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Read the 1940s Theme Read - Book Recommendations

Virago Modern Classics

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Edited: Dec 23, 2018, 8:47am Top

Our theme for 2019 is Read the 1940s.

Each month we will focus on a specific topic on the following schedule:

Jan: Family
Feb: Relationships
Mar: Women
Apr: Work
May: Food
Jun: Wildcard
Jul: Travel
Aug: Emigration/Relocation
Sep: War
Oct: Post-War
Nov: Peace
Dec: Wildcard

Books can be fiction or nonfiction, Viragos, Persephones, books by Virago/Persephone authors, or books that otherwise embody the "Virago spirit." They can be set in the 1940s, or published in the 1940s. In short, there are no rules here -- participants can set rules to suit themselves.

That said, recommendations from group members will be a tremendous help to all of us in choosing our reads. This is the place to capture your ideas for books that fit the "Read the 1940s" theme generally. And if you can link it to one of our monthly topics, so much the better!

Heather/souloftherose has created a fabulous Google spreadsheet to manage all the book recommendations mentioned in this thread. There is a "categories" column that shows which topic(s) each book would be suitable for. Here's a link:

Dec 18, 2018, 11:09am Top

I have to start by recommending One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, which actually most of us may well have read! But it's a wonderful book and could be fitted into the War, Post-War, Peace, Women, Family or Relationships categories in my view! Can't recommend it highly enough! :)

Dec 18, 2018, 11:11am Top

I'll have a think about other titles, but there's A Fine of Two Hundred Francs by Elsa Triolet which is short stories set amongst the Resistance - so War, Women and probably Relationships (I haven't read it yet).

Edited: Dec 18, 2018, 1:01pm Top

Here are some for starters.

Wartime: (all Persephones)

An Interrupted Life by Etty Hillesum,

Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes

Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd

House-Bound by Winifred Peck


Testament of Friendship (1940) Vera Brittain talking about Winifred Holtby.

The Woman Novelist - Diana Gardner

The Casino - Margaret Bonham


Saplings by Noel Streafield

Ivy Compton-Burnett wrote dark family stories and four of her books were published in 1940s: Elders and Betters, Manservant and Maidservant and Two Worlds and their Ways.

Doreen by Barbara Noble

Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton. I think this is the only one of Crompton's published by Persephone but a lot of her adult novels have been recently republished elsewhere. I've only read one but suspect family will be a strong theme in them all. Her other 1940s novels are Steffan Green, Mrs Frensham Describes a Circle, Weatherley Parade and The Ridleys.

Chatterton Square by E.H Young


The Provincial Lady in Wartime - where the Lady works in the Air raid precautions HQ.

One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens. Memoir about nursing in WW2.

Joy and Josephine by Monica Dickens. Novel written in the 1940s but I think the setting is earlier (read it a few years back). Quite a lot of detail about the protag's shopkeeper job.

If you're open to reading books set in the 1940s but written more recently then Sarah Water's The Night Watch would fit. Published by Virago but not a VMC


The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal

In Literature of the 1940s, Plain describes Elizabeth Taylor's Palladian (1946) and Wreath of Roses (1949) as examples of a post-war malaise. A View of the Harbour (1947) would also possibly fit this description.

Plain also gives The Far Cry (published by Persephone) as an example of post-war fiction but I think it might fit nicely with travel or emigration? Perhaps someone who has read it or knows more about it could say where it best fits?


Minnie's Room by Mollie Panter-Downes

I'll need to stop there for now but imagine Persphone will be a good starting point for Food book recommendations!

Dec 18, 2018, 12:12pm Top

I have these Viragos tagged "1940s" or "WWII" in my collection

The Street
On the Side of the Angels
Phoenix Fled
The Persimmon Tree and other stories
The Night Watch
Mrs. Miniver
A Stricken Field
At Mrs. Lippincote's
Chatterton Square
The Gentlewomen
Diary of a Provincial Lady (The Provincial Lady in Wartime)

>2 kaggsy: I was going to add One Fine Day to the list after I saw that "post-war" is one of topics, but I see that's already been covered! I haven't read that one, actually, and am looking forward to it.

