Henrietta Sees it Through by Joyce Dennys

I read Henrietta’s War a few months ago and absolutely loved it, despite wishing it was a little more realistic about the difficulties of life on the