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Stanley and Elsie

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  195 ratings  ·  39 reviews
The First World War is over, and in a quiet Hampshire village, artist Stanley Spencer is working on the commission of a lifetime, painting an entire chapel in memory of a life lost in the war to end all wars. Combining his own traumatic experiences with moments of everyday redemption, the chapel will become his masterpiece.

When Elsie Munday arrives to take up position as h
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 2nd 2019 by Duckworth
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  195 ratings  ·  39 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Aug 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor-2019
What a lovely, lovely story. Beautiful and melancholy. Based on the real painter, Sir Stanley Spencer and his wife, painter, Hilda. The story is narrated by Elsie who is hired to be their housekeeper, but ends up as friends with both. It covers the period of time when Stanley is painting the Sandham Memorial chapel, through his marriage with Hilda and his infatuation with another woman that will come between them all. Hearing and seeing through Elsie's thoughts and conversations, the reader gets ...more
Aug 02, 2019 rated it liked it
ETA: At the bottom of my review, I have included an additional link to a photo. It’s priceless.

I picked up this book of historical fiction curious to learn more about the English painter Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) and his paintings. He is particularly well known for his large paintings on the walls of the Sandham Memorial Chapel in the village of Burghclere, Hampshire, England. The chapel paintings were commissioned in 1923 by Mary and Louis Behrend in memory of Mary’s brother and th
“I don’t want them to look like war paintings, Elsie. I want them to look like heaven.” When I was offered a copy of this novel to review as part of the blog tour, I was unfamiliar with the name of its subject, the artist Sir Stanley Spencer (1891–1959) – until I realized that he painted the WWI-commemorative Sandham Memorial Chapel in Hampshire, which I had never visited (until last week; see my blog for details and photos) but knew was just 5.5 miles from my home in Berkshire.

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Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. It evoked the story of one of England's most celebrated twentieth century painters, Stanley Spencer, and the women in his life, including the sensible, cheerful live-in maid Elsie in a most vivid and involving way. Early twentieth century village life, an eccentric lifestyle, and the complicated lives of imperfect fractured people is brought to life in an entirely readable way. This is a story of love, obsession, the thought processes of a painter, the English count ...more
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
I love Nicola Upson’s “Josephine Tey” novels, in which a fictionalised version of the Golden Age crime writer investigates mysteries. Here, though, Nicola has turned her attention to other real-life people, and I suspect stuck much closer to reality than in the Josephine stories. Indeed, the extraordinary true story of the Spencers and those around them needs little embroidery, and must have proved an almost irresistible subject for a novel.

The artist Stanley Spencer, his wife Hilda Carline, als
Alex (ReadingBetweenTheNotes)
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
When I started reading this book, it immediately struck me how nice the prose was. It had such a lovely flow and it really drew me into the story - I read this book in 2 days! I was completely swept away by Upson's depiction of country life.

Stanley and Elsie is a fascinating portrait of married life. The book features some very witty dialogue, as well as more poignant moments. I will admit that some of the characters' decisions infuriated me; I felt so much sympathy for Stanley's wife, Hilda! I
Jo Chambers
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british-fiction, art
This is an exceptional book, a novelisation of a key period in the life of the artist Stanley Spencer. Much of it is told through the voice of Elsie Munday, who was housemaid to the Spencers and became a family friend.
The novel starts when Elsie starts her employment, at the time when Stanley is painting his masterpiece, the interior of the War Memorial Chapel in Burghclere. At that time, Stanley is married to Hilda and they have a young daughter Shirin. The marriage is tempestuous but Stanley
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Stanley and Elsie is a fictionalised story featuring artist Stanley Spencer and is set in a small Hampshire village just after the First World War.

There's something really special about this story and the writing. Nicola Upson's stylish and elegant prose really brings her characters to life. The reader will not like all of them, but there's no doubting that she's made them feel as real as possible - flaws and all.

Elsie Munday arrives for an interview. She's after the job as a maid to artist Stan
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Stanley and Elsie was a novel that made me cry, laugh and spend more time on the internet looking at art than any book I’ve read before. I had never heard of Stanley Spencer or Hilda Carline and I found the story concerning the painting of the chapel fascinating.

