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Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther

Mrs. Miniver (1939)

by Jan Struther

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5102529,854 (3.9)150
  1. 00
    Good Evening Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes by Mollie Panter-Downes (souloftherose)
    souloftherose: Both are collections of short stories which show how the lives of the middle-class in Britain were changed by WWII. Mrs Miniver covers the period leading up to the outbreak of war whilst Good Evening Mrs Craven covers WWII itself.
  2. 00
    Crossriggs by Mary Findlater (kerryperry42)

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» See also 150 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Piquant balm; use sparingly. Barely over 100 pages but full of kindly, apt observations like an ultra-refined and gracious lunch companion. Originally light columns in the Times, one can see how they were instantly a hit, and the character of Mrs Miniver established. Her neat, concise epistles pulse with the aches of lost worlds both of comfortable domestic, social, and gender roles, and of those post-Munich, prewar, and phony war days of solidarity and closure and trepidation. The flavour has that odd and enjoyable sense of being nostalgic, even of events squarely in the present. Her elegant diction is clear and familiar, plain even, but still achieves beautiful, well-turned images: "The woods were just beginning to turn, the different trees springing into individuality again, demobilized from the uniform green of summer." ( )
1 vote eglinton | May 24, 2018 |

The book is a series of brief newspaper sketches about the Miniver family, who are slightly better off than in the film (a house in London as well as in Kent, and a holiday place in Scotland). Most of the book takes place before the war (whereas most of the film is set after it breaks out). Vin is at Eton rather than Oxford. One or two incidents from the book survive into the film but the screenplay is generally new material.

It's actually rather charming, somewhat reminiscent of Mrs Dalloway (which had been out for over a decade and must have been known to the author, Jan Struther, real name Joyce Anstruther). There is no plot to speak of, but there are some lovely observations of parenthood and marriage, and some less deep reflections on English society (as you would expect from a column in The Times). I think this was the author's only prose fiction; she also wrote humorous poetry and essays. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | May 21, 2018 |
A couple years ago, casting about for short fiction to teach in my class on British literature from 1890 to 1950, I took a friend's recommendation of this book, which chronicles the life of one family in the years leading up to World War II. I skimmed around it a bit, selected eight likely-looking chapters, scanned them, and assigned them to my class. Sometime later, as part of a project to watch all the films of every book I taught that semester, I watched the two films based on the book, Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Miniver Story (1950). (The first one is pretty good; the second one not as much.) But I hadn't read the book, and that seemed like a thing I ought to do, and now I finally have.

Mrs. Miniver is, as Professor Tom Recchio calls Cranford, an "accidental novel." It was originally a single newspaper column, "Mrs. Miniver Comes Home," in the Times of London on October 6, 1937. It was successful enough to warrant further accounts of Mrs. Miniver and her upper-middle-class family in Chelsea (with a home in the country); there were a total of thirty-six columns published up to September 29, 1939, three weeks after the U.K. declared war on Germany. This, though, is what makes it fascinating. The war breaks in on this family by accident, much as it would have in real life. Mrs. Miniver did not begin life as a novel, and it did not begin life as a war story-- it was a simple series of domestic sketches. But it became a war story because as the 1930s rolled on, everyone's domestic story became a war story.

So there's no foreshadowing or anything. At the beginning, it's just domestic observations from Mrs. Miniver as her husband buys a new car, or Christmas day rolls around, or they see fireworks on Guy Fawkes day, or she tries to figure out how you deal with a married couple where you only like one of its members, or they drive up to Scotland to see the Highland Games. There are lots of cute observations on what marriage is like, or on what other people's marriages are like, or on the fact that if someone is "terribly fond of children," a kid never actually knows where they stand with such a person! I really like what Mrs. Miniver observes on the morning of Christmas 1937, as her children go at the contents of their stockings way too early in the morning: "There were sounds of movement in the house; they were within measurable distance of the blessed chink of early morning tea. Mrs. Miniver looked towards the window. The dark sky had already paled a little in its frame of cherry-pink chintz. Eternity framed in domesticity. Never mind. One had to frame it in something, to see it at all."