Edited: Dec 18, 2018, 12:33pm Top

Virago author Olivia Manning's Balkan and Levant trilogies? I started the Balkan trilogy for the October author read and want to finish it, then get to the Levant. I've got the NYRB editions, each trilogy to its own single volume.

Edited: Dec 18, 2018, 3:04pm Top

>6 CurrerBell: Oh yes! And I would also recommend Manning's School for Love A coming-of-age story set in the late 1940s, I think...

Edited: Dec 18, 2018, 12:37pm Top

Virago author Pat Barker's Noonday, but it's the third in a trilogy and the first two are pre-WW2.

Only partly WW2: Pam Frankau, The Willow Cabin

Dec 18, 2018, 12:40pm Top

The World, My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay is a VMC which would suit post-war theme but was actually published in 1950.

Sylvia Townsend Warner was writing a lot in the 1940s but not sure where I'd assign her books!

Dec 18, 2018, 12:47pm Top

I have these Viragos that were published in the 1940s that I have not read, so I don't know their content:

Sapphira and the Slave Girl, Willa Cather, 1940
The Little Company, Eleanor Dark, 1945
Cindie, Jean Devanny, 1949
Two Days in Aragon, M. J. Farrell (Molly Keane), 1941
Palladian, Elizabeth Taylor, 1946
A View of the Harbour, Elizabeth Taylor, 1947
A Wreath of Roses, Elizabeth Taylor, 1949
Mr. Skeffington, Elizabeth von Arnim, 1940

and one Persephone:

Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes, 1939-1944

Dec 18, 2018, 12:53pm Top

Although "war" runs throughout the 1940s, this September, 2019 will be the 80th anniversary of Britain's entry into war in September, 1939. I am wondering if September might be a good choice for the war theme?

Edited: Dec 18, 2018, 12:56pm Top

Some wonderful suggestions, lots I have read or have tbr. :)

I am looking forward to reading London War Notes by Mollie Panter Downes and The Casino by Margaret Bonham that are in my Persephone tbr pile.

Also another Persephone I haven't read and don't have is Maman what are we called now? by Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar a diary about French occupation

Could I also suggest these Persephone books I have read hoping I am not repeating any already listed.
To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski for War and family /relationships
Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski for peacetime/family/ children.
The Village by Marghanita Laski for wartime/peace/family (I might reread this myself)
Tell it to a stranger by Elizabeth Berridge wonderful short stories set in wartime, could fit themes of women and family.
The Two Mrs Abbots DE Stevenson family, war,
Few Eggs and No Oranges war diary and on the other side: letters to my Children German wartime letters never sent.
A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

Dec 18, 2018, 2:30pm Top

Would it be helpful for someone to start a google sheets document keeping track of the recommendations and category etc? (I have just finished work until the New Year so happy to volunteer myself for that one).

Edited: Dec 18, 2018, 2:49pm Top

>13 souloftherose: Heather, that would be fab. I originally intended to be more involved in organising this, thinking I would have two weeks off at Christmas and new year. Now I know I have an operation in what would have been week 2 of my holiday and my boss wants me to come in on the non-bank holiday days of week one to discuss how my work will be covered by colleagues when I'm off. Maybe send Laura a message?

Dec 18, 2018, 2:55pm Top

>14 Soupdragon: Good idea - I'll drop her a message. (and ugh re work and operation)

Edited: Dec 18, 2018, 3:59pm Top

Heather, I read and replied to your message before visiting this thread. Of course I am delighted you're jumping in to help organize the recommendations!!

This group is so special -- filled with so many kind, delightful people who give of their time and talents to make sure we all enjoy our Virago reading.


Dec 18, 2018, 4:43pm Top

How wonderful and what a great idea! Thanks Heather!