The first part of the novel which focuses on Elsie was my favourite part. I loved the way she handled both Spencer and Hilda, refusing to keep her thoughts regarding the behaviour to each other and their children to herself. She saw them
Raven Jones
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
I loved all the St Ives chapters, particularly the days before Stanley shows up. I also got a real kick out of seeing the picture of Patricia, Dorothy, Stanley and Jas outside the butchers! I had no idea that was an actual picture and the scene for this in the book is again one that I enjoyed.
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loved every page of this. Upson manages to make art you can't see sing, and characters you should loath become sympathetic. The world Upson creates is so real you almost feel embarrassed looking in. Wonderful, wonderful writing! ...more
Nicola Smith
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I do love a book set around real people or real life events and so I jumped at the chance to read Stanley and Elsie.

Stanley is Stanley Spencer, artist. Elsie is the woman employed by Stanley and his wife, Hilda, to be their maid. This is the 1920s, almost ten years after the First World War ended. Stanley is working on an epic project, paintings on the walls of a chapel commissioned in memory of his patron's late brother. This is where Elsie enters the life of the Spencer family and where she fi
Sandra Danby
Aug 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature, art
My knowledge of English artist Stanley Spencer was sketchy to say the least when I started reading ‘Stanley and Elsie’ by Nicola Upson. This is a biographical novel that walks a difficult line between true fact and imagined conversation and walks it with skill, delicacy and drama. Definitely a novel for anyone who loves art.
Upson takes us into the Spencer household at Chapel View, Burghclere after the Great War when Elsie Munday starts work as a housemaid. Stanley Spencer has been commissioned t
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Nicola Upson’s novel, Stanley and Elsie, covers five years in the lives of the painter, Sir Stanley Spencer, and the young woman who was hired as his housekeeper, while he was painting the Sandham Memorial Chapel.

I have to admit that I didn’t know very much about Sir Stanley Spencer before reading Nicola Upson’s novel which made me reliant on her to bring him alive on the page and draw me in. She certainly achieved this, taking me right into the heart of this household and summoning up all the c
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Based on the life of the artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), Stanley and Elsie is a fascinating look at art, the wounds of war and Stanley Spencer through the eyes of the women in his life.

Writing fiction about art is almost the ultimate test in descriptive writing as the goal is clearly to get the reader to not only be able to visualise the art as they read, but appreciate the technical detail and the feelings that a particular piece evokes. In this way, Nicola Upson has accomplished something
Anne Goodwin
May 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Stanley Spencer is already famous when Elsie Munday is employed as housekeeper for him and his wife. Hilda is also a painter, but she’s lost interest since leaving London for a small Hampshire village where Stanley has accepted a mammoth commission to decorate the walls of a chapel with his experiences of the First World War. Although Elsie’s mother worries about her mixing with arty types, the young woman is easily able to hold her own, becoming the confidante of both husband and wife and a sec ...more
The Idle Woman
Apr 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two years ago, on a hot summer’s day, I went to Cookham in search of Stanley Spencer. Nestled around a high street, the village is small and probably rather peaceful under normal circumstances, but I’d managed to turn up on the weekend of Rock the Moor, a festival which had taken over the meadows down by the river. As I studied the pictures in the Stanley Spencer Gallery, a converted chapel at the far end of the village, my contemplation was underlaid by the distant, persistent throb of drums. I ...more
Deborah Dare
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with Elsie Munday as soon as I started reading this book. Elsie goes into service as the housemaid for famous painter Stanley Spencer, his wife Hilda and their daughter Shirrin while Stanley has been commissioned to paint war paintings in the chapel at Burghclere. She quickly becomes a part of the family, speaking her mind and becoming confidante to Stanley and Hilda in their volatile marriage.

