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Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes
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Buddy Reads > Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes by Mollie Panter-Downes (May/June 2018)

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Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
Welcome to our buddy read for...


Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes by Mollie Panter-Downes

For fifty years Mollie Panter-Downes' name was associated with "The New Yorker", for which she wrote a regular 'Letter from London', book reviews and over thirty short stories; of the twenty-one in "Good Evening, Mrs Craven", written between 1939 and 1944, only two had ever been reprinted - these very English stories have, until now, been unavailable to English readers.

Exploring most aspects of English domestic life during the war, they are about separation, sewing parties, fear, evacuees sent to the country, obsession with food, the social revolutions of wartime.

In the Daily Mail Angela Huth called "Good Evening, Mrs Craven" 'my especial find' and Ruth Gorb in the "Ham & High" contrasted the humour of some of the stories with the desolation of others: 'The mistress, unlike the wife, has to worry and mourn in secret for her man; a middle-aged spinster finds herself alone again when the camaraderie of the air-raids is over ...'




Susan | 10649 comments Mod
I adored this collection. I listened to it on Audible and found it really enjoyable - even though I don't normally like short stories.


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
Thanks Susan. Your effusive comments make me even keener to start this book. I plan to read it once I've finished (the wonderful) Old Filth by Jane Gardam. Hopefully in the next few days

#bringiton


Pamela (bibliohound) | 534 comments I'm looking forward to this one - based on your review, Susan, I am going to move it up my ridiculously long list for May and read it once I've finished Mad World.


Lynaia | 468 comments Susan wrote: "I adored this collection. I listened to it on Audible and found it really enjoyable - even though I don't normally like short stories."

I loved it too and I also don't usually like short stories. I would like to read the much longer London War Notes, 1939-1945 sometime.


message 6: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments I like short stories, but I am less keen on collections of short stories, even when the individual stories are good. I will probably split this collection up and read other books between the stories.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I’m about a third of the way through and loving it - the stories are very moreish.


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
Yes, normally I find short stories really difficult and need to split them. These were not like that - I actually loved them. Is London War Notes, 1939-1945 more of the same, or news articles? Does anyone know? I would certainly be interested to read more by her.


message 9: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1290 comments Susan wrote: "Yes, normally I find short stories really difficult and need to split them. These were not like that - I actually loved them. Is London War Notes, 1939-1945 more of the same, or news..."

I read this years ago, I think when I was in college. My recollection is that it was columns - a lot like Janet Flanner's book, Paris Was Yesterday: 1925-1939. But I read these books in the '70s so my memory might be a little hazy.


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
Thanks, Jan. I definitely want to read that - I liked the way she wrote a lot. I will also explore Paris Was Yesterday. I will be in Paris this summer, so that could be a nice, literary companion.


message 11: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
There's a page about Mollie Panter-Downes on the Persephone site, which says that London War Notes is non-fiction, and they have also now published another collection of her short stories, Minnie's Room: The Peacetime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes . I would like to read this one too - it "contains ten stories describing aspects of British life in the years after the war."

http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/moll...


Tania | 1075 comments I checked my Persephone catalogue and it seems these were the 'letters' that were sent to the New Yorket from London during the war.
I have started, but will probably just dip in and out between other books I'm reading at the moment.


Lynaia | 468 comments Susan wrote: "Yes, normally I find short stories really difficult and need to split them. These were not like that - I actually loved them. Is London War Notes, 1939-1945 more of the same, or news..."

I think it is more of the same as Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes.


message 14: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments Both her short stories and her non-fiction column were written for the New Yorker and Persephone have published collections of them.
It is more difficult to find her works originally published as books, but Virago did issue One Fine Day in 2003 and several UK libraries have copies.


Tania | 1075 comments I have One Fine Day, but haven't read it yet. Might have to bump it up the TBR pile after rhis.


message 16: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1290 comments Lynaia wrote: "Susan wrote: "Yes, normally I find short stories really difficult and need to split them. These were not like that - I actually loved them. Is London War Notes, 1939-1945 more of the..."

They were her columns for the New Yorker, not stories. Like a letter from London. Just articles about what was going on and what it was like in London during the war.


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
Thanks, Jan. That is what I really wanted to know.

How shall we do this? Shall we take a story or two at a time, so we don't jump ahead too much, for people still reading the book?

The first story is: Date with Romance (14th October, 1939)

This sees Mrs Ramsey, who is a recurring character within the book, having lunch with Gerald Spalding (I listened to this on audio, so forgive me if I get the spelling of some names wrong!).

The second story is Meeting at the Pringles (6th June, 1940)

I loved this one, about a committee meeting at the cottage of the 'Pringle Girls.'


message 18: by Nigeyb (last edited May 12, 2018 02:21AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
I'm not sure how we should play it Susan


I don't think this is going to take me very long

I've already read the five stories. They are wonderful little vignettes of wartime life for those left behind to carry on as best they can. All have to make adjustments to their lifestyles. Most wondering whether things will ever be quite the same again.