Dec 19, 2018, 9:34am Top

Google spreadsheet set up and I think everything recommended above and on the monthly discussion thread has been added to the 'Books from recommendations thread' tab (please shout if you spot anything I've missed).

I have added a categories column with instructions for how to filter this (so you can see books recommended for any particular category).

Categories are based on recommendations above or my best guess from a look at the book page - they aren't meant to be prescriptive so if you feel a book would work for a different category than the ones listed then that's fine!

I've also copied and pasted the VMCs published in the 1940s from the general Virago tracker spreadsheet to another tab in this spreadsheet as another list of potential suggestions.


Let me know if the link doesn't work or if you have any questions. I will add further books as they get recommended.

Dec 19, 2018, 10:24am Top

That's great, Heather, thank you for doing that!

G.B. Stern's Ten days of Christmas would fit into family and post-war. Non Virago book by Virago author.

Edited: Dec 19, 2018, 11:56am Top

Some non-fiction recommendations which might appeal to Virago lovers - most of these aren't published by Virago but I think might be of interest to other Virago lovers and fit the theme of this read:

A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell (Furrowed Middlebrow, Dean Street Press) - memoir about Chelsea during the Blitz. Could be categorised as War or Women.
The Dancing Bear by Frabces Faviell (Furrowed Middlebrow, Dean Street Press) - memoir about post WWII Berlin where Faviell's husband was posted in the British diplomatic service.
Could be categorised as Post-War or Travel.

(Furrowed Middlebrow books are probably worth looking at for fiction recommendations too as they publish works by women novelists from 1910 - 1960 http://www.deanstreetpress.co.uk/main/middlebrow)

Mass Observation diaries written by ordinary British people during the 1940s and collected by Simon Garfield into various collections:

We Are At War: The Diaries of Five Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times (first half of WWII)
Private Battles: How the War Almost Defeated Us (second half of WWII)
Our Hidden Lives: The Everyday Diaries of a Forgotten Britain 1945-1948 (post WWII)

Other non-fiction:
Millions Like Us: Women's Lives in the Second World War by Virginia Nicholson (War, Women)

And one I haven't read is Bombers and Mash: The Domestic Front, 1939-45 by Raynes Minns which is publsihed by Virago (but not a VMC) which I am hoping to read for the Food category.

Dec 19, 2018, 1:17pm Top

Would Testament of Experience which covers the years 1925 to 1950 (post war) fit? it says this about the book, "writes movingly about marriage and children as well as international politics and war, feminism and pacifism".

Dec 19, 2018, 2:16pm Top

>19 souloftherose: Heather, this is amazing. Thank you so much for taking this on.

>22 Kristelh: Sounds good to me, especially since I have a copy on my shelves! 😀

Dec 19, 2018, 10:27pm Top

>19 souloftherose: This spreadsheet is AWESOME--exactly what I need! Wow, do I admire you for being able to do this!

If I may, I think I found a few more on the Persephone website. Persephone has tagged books published in the 1940s and also tagged books as "WWII". I cross-checked with your spreadsheet, so hope I am not duplicating any that are already on your list:

Mariana by Monica Dickens

Long Live Great Bardfield by Tirzah Garwood

They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair
Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

Every Good Deed and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple

Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malet
Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson
The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Tory Heaven by Marghanita Laski

Tea with Mr Rochester by Frances Towers
Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple

Categorized as WWII, but*not* tagged "1940s":

Dimanche and Other Stories by Irène Némirovsky
Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper
Consider the Years by Virginia Graham

Dec 20, 2018, 6:33am Top

>24 kac522: Thank you - I think I've got all of those added to the spreadsheet now.

Edited: Dec 20, 2018, 7:13am Top

Some other thoughts as I was going through my books on LT:

Furrowed Middlebrow are republishing D. E. Stevenson's lovely Mrs Tim series in January. The books are listed below and the second and third books fall within the 1940s period (the first book is 1932 so a bit early). This is a really lovely series written as the diary of an officer's wife dealing with general day to day domestic issues whilst her husband is away. A slightly cosier Provincial Lady perhaps (I think they manage to be comforting and cheering without getting too syrupy) and recommended for Miss Buncle fans.