When Patricia Preece and Dorothy Hepworth come onto the scene, things change for
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
It is my first book by Nicola Upson, and I was surprised by the story. I love historical fiction, and this is a very good book about the life of Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959). I must admit I didn’t know the work of Sir Stanley Spencer and this book gave me the opportunity to discover a painter and his works. It left me with the wish to I to go and visit the Sandham Memorial Chapel.
I loved more the first part where it is well described the life and the relationship between Elsie, the Spencers’
Martin Pilkington
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Nicola Upson is better known for the series of crime fiction novels featuring Josephine Tey, a real person who wrote detective novels and plays. Here she takes on the story of Stanley Spencer, one of the great english painters of the 20th Century. The Elsie in the title is Elsie Munday who comes to work for Stanley and his wife Hilda as a housemaid while he is painting a chapel in Burghclere south of Newbury.
Nicola Upson has beautifully recreated the feel of the 1920s and all of the real people
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have read other books by Nicola Upson and enjoyed them. I was surprised by this book as I did not read the synopsis and thought it was a murder mystery which it certainly is not.
This is a detailed look at the life of the artist Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959). I had never heard of this person and looked him up as a result.
The first part is a detailed everyday look at life in the Spencer home with their maid Elsie. Part two was about the relationship decline between Stanley his wife Hilda and
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was really slow to start with, and I nearly have up on it. However, I didn't and I'm glad as it is so beautifully written, telling an interesting story.
I'm not sure if it's poetic licence on the part of the author, but Stanley seems an awful, awful man. So selfish and belligerent, determined to have his own way whatever. He must have known that Patricia was a lesbian, but did he just believe that one good man could convert her to heterosexuality? All this won't stop me going to see the
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked Nicola Upson's Josephine Tey series and was very happy when I got this ARC.
It's a very interesting book, engaging, full of good for thought and entertaining at the same time.
I loved the descriptions of Berkshire, the fleshed out characters and the plot.
Ms Upson can surely write and delivers a good book.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Such an enjoyable read. This wonderfully compelling novel about British artist Stanley Spencer is intelligent, thoughtful and well-researched. Narrated by the Spencers’ housekeeper Elsie Munday, it’s both entertaining and informative, and feels completely convincing. With vivid depictions of the people, the places and the paintings, I really felt that I got to know Stanley Spencer and his family and friends, and also gained an insight into his art. Highly recommended.
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: net-galley
This book is written about real people and a real event; (from the description) Stanley Spencer is working on the commission of a lifetime, painting an entire chapel in memory of a life lost in the war to end all wars.

The characters were tragic and had so much depth to them that I found this book easy to immerse myself into.

My thanks to Netgalley and Duckworth for this advanced readers copy. This book released in May 2019.
Aug 19, 2019 rated it liked it
A novel about Sir Stanley Spencer, his loves, his wives, his friend / housekeeper Elsie and his paintings. Not sure I liked him much, his long suffering wife Hilda loved him without question, Patricia, the gold digging second wife in a relationship with Dorothy - I'd rather be a Gold digging bitch than a penniless whore". Elsie was the most likeable and sensible of the ensemble. However, it has made me research Stanley a little more and Sandham Memorial Chapel added to my "must visit" places. ...more
Ruth Brumby
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very well researched. I could imagine the author looking at the photographs, reading the letters, visiting the sites and especially studying the paintings. It made me want to do the same.
Well constructed into an engaging and sad story. It made me wonder about other possible versions. It's probably impossible to tell from the evidence what really happened.
Well set in the context of time and place.
Ali Dunn
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was very keen to read this book seeing that I know a fair bit about Stanley Spencer and his life and work I was interested to see where this would take me. I wasn't disappointed. The novel is a well researched, well described piece of work and I loved the way the author wrote about it from the maids point of view. Alright it’s a work of fiction but it’s stands up well and I enjoyed it. ...more
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful novel which gently explores the life of Elsie Munday initially a domestic servant who over time became a friend of Stanley Spencer and Hilda Carline. The weaving of daily life into artistic obsessions is beautifully rendered.
Jane Mosse
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've been a big fan of Spencer's work for many years and had visited Cookham on a couple of occasions to view his work so I was intrigued as to how Upson was going to approach her subject. She uses Elsie cleverly as both an observer of Stanley's relationships and as a confidante to both him and his wife. The descriptions of every-day life capture the mood of the times and Elsie fits perfectly into this setting, settling into the Spencer household to such a degree that she finds herself embarrass ...more
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Nicola Upson was born in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, and read English at Downing College, Cambridge. She has worked in theatre and as a freelance journalist, and is the author of two non-fiction works, and the recipient of an Escalator Award from Arts Council England. She lives with her partner and splits her time between Cambridge and Cornwall.

Nicola is currently writing the sixth book in the 'Jos

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