My favourite so far is...

In Clover - 12 April 1940

It describes how Mrs Fletcher (at the Manor) copes with London evacuees the Clark family.

It's an absolute classic of class tension, snobbery and English people's frequent inability to say what they really think. It ends in the only way it could possibly end.

Mollie Panter-Downes is a splendid writer, who writes with subtle humour and irony.

And what a cast of characters.


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
My favourites were, "Battle of the Greeks," "Goodbye, My Love," "Good Evening, Mrs Craven," "The Hunger of Miss Burton." Well, I loved them all, really. Yes, it is all very English - lots of tension and things left unsaid, of people not wishing to show emotion and, of course, class, as you say. She also perfectly encapsulates that sense of overwhelming loss that some women feel about childlessness; plus the sense of well-being when something goes wrong for others - perhaps only admitted secretly, but there nonetheless. These are definitely my favourite short stories, bar none, that I have read so far.


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "These are definitely my favourite short stories, bar none, that I have read so far. "


Perspephone should put that on the back of the book


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
They are welcome to the quote :)


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
I've just finished....


The Flower, Safety - 6 July 1940

A slyly humorous story about a well off Londoner seeking a safe refuge outside the capital. Said Londoner, Miss Ewing, winding up on a Welsh mountain. Fantastic.

Any story which has a section in Crumpington-on-Sea is already a big hit with this reader.

It reminds me of Rustington-on-Sea. Anyone who can identify the song which references Rustington-on-Sea wins the coveted RTTC member of the week prize

At The Fruitful Vine - 31 August 1940

This one playfully deals with the pros and cons of getting pregnant in wartime.

Quite possibly my favourite so far. An absolute delight.


More generally, I was musing how the fact these stories are written whilst the war was going on gives them a freshness and immediacy. I am not sure a writer covering the same period in hindsight would focus on so many interesting little details.

What do you think?


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
I had to search, which is cheating, but I did find it.

Yes, I thought At the Fruitful Vine was very moving and clever. I do think that books written at the time bring obvious authenticity - it is the same with the Bowen novel, which was written during the war and published shortly after.


message 24: by Nigeyb (last edited May 12, 2018 10:10AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
I've just read....


Lunch with Mr Biddle - 7 Dec 1940

A very enjoyable story about how an air raid siren averts disaster at one of Winthrop Biddle's regular lunch parties. Mr Biddle is a wonderfully well drawn character.


Battle of the Greeks - 8 March 1941

I have to agree with Susan, this one is quite splendid.

A ratcheting up of tension at the Red Cross sewing party in Mrs Ramsay's dining room, and which threatens to end in all out war between Mrs Peters and Mrs Twistle.

Brilliantly observed and very amusing.

I particularly liked the assumptions about the Greeks and the extent to which they might wear pyjamas in bed.


Tania | 1075 comments I love these too. My favourite so far is Mrs Ramsey's War. A good example of people unable to express how they feel, (without the class tension).
Nigeyb, I have recently finished The Village for another group, which I thought dealt with those class differences in a very clever way, you might enjoy this.
I love these little snippets of life during the war and agree with Judy, very moorish. I'm trying to limit myself a bit as I don't want to overdose.


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
Wonderful Tania. Thanks.


Tania wrote: "Nigeyb, I have recently finished The Village by Marghanita Laski for another group, which I thought dealt with those class differences in a very clever way, you might enjoy this."

Thanks for the tip. I will follow up.


message 27: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I also thought Lunch with Mr Biddle and Battle of the Greeks were excellent. Nigeyb, you will be interested to hear that we revisit the sewing parties in a later story!

By one of those curious coincidences, before reading the second of these, I'd just come across a mention of the Greek suffering in WW2 and the large numbers who died as a result of the Great Famine. This is an aspect of the war I knew very little about.


message 28: by Judy (last edited May 12, 2018 10:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "My favourite so far is...

In Clover - 12 April 1940

It describes how Mrs Fletcher (at the Manor) copes with London evacuees the Clark family.

It's an absolute classic of class tension, snobbery and English people's frequent inability to say what they really think. It ends in the only way it could possibly end...."


I also thought this was a very strong story. There were quite a few similarities in the themes with The Oaken Heart] which I recently read, a fictionalised version of the life of her North Essex village during World War Two.

I wouldn't particularly recommend that book overall unless you are an Allingham completist, as there are reams of generalised philosophising about the British character which hasn't worn very well, and not enough of the sort of little incidents which bring Good Evening, Mrs Craven alive.

However, the description of the evacuee mothers and babies arriving is very interesting, and the concerns are very similar to those in Panter-Downes's story - worry over children not being potty-trained, for instance.