Book #1: Mrs Tim of the Regiment and Golden Days (now combined into one omnibus edition called Mrs Tim of the Regiment just to be confusing) (1932/1934)
Book #2 Mrs Tim Carries On (1941, War)
Book #3 Mrs Tim Gets a Job (1947, Post-war, Work)
Book #4 Mrs Tim Flies Home (1952)

Another Furrowed Middlebrow title is Bewildering Cares by Persephone author Winifred Peck (published 1940). It's another fictionalised diary this time written by a vicar's wife in the Midlands - there's lots of details of daily domestic life and relationships with the community and one of the subplots is an ongoing debate about pacifism amongst the church members which I don't recall seeing many other WWII books touch on.

Other VMCs I've been thinking of reading next year:

Breakfast with the Nikolides by Rumer Godden (1942) - Travel?
A Fugue in Time by Rumer Godden (1945) - Family?
The River by Rumer Godden (1946) - Family?
The 2nd and 3rd books from Mary Hocking's Good Daughters trilogy are set in the 1940s - Indifferent Heroes and Welcome Strangers.

Dec 21, 2018, 6:47am Top

Virago Travellers are generally from earlier periods, but I've spotted two that might fit:

China to Me by Emily Hahn opens in the late thirties but continues into the forties, and its account of life in occupied Hong Kong is compelling.
The Cruel Way by Ella Maillart was written in the forties, about a trip taken in 1939.

Dec 21, 2018, 8:29am Top

>27 BeyondEdenRock: ooh, nice! I love the Travellers (reading one at the moment!)

Dec 21, 2018, 11:38am Top

>27 BeyondEdenRock: I second that. I've got a few Travellers myself, but they're all in that older time period. I just ordered those two on Abe.

Dec 22, 2018, 5:44pm Top

>19 souloftherose: Thanks for the spreadsheet! It is excellent!

I am new here - thanks so much for sharing this group with me, Kathy!

I have always loved VMC. Whenever I see that green cover at a book sale or op shop, I grab them! I couldn't tell you how many I own as I am just beginning the process of cataloguing all my books on LT and my books are spread all over the house, wherever they will fit.

I will be starting with Mrs. Miniver as I already had that as a TBR. I also have on my read pile The Real Mrs. Miniver, a biography of Jan Struther.

Look forward to seeing everyone else's VMC reading!

Dec 22, 2018, 6:12pm Top

>30 JayneCM: Welcome! This group is a lovely bunch of readers, I hope you enjoy spending time here. It sounds like you've already been bitten by the VMC bug, so you'll fit right in. 😀

Dec 22, 2018, 8:20pm Top

Here's a real oddball one, interesting if only for the sake of completeness, by Lucy Maud MontgomeryThe Blythes Are Quoted. (Montgomery's on the "children's classics" VMC list.)

The Blythes Are Quoted {Wiki} was Montgomery's last book, delivered to her publisher on the day of her death in 1942, but only actually published, in any form, well into the post-war period. It's currently available as a Penuin Modern Classic on Amazon-Canada.

A reason that it wasn't published when originally submitted may have been that it was considered "unpatriotic" during the Second World War, Montgomery having become disillusioned with warfare after the First World War.

Dec 23, 2018, 1:17am Top

>31 lauralkeet: Thanks for the welcome! I know Mrs. Miniver was 1939 but hoping I can sneak it into the war category?!
I have already got some many more books to look for just from this thread so looking forward to lots of lovely reading.

Edited: Dec 23, 2018, 8:45am Top

>33 JayneCM: absolutely! This is a very flexible theme read -- participants can set rules to suit themselves.

I also see Mrs Miniver on our book recommendations list so it's all good! In case you missed it, one of our members (Heather/souloftherose) created a Google spreadsheet for the book recommendations mentioned here.


