite to a dinner party (it seems most couples have one member who is a good dinner guest, the other not). We go with Mrs. Miniver, her three children, and the household staff to get their gas masks. We watch Vin, Judy, and Toby emptying their Christmas stockings, with each child approaching it in a different way. It made me recall how such small events always reflected the characters of my own children.
In one absolutely delightful chapter, Mrs. Miniver is off to buy a new engagement calendar. It is mid-January. She ruminates over which calendar is best – and why – and the importance of keeping her calendars from year to year. The history they tell of a life.
Rather timely, at least here in the States, there is one chapter entitled “Left and Right”, in which Mrs. Miniver finds herself at a dinner party where two women of very opposite political views are seated near one another. Read along along with me, won’t you? It is the last few sentences of the chapter.
Oh, Lord, thought Mrs. Miniver, we’re off again; and anyway, I’m sick and tired of being offered nothing but that same old choice. Left wing . . . Right wing . . . it’s so limited; why doesn’t it ever occur to any of them that what one is really longing for is the wishbone?
While the book and the movie are different, I truly could not say which one was better. I think they both stand up on their own merits. I will watch “Mrs. Miniver” again and again, of that I am sure, and I will read Mrs. Miniver over and over as well. One makes me long for the old silver screen, the other for a time when well-written essays and stories were published in magazines each month. I urge you to visit both versions of an interesting woman of the 1930′s. I promise you that, at least with the book, you will never encounter a revolving door in the same way again.
(For those of you familiar with the movie, you might want to check out this post by Julia of Hooked on Houses. Julia often takes her readers “inside” movie and television homes. This one is all about Mrs. Miniver.)