#100WomenNovelists: Jan Struther

Blog Post 30: Mrs Miniver (1939)

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It was lovely, thought Mrs Miniver, nodding good-bye to the flower-woman and carrying her big sheaf of chrysanthemums down the street with a kind of ceremonious joy, as though it were a cornucopia; it was lovely, this settling down again, this tidying away of the summer into its box, this taking up of the thread of one’s life where the holidays (irrelevant interlude) had made one drop it.

Mrs Miniver doesn’t have a plot as such being more a collection of episodic events. But Mrs Miniver is a fictional character, based loosely on Jan Struther, and so I have classified this as a novel for the purposes of the blog.

Mrs Miniver started life as a column in The Times. Jan Struther was asked to write about ‘an ordinary sort of woman who leads an ordinary sort of life – rather like yourself’. It was very popular and was published in book form in 1939, just after the outbreak of war. In fact, Churchill said that Mrs Miniver did more for the Allied cause than a fleet of battleships and destroyers.

Mrs Miniver is a housewife, married to an architect and mother to three. The family lives in Chelsea, has servants, and the eldest child goes to Eton. But this upper middle-class existence celebrates the ordinary, everyday events of life – from a spring day to the purchasing of a new diary – that most people will be able to relate to. She certainly isn’t a snob. She knows she lives a charmed life. But there is something about her zestful, joyful nature that means we don’t begrudge her this existence.

It oughtn’t to need a war to make us talk to each other in buses, and invent our own amusements in the evenings, and live simply, and eat sparingly, and recover the use of our legs, and get up early enough to see the sun rise. However, it has needed one: which is about the severest criticism our civilisation could have.

Mrs Miniver was made into an academy award-winning film of the same name starring Greer Garson. It was released in June 1942 , one of the first Hollywood films to be overtly anti-Nazi (‘We will come. We will bomb your cities.’). Soon after, the Americans strengthened their war efforts. And even Goebbels was said to admire this piece of propaganda.

Next I think I will watch the film which has quite a different tone. But I’m glad to have read Mrs Miniver first.

 

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