But then, all of a sudden it's September 28, 1938, Germany is about to annex the Sudetenland, it seems like war is imminent, and Mrs. Miniver has to take her children to get fitted for gas masks just in case. From that point on, the coming war is a shadow that hangs over the domestic life of the Minivers. You couldn't have planned this, and that's why it works so well. The previously idyllic life of the Minivers has been disturbed by a phenomenon they hadn't predicted, and Mrs. Miniver is hoping that this war can go better than the last one: "if the worst came to the worst, these children would at least know that we were fighting against an idea, and not against a nation"-- they need to guard against war-time's "slow, yellow, drifting corruption of the mind."

The war brings out the best in the nation, Mrs. Miniver argues, but in a way that's a bit disappointing. She writes in a letter to her sister-in-law, after the declaration of war: "I can think of a hundred ways already in which the war has 'brought us to our senses.' But it oughtn't to need a war to make a nation paint its kerbstones white, carry rear-lamps on its bicycles, and give all its slum children a holiday in the country. And 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 civilization could have." And it doesn't bring out the best in everyone, either; she recounts talking to a woman who won't promise to billet London children in her country house because it will upset the servants, who says, "Even if the worst does come to the worst, you must make it quite clear to the authorities that I can only accept Really Nice Children."

The book ends, as I said before, shortly after the declaration of war on Germany, with a letter from Mrs. Miniver to her sister-in-law. But apparently Jan Struther did continue to story of Mrs. Miniver and family, with five more dispatches published in the Times during the war, but as the edition I got from the library is from 1940, it doesn't include. You can read the whole book in an authorized e-edition, however, on the University of Pennsylvania website, and I should get around to reading those five later chapters soon.

The columns in the Times were wildly popular. When I was skimming the Times digital archive to examine the book in its original context, I found a number of letters from adoring fans. Many speculated on Mrs. Miniver's first name, which wasn't revealed until the 29 Sept. 1939 column. My favorite of the letters I found, however, was this one:

     Sir.—I too have been hoping for another article by Mrs. Miniver, but for quite a different reason from your other writers. I pay a tribute to her creator when I say that I always think of Mrs. Miniver as a real person, and I hate her with an intense hatred. She is always so smug, so right, such a marvellous manager, and things always go so well for her. Well, nothing goes on like that for ever: something horrible must be going to happen to the lady soon, and I want to know her reactions.
     I have no doubt Clem
[Mrs. Miniver's husband] will become an A.R.P. warden, Vin [her eldest son] will join up, Mrs. M., assisted by her daughter, will cope in a wonderful manner with refractory billetees and run the hospital supply depôt in the manner born, and Toby [her youngest son] will join the Boy Scouts. It would be so much more helpful if Mrs. Miniver would tell us how she would behave if her husband had an affair with a pretty A.R.P. worker, if her son refused to join up, and if some of the workers at the hospital rose up in revolt and told the lady exactly where she got off. I expect she would cope with it all in a slightly hurt and surprised manner. No, I think the only thing for Mrs. Miniver is a direct hit from a bomb, and I am quite certain that within a month Clem would marry again a young and pretty, untidy woman, who never by any chance said or did the correct thing, and they would be enormously happy, and so should I.
          Yours truly, M. F. SAVORY.
     24, Arundel Court, Worthing.

The relationship between the book and the film is actually kind of weird, because the film begins shortly before the war and goes through its first couple years. In that way, it's actually more like a sequel to the book than an adaptation of it, because it's entirely about coping with wartime life. However, the details don't line up perfectly-- the Minivers' class status is downgraded in the film a bit, apparently to make things more palatable to American audiences. The Minivers ride out an attack in a bomb shelter, Mr. Miniver participates in the evacuation of Dunkirk, a downed German flier breaks into the Miniver home (the film Mrs. Miniver is less sympathetic to him than I think the novel one would be), and so on. The first film doesn't really line up with the second, either; one of the kids somehow hasn't got any older, another has got a lot older, and a third has completely vanished! But the first film is really good (it won six Academy Awards), and I highly recommend it. You'll also get to discover that Julian Fellowes plagiarized a Downton Abbey subplot from it.