I get the impression that city mothers with smaller homes had tended to move towards slightly later training (though probably still earlier than nowadays), much to the horror of wealthy country mothers who tended to "train" babies much earlier (or get their nannies to do so.)

It would be interesting to hear about this experience from the other side, how it struck the London mothers finding themselves evacuated to the country - has anyone read an account from this viewpoint?


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
All v good points Judy


Judy wrote: "It would be interesting to hear about this experience from the other side, how it struck the London mothers finding themselves evacuated to the country - has anyone read an account from this viewpoint?"

I haven't Judy, however - like you - I would be interested in any recommendations


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
My grandmother was evacuated with her baby and young daughter, her mother. She was from the East End and she hated it and ended up leaving my mother and returning to London with the baby. It would be interesting, I agree, to read the opposing viewpoint.


message 31: by Susan (last edited May 12, 2018 11:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Susan | 10649 comments Mod
My grandmother was evacuated with her baby and young daughter, my mother. She was from the East End and she hated it and ended up leaving my mother and returning to London with the baby. It would be interesting, I agree, to read the opposing viewpoint.


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
I've just read....


Fin de siècle - 12 July 1941

Another subtle and fascinating vignette. Artist Don Merrill is slowly transformed upon joining up and then getting a commission.

His new life and manner are viewed through the eyes of his wife Ernestine, who is perhaps slightly more troubled by his transformation than Don himself.

This book is absolutely wonderful - so glad we decided to read it

Thanks Judy


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
Yes, this is why I am loathe to skip suggested Buddy Reads. There are real gems that you could miss out on...


message 34: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments In the Greeks and pyjamas story, people do say what they mean and there is almost a scene. We can't have that with a war on, can we?


message 35: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Nigeyb wrote: "This book is absolutely wonderful - so glad we decided to read it

Thanks Judy ..."


You actually recommended this specific Persephone title, Nigeyb, so thank you!

I'm now feeling very keen to read lots more Persephone books.


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
Val wrote: "In the Greeks and pyjamas story, people do say what they mean and there is almost a scene. We can't have that with a war on, can we?"

What is so obvious is that the women have a real purpose and they are enjoying their organising so much, it is actually fun to read. What better way to spend their time than gossiping with the war effort as an excuse :)


message 37: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "My grandmother was evacuated with her baby and young daughter, my mother. She was from the East End and she hated it and ended up leaving my mother and returning to London with the baby. It would b..."

That's very interesting, Susan. I've just found details of a book which features memoirs from evacuees, including mothers and teachers as well as children, Britain's Wartime Evacuees: The People, Places and Stories of the Evacuations Told Through the Accounts of Those Who Were There

It looks as if it jumps around a lot between different accounts, as "voices from the past" type books often do, but I think it would be very interesting.


Susan | 10649 comments Mod
Looks good, Judy. I will say that my mother adored being evacuated and would have been, I sensed, quite happy to stay with the couple (who were childless) and who obviously doted on her. Perhaps children are more adaptable.


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
I've just read....


Literary Scandal at the Sewing Party - 6 September 1941

Hurrah - we revisit the sewing party, and talk of a murder, associated class tensions, and how the upper classes might, or might not, get away with crime.

Is that it for the sewing party? Or is there a third visit?

Goodbye, My Love - 13 December 1941

This is one of the more subtle tales. It deals with Ruth's uncertainty as her husband Adrian gets posted on a secret mission.

It powerfully conveys the emotional toll on those left behind.

War among Strangers - 17 January 1942

Another tale of uncertainty, as Mrs Bristowe worries about her young children evacuated to California. Although not explicitly mentioned, the story takes place immediately after Pearl Harbour.

I must admit I'd not realised that more affluent people might have sent their children to go and live in America. In this instance with complete strangers.

There's a clever finale where Mrs Bristowe and her live out housekeeper Mrs Prout share a cup of tea, and their individual concerns about loved ones abroad.


I notice the stories continue up until late 1944. I'll be interested to see how developments in the war continue to inform the narratives.

Needless to say, I am still thoroughly enjoying this collection.


message 40: by Judy (last edited May 13, 2018 02:21AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I'm at just the same stage in the book as you, Nigeyb, and have just read those three stories too, so I don't know if we get any more about the sewing party!

On your comment "I must admit I'd not realised that more affluent people might have sent their children to go and live in America. In this instance with complete strangers.

I've just found an interesting short memoir by someone who was evacuated from the UK to the US for four years - her mother was Austrian and her family were afraid they would be targeted by the Nazis if the Germans invaded, so they wanted to get the children away.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopl...

There is a Wikipedia page about these evacuations, both publicly and privately organised - you have to read down the page a bit to get to the private evacuations. State-sponsored evacuations were to Commonwealth countries, but 5,000 children did go to the US, mostly through private arrangements.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childre...