Dec 23, 2018, 3:05pm Top

I have recently read Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith and A Model Childhood by Christa Wolf and loved both of them. The latter was an

account of what it was like being a child in Germany as the Nazis rose to power. It reveals what it's like to be caught up in a system and be powerless to

control one's government actions. It also reveals the power of government propaganda in swaying people's views about their country's actions and

it applies to the winners and losers of wars.

I live in the US and have been involved in anti-war activism since the Gulf War and am able to see how my government uses the media

to justify our unjust wars.

Edited: Dec 24, 2018, 12:15pm Top

I've added everything from >27 BeyondEdenRock: onwards to the spreadsheet with the exception of Not So Quiet which looking at the book page I think is WWI-related?

>30 JayneCM: And welcome Jayne!

Dec 25, 2018, 11:59pm Top

>21 souloftherose: Heather beat me to the recommendation of the Mass Observation Project's compilations of diaries. They are readable and often revelatory.
Since I was born in '44, I'm looking forward to a couple which I own (A Fine of Two Hundred Francs and A Place in the Country) that were published that year. Meanwhile, I think I'm in for January with Mrs Miniver. Thanks for organizing this, Laura!
>36 souloftherose: Yes, for sure Not So Quiet... is WWI and stunning.

Dec 27, 2018, 5:45am Top

Winged seeds the third in Katherine Susannah Pritchard's Goldfields trilogy, covers WWII from an Australian perspective. I'm guessing this would fit into family and war, maybe extending into post-war. (I don't have my copy here to check.)

Jan 2, 5:50am Top

Hello fellow Virago and Persephone readers
I am joining the reading challenge and intend to read Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton and One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes
Thanks for the brilliant spreadsheet and all the recommendations –
I have read quite a few on the list and recently read An Interrupted Life and Saplings.
Etty’s diaries were particularly moving and sad with the inevitability of the outcome always in the back of the reader’s mind whilst reading them.

Edited: Jan 3, 3:31am Top

>39 mrspenny: Trish, it's good to see you here!

Jan 3, 5:09am Top

>40 Soupdragon:: Thanks Dee:-)

Jan 16, 3:47am Top

I've been planning out my readings month by month, and going through Heather's enormously helpful Google spreadsheet. I see that we're awfully short for the May topic, Food (just two entries as far as I can see).

I did a tag mash on 1940s, food, women and came up with 46 hits. I know a few (very few) of these, and I'm not sure how the ones I know fit in with our Food topic, but maybe some of you folks could take a look at this tag mash and see if any of these books might be appropriate for May.

Jan 16, 9:12am Top

>42 CurrerBell: What an odd mix! I looked at the 1940s and food tag mash and found some books completely outside the topic, but these looked interesting:

Bombers and Mash: The Domestic Front 1939-1945
We'll Eat Again

Jan 16, 11:23am Top

I would think that many of these books would be appropriate if they discuss the war and the rationing that occurred during the war. Perhaps doing a tag mass of 1940 and rationing might work, too. I don't know Virago author's well enough to really know whether anything fits.

Jan 17, 7:42am Top

>42 CurrerBell: Mike, thanks for sharing the results of your planning with us. It's helpful to know we may be short on Food. Food shortages seem very 1940s to me, but Books about Food shortages do not! Hopefully we can harness the power of this group to come up with more recommendations.

Jan 17, 11:16pm Top

Hunting around, I came across The Girl from the Metropol Hotel by Lyudmila Petrushevskaya. She was born in 1938, and her childhood (in the 1940s) included a good deal of hunger – starvation, really – in the Soviet Union. Sounds like it could be a good Food read.

I think we may be having a problem here, thinking too much along the Virago/Persephone line, which is Anglophone. If we look toward books by/about women on the continent, and especially in countries like Russia, or perhaps even going further afield to Asia and maybe Africa, we might come up with quite a bit of Food – but of the starvation, not rationing, variety.

