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The Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold
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The Happy Foreigner (1920)

by Enid Bagnold

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This isn't great. Bagnold's _A Diary Without Dates_ is more interesting. Still, I have enough for 1/3 of a dissertation chapter. ( )
  Sareene | Oct 22, 2016 |
A young woman, Fanny, enlists to drive for the French Army - just as WW1 comes to an end. She can't have been there more than three or four months, but in that time she moves around the area of northwest France hardest hit, bodies have been buried, but mangled machinery and houses are everywhere, signs in German, craters, blasted out bridges..... There are seven other Englishwomen in her 'section' - they are assigned cars, given some basic instructions on car maintenance and repair, and sent out to drive, mainly officers - very often foreign ones on various missions. Early on, at a party, she meets 'Julien' a French officer and they fall in love. Throughout there is a sense of utter unreality, Fanny is thrown completely out of her own known world, but she is determined to make the best of her adventure. She is stalwart and uncomplaining, thus earns the sobriquet of 'the happy foreigner' - she watches everything curiously, but remains just disengaged enough, not to be hurt by anything. In real life, Bagnold drove and nursed in the war and wrote letters home. The novel's details, which are its strength, are built from these. I had no idea of the citadel dug underneath Verdun, for example, and I spent hours looking at maps and photographs of the area where Fanny was billeted. For many the book would earn four stars, I think, just for the feeling of the time and place, but I found the story itself to fall so short of the details and the writing - the 'love affair' was so much simply a limp structure on which to hang the descriptions and evoke the feeling. Perhaps just publishing the letters would have been a stronger choice? But, it was a first novel, and I don't want to be too nit-picky. It's definitely worth reading and that is what matters. ***1/2 ( )
2 vote sibyx | Feb 12, 2013 |
The Happy Foreigner is Enid Bagnold's first novel and is a fictionalization of her experiences as a driver for the French army immediately following World War I. It is a vivid piece of history as she describes the ravages of war upon a countryside that has not yet repeopled itself. Fanny is a young Englishwoman whose good family has been willing for her to strike out alone in a foreign country among soldiers where women are few. Fanny goes eagerly, accepting primitive living conditions, long working hours, and primary responsibility for maintaining the cars that she drives for officers.
Fanny also falls in love with a Frenchman, Julien, who falls as immediately in love with her. Their tentative steps towards each other and then their machinations to snatch time together make up the central plotline. Inevitably, the constraints of their jobs separate them. Not at all inevitably, Fanny manages to make happiness for herself as she lives alone, works, and waits for Julien to reappear. Realizing that they could never have a future together, Fanny is able to live in the present and enjoy each gracious moment.
If this is not the most stylistically interesting book I've read recently, it is certainly one that lingers and resonates. Fanny is in no way a modern feminist; yet she exhibits resourcefulness, sense and sensitivity, and a comfort in her own skin that many a modern feminist might envy and hope to emulate. ( )
6 vote LizzieD | Sep 6, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Enid Bagnoldprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sebba, AnneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The war had stopped.
"Isn't it disappointing," Enid Bagnold wrote to her parents after ten days of driving ambulances in France, "I don't believe I can stick it out...I can't think how the others stick to it. (Introduction)
Between the grey walls of its bath - so like its cradle and its coffin - lay one of those small and lonely creatures which inhabit the surface of the earth for seventy years. (Prologue)
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'"I am old enough - I have learnt again and again - that there is only one joy - the Present; only one Perception - the Present. If I look into the future it is lost."'
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from the cover: "At the end of the First World War Fanny has just arrived in Bar-le-Duc to drive for the French army. Her home is a dank hut from which she rises early to drive through the rain and mud and sleet, to return too tired for thought beyond sleep and tomorrow's hazards. Month after month the routine continues, until she meets a young captain, Julien Chatel, whose gaiety and laughter transform the dreary pattern of days and nights on the road. From Metz to Precy to Chantilly their paths cross, a series of snatched moments when Fanny, in her one pair of silk stockings, can forget 'the daylight image of herself - the khaki figure, the driver' - a woman whose unique experience of the everyday reality of war has seldom been as superbly evoked as in this novel, first published in 1920. Inured to hardships yet alive to the passions which life in the frontline of conflict engendered in women and men alike, Fanny's vitality makes her 'a pioneer, who sees, feels, thinks, hears, and is herself full of the sap of life.'" Katherine Mansfield
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0860688070, Paperback)

Between the grey walls of its bath¿so like its cradle and its coffin¿lay one of those small and lonely creatures which inhabit the surface of the earth for seventy years.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:08 -0400)

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