About a week after I wrote this review, I read the five WWII-era installments of Mrs. Miniver on my Kindle. They're okay-- worth tracking down if your edition doesn't include them. The first is the best, a story of Mrs. Miniver working on her Christmas list, but this time there is a passel of refugee children along as well, many of whom never had a Christmas tree before. The other four are more letters from Mrs. Miniver to her sister-in-law; the worst of these is the last one, which is a very defensive over-explanation of her second-last letter, explaining why she was not overlooking members of the lower classes. I suspect Struther had received a lot of angry letters.
  Stevil2001 | Nov 10, 2017 |
"Words were the only net to catch a mood, the only sure weapon against oblivion"
By sally tarbox on 6 February 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
An absolute delight of a book; short episodes in the life of Mrs Miniver, an upper-middle class mother of two, on the cusp of WW2 and through into the early days of the conflict...
The first half of the book - before the war - gives glimpses into Firework Night, Christmas shopping, holidays at their second home in Kent - all seen through the thoughtful and astute eyes of Mrs Miniver. I found certain passages would so resound with me; thus her reluctance to go to stay with friends:
"It wasn't shyness. It was more like a form of claustrophobia - a dread of exchanging the freedom of her own self-imposed routine for the inescapable burden of somebody else's."
And I'm sure many will understand Mrs Miniver's change of heart after buying a cheap diary, when she runs back to swap it for the dearer lizard-skin one:
"An engagement-book is the most important of all those small adjuncts to life, that tribe of humble familiars which jog along beside one from year's end to year's end, apparently trivial, but momentous by reason of their terrible intimacy."
And then comes the onset of War; Mrs Miniver recalls the irrational hatred of all things German in the last war:
"feeling towards Dachshund puppies the uneasy tenderness of a devout churchwoman dandling her daughter's love-child."
But as life begins to change, Mrs Miniver still finds time to celebrate the beauties of Nature - and the social revolution that is taking place alongside war. Charming, touching, thought-provoking, humorous - certainly not a plot-driven work but poetic and utterly beautiful. ( )
  starbox | Feb 5, 2017 |
Contrary to my expectations, I like the movie much more than the book. The plot was tightened and the characters more interesting. ( )
  Prop2gether | Feb 9, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jan Strutherprimary authorall editionscalculated
Grove, ValerieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book, while produced under wartime conditions, in full compliance with government regulations for the conservation of paper and other essential materials, is COMPLETE AND UNABRIDGED
My thanks are due to the Proprietors and Editor of The Times, in which these articles originally appeared.

First words
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.
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Book description
Shortly before the Second World War, a column by "Mrs Miniver" appeared in The Times, the first of many recounting the everday events of a middle-class Chelsea family: Mrs Miniver's thrill at the sight of October chrysanthemums; her sense of doom when the faithful but rackety car is replaced; the escapades of Vin, Toby and Judy, her unpredictable young children; visits to the Kent cottage and, as war becomes a reality, the strange experience of acquiring gas masks and the camaraderie of those unsettling early days.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156631407, Paperback)

As a best-selling book and an Academy Award-winning movie. Mrs. Miniver's adventures have charmed millions. This edition, published on the fiftieth anniversary of the book's orginal publication in the U.S., features a new introduction by Greer Garson, who won the Academy Award as best actress for her role as Mrs. Miniver.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:23 -0400)

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"Under normal circumstances, PI Donald Strachey wouldn't work a case for Jay Plankton, the right-wing radio "shock-jock" known to his fans as "the J-Bird." The J-Bird has been targeted for a series of attacks by a shadowy radical gay rights group that has been defunct for more than twenty years. The attacks are on the level of malicious pranks and, while irritating and disruptive, so far haven't been dangerous. But the J-Bird's producer is afraid that the attacks might get worse, and the J-Bird himself is eager to confront his attackers. Since Strachey is known to have had contact with the original members of the radical group in whose name these acts were committed, the producer and the shock-jock want him to track them down. Since Strachey needs the money, and is intrigued by the idea that this group might be back in action, he takes the job.". "But what appears at first to be a simple - and probably pointless - investigation quickly escalates into something far more dangerous. One of the radio show's personalities is kidnapped, the threats begin to escalate in intensity, and Strachey finds himself in the middle of an altogether different kind of case. With precious little time left, Strachey must now uncover the connection between a radical but peaceful group from the past and the increasingly violent actions of the present."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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