Jan 22, 5:27am Top

>43 SassyLassy:, >46 CurrerBell: I've added those suggestions to the spreadsheet.

I would think that a lot of the other books on the spreadsheet set during and after WWII would mention food issues too. I think House-Bound and The Provincial Lady in Wartime do.

Kay Smallshaw's How To Run Your Home Without Help is a Persephone first published in 1949 and is tagged food.

On the Other Side: Letters to My Children from Germany, 1940-1945 is also tagged food (and would be non Anglophone). Possibly also Suite Francaise?

Jan 22, 2:05pm Top

>42 CurrerBell: I see two of M.F. K. Fisher's books on the list for your tagmash, Mike, but not How to Cook a Wolf, which I think is highly appropriate to the Food topic. It's also a great read.

Jan 24, 5:20am Top

Here's an interesting one, Delicious by Ruth Reichl. Young woman moves to NYC to work for food magazine and finds a cache of WW2 letters written by a 12yo girl to James Beard.
Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love. (Amazon)
I stumbled across this one from a thread on the Name that Book group when I was posting a query to ID a scifi series. Published in 2014 and became a NYT bestseller.

Jan 31, 11:37am Top

Apologies if these have already been suggested! Some time ago I picked up a remaindered copy of These Wonderful Rumours! by May Smith, described as 'a young schoolteacher's wartime diaries'. It's a Virago, published in 2012. I found A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous in an Oxfam bookshop just the other week. This is a German woman's diary for the months of April-June 1945. Again, it's a Virago. These seem to fit into the theme.

Jan 31, 9:42pm Top

>50 vestafan:,
I found A Woman in Berlin to be a very compelling read. More than once while reading it, Jack Webb's "The facts, just the facts Ma'am" came to mind. By that I guess I just mean that it is written in a matter of fact way. I appreciated this book a great deal. I hope those of you who do read it can also.

Apr 6, 8:55am Top

I've started thinking about our May topic, Food. Mike was out ahead of all of us (>42 CurrerBell:), identifying a rather limited number of Virago/Persephone titles from a tagmash of 1940s and food. At the time, it was mentioned that other books on our recommendations spreadsheet might very well deal with this topic, and we can also expand our reading beyond the green and gray canon. Remember, there are no rules!

In a quest to find books I own that fit the theme, I ran a tagmash on 1940s and rationing. Of the 20 books listed, here are a few that might be suitable:
* The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark
* Miss Ranskill Comes Home, by Barbara Euphan Todd (Persephone)
* Theater Shoes and Party Shoes, by Noel Streatfield
* 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff
* Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym

I've only read the last two on this list, but think both would be a good fit for our May topic. Any thoughts on the others listed?

Additional book recommendations or tagmash ideas are always welcome as well!

Apr 6, 9:52am Top

Miss Ranskill is great!

Apr 9, 4:42am Top

I think I will read Excellent women as it's one by Pym that I haven't read before. I highly recommend the Spark and Todd listed above.

I will also read Mastering the art of Soviet cooking which is a personal history of the USSR through food and obviously includes a section on the 1940s.

Apr 9, 8:20am Top

>54 Sakerfalcon: Claire, Excellent Women was my introduction to Barbara Pym and I've decided May would be a perfect time to re-read it.

Apr 16, 11:15am Top

>52 lauralkeet:, >53 romain: Agree Miss Ranskill is great and from memory would fit the rationing theme.

I think the Shoes books by Streatfeild would also fit the theme (although worth noting they are published in the UK under different titles: Curtain Up and Party Frock.

I think I've added all the recommendations to the spreadsheet (including >54 Sakerfalcon:).

I was browsing the Streatfeild books my local library has in its reserve stock and spotted another title I think would fit the May theme: When the Siren Wailed - published in 1976 but set during WWII and one of the reviews mentions rationing.

Apr 16, 11:22am Top

>56 souloftherose: thank you Heather!

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