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
Thanks Judy - another stellar piece of research. 5000 children. Extraordinary.


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
I've just read....


Combined Operations - 29 August 1942

Another splendid tale, this one about the perils of sharing a house with friends as two couples extricate themselves from this arrangement.

Good Evening, Mrs Craven - 5 December 1942

So to the eponymous story, and it's a poignant little description of being "the other woman" in wartime London. Steadfastly putting up with the role, whilst wanting more, and then being unsure whether her absent lover, who is in Libya, is alive or dead.

"The War Office doesn't have a service for sending telegrams to Mistresses, does it?"


message 43: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments I did want to shake Mrs Bristow and point out that Hawaii is further from California than parts of Canada are from the UK, so her children were in no danger. Jane Proud, the nurse in Singapore, was in real danger, even if this story was written before the invasion of Singapore (which it probably was).


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
I couldn't agree more Val. Very odd behaviour by Mrs Bristow


I've just finished another couple...

The Hunger of Miss Burton - Miss Burton's reaction to her colleague Margaret's relationship with a Canadian ending is cruelly funny.

and

It's The Reaction - a slightly more mournful tale of how Miss Birch misses the camaraderie of the Blitz


Tania | 1075 comments I really enjoyed 'It's The Real Thing This Time', picturing the major in the garden keeping his eyes peeled.
I agree on Mrs Bristow. I'd find her rather irritating.
I'm now up to 'Battle of the Greeks'. Loved it.


message 46: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments One noticeable thing about this collection is that everybody either lives in London or in country villages full of thatched cottages. It reminds me of Billy Connolly's monologues about Scotland as depicted on shortbread biscuit tins (either a tartan-clad highlander or a stag standing amidst heather). This may be because Mollie Panter-Downes was writing for a US readership or it may be that she herself rarely ventured outside the home counties.


message 47: by Nigeyb (last edited May 13, 2018 11:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
That's a great observation Val.


I am also enjoying how there's usual one affluent/higher class person and then some kind of domestic staff. The highly delineated class structure is very well evoked.


message 48: by Val (last edited May 14, 2018 12:54AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1709 comments Nigeyb wrote: "I am also enjoying how there's usual one affluent/higher class person and then some kind of domestic staff. The highly delineated class structure is very well evoked."
It is very well evoked and with a lot of gentle humour.
Often it is the lower classes who want to keep the boundaries. The upper and middle classes are more aware of the potential social revolution. I don't know how true that was at the time, perhaps many of those in service did feel it was safer to keep things the way they had 'always' been. Education for the working classes and consequent higher aspirations only became wide-spread after the war, so would have affected a younger generation than the characters shown here.
What did people think of the softly spoken revolutionary, Mrs Twistle? She is not shown as much of a threat to the social order.


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
Val wrote: "Often it is the lower classes who want to keep the boundaries"


Absolutely. Like you, I wonder how accurate that was.

I have read a couple of accounts of servants at big houses, and they were completely uncritical of those they served, believing it was a privilege to have been part of the household, and been so close to the movers and shakers of the day.

I am sure there must have been many a discontent who was only to glad to escape service when the opportunity finally arrived.

Coincidentally, I have just read Cut Down The Trees in which the servant Dossie laments the changes that the war has brought, not least the arrival of a load of Canadians.

The son of the house, Colonel Walshingham, arrives for a few days of leave, and the story ends with the killer scene in which the Colonel humours Dossie..

....the old woman's eyes seemed to implore him to play their game for a little while longer, to pretend that things were just as they used to be, that their world, which had come to an end, could still be saved. And he heard himself answering meekly, dutifully, 'Yes call me at eight, will you, Dossie?'

If you can read that without a lump in your throat you're a better person than me.


Val wrote: "What did people think of the softly spoken revolutionary, Mrs Twistle? She is not shown as much of a threat to the social order. "

Great question Val.

Mrs Twistle is very much the flipside to the loyal retainers who desire to continue with the status quo is completely futile.

I loved the way MPD described Mrs T, and how her manner belied her radical utterances.

Perhaps she is a deliberate corrective to the the Dossies of the book?

What do others think?


Nigeyb | 10400 comments Mod
Two consecutive stories have mentioned Syrup of Figs which got me wondering....

...how many people took SOF?
And, what are the benefits?

This reminiscence states....

We always seemed to have extract of malt for our well being as well as castor oil, Californian Syrup of Figs, and Fennings Fever Cure. Iodine was used liberally for cuts and grazes. Warm olive oil was used for earaches, and peroxide for cleaning waxy ears.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopl...

They were definitely on to something as figs are high in natural sugars, minerals and soluble fibre. Figs are also rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper and are a good source of antioxidant vitamins A, E and K that contribute to health and wellness.

Anyone here actual ingested them in syrup form? Or eat them regularly?


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