Monday, December 12, 2011

Mrs Miniver by Jan Struther

'She rearranged the fire a little, mostly for the pleasure of handling the 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.'

Coincidentally I've just laid a fire myself but something tells me that Mrs Miniver wouldn't have had to wash the black from her hands twice, pull splinters from her t-shirt or had a dizzy spell from huffing and puffing to get things going.  I digress.

Like so many others I connected Mrs Miniver with the film starring Greer Garson but this book isn't that at all.  It's better.  The character was created when Jan Struther was asked to write a series of articles about an ordinary woman for The Times.  Despite Struther's claims that the episodes she wrote about bore no resemblance to her own family life her followers weren't buying it.

There is a poignant story about the whole family arriving at the Town Hall to be fitted for gas masks at the outbreak of war.

 '...a very small child bursting into a wail of dismay on catching sight of its mother disguised in a black snout; the mother's muffled reassurances - "It's on'y Mum, duck."...'

 There were equally touching stories but with a humourous touch such as the story about her daughter, Judy, choosing which doll in the shop she liked best. 

"You see, it would be so awful to pick the wrong one.  I mean, suppose you could have gone and bought me in the shop instead of just having me; you might have made a mistake and chose Marigold Thompson instead."
Mrs Miniver's mouth twitched.  She couldn't somehow imagine herself choosing Marigold Thompson.  A nice child, but pudding-faced.
"Well," she said, "I like Marigold."
"Oh, so do I.  But what I mean is, she wouldn't have done for you.  And what's more," pursued Judy, "Marigold's mother wouldn't have done for me.  At all," she added with conviction.

Each vignette sparkles in its own way but the ones surrounding the Christmas season were timely and so charming.  And some things never change...

'At intervals she tried to pretend that Christmas Day fell on the 5th of December, or alternatively, that all her friends and relations lived in South Africa and that she had to catch an early mail; but it was no use.'

There is no doubt about Jan Struther's sense of humour or that she would have been just the sort of person people gravitated towards.  I don't think I've ever laughed out loud while reading an introduction before but the description of her family dressing up a mannequin to surprise unsuspecting guests in the loo was hilarious!

With headings such as London in August, A Country House Visit, On Hampstead Heath or A Drive to Scotland, Mrs Miniver is the quintessential 'lovely' book.  I only wished it had four times as many pages.


  1. I love Mrs. Miniver. I enjoyed the movie but agree that the book is better. It has quickly become a comfort read for me. I have several books on the go right now but you've given me the urge to pull it back off the shelf again!

  2. I know the book is so much better, but I'd still love to see the film again. It never seems to be on television.

  3. Oh I must find a copy immediately! K x

  4. Oh Darlene! I have this on my shall be my next read once I've finished my Trollope?

  5. I've passed this by I don't know how many times in used bookstores, for no good reason. How I'm kicking myself now! I'm especially intrigued by the promise of humour - for some reason (ahem, the movie) I did not expect that but am delighted at the prospect.

  6. It's lovely, isn't it? I knew it would be right up your street. The film is great in an entirely different way. Mrs. Miniver can be a tiny bit too all-is-well for my liking (I prefer the Provincial Lady's gentle cynicism) but you can't beat it for comfort reading.

  7. Like Claire, I have also passed up copies, including a lovely hardback - and am also kicking myself. I was wondering how it would compare with The Provincial Lady, and then Simon answered that.

  8. Wow! This is one of my favorite movies but I did not know about the book. I'm going to look for it RIGHT THIS MINUTE. Thanks, Darlene!

  9. Pam, Lovely of you to drop by! The sections on Christmas or New Year are worth squeezing in while you have lunch. And I've brought the movie home from the library, it's been ages since I watched it.

    mary, Check with your local library. Mine had a copy so that's my evening all set!

    Kristina, This was a lovely surprise. It reminded me of Dorothy Whipple's short stories and how such a slim collection could provide the most amazing reading experience. Hope you find a copy!

    bookssnob, It's absolutely the most lovely reading and perfect for this time of year. And I have yet to be introduced to Trollope!

    Claire, Well do not let this wonderful book pass you by ever again! And read the introduction...I think it's the best one I've read for entertainment.

    StuckInABook, You are so right, it was definitely up my street! Mrs Miniver was just the thing to help me sober up from the vast quantities of whiskey in The Slaves of Solitude!

    Lisa, There you go and thanks to Simon wherever he is. Shame about missing out on that hardback but keep your eyes open, hopefully another one pops up soon.

    Audrey, Hahaha! All the best in your search!

  10. Mrs. Miniver sounds wonderful. I will put it on my ever-growing list of books to read! I am just finishing All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. I absolutely love it. I wonder if you have read this one.

  11. Darlene! I just got your Christmas card - aren't you the sweetest? Thank you!

  12. Sunday Taylor, That does it then! Book Snob read All Passion Spent recently and wrote that I would love it and now your stamp of approval. The green Virago is languishing on my shelves so at some point in January I'll read it, thanks!

    StuckInABook, The pleasure was all mine!

  13. I got a really nice (and cheap) old hardcover edition of this recently. I really didn't know anything about it but a vague feeling that it was an old movie? Anyway I thought it might be up my alley so it is good to know that I may have guessed right.

  14. Thanks, this is a book which I wouldn't have thought of reading just because I've seen the film, but I'll be looking out for it now.

  15. Thomas, Lucky you, old hardbacks are beautiful! When you're in the mood for something sentimental head straight to your shelves for this one and settle in to that gorgeous library chair of yours.

    Katrina, Definitely do! And thanks for stopping by.

  16. There is a kind of sequel, Try Anything Twice. I read it a long time ago but it was published by Virago in 1990 with another Greer Garson picture on the cover & it's more articles by Struther so I'm sure there would be more Miniver amongst them. I do love that description of tea although it's not quite the same when we're setting the fire & making the tea, is it?!

  17. There was an excerpt of this in the WWII short story collection, Wave Her Goodbye. I've always meant to pick up the actual book. It's already in the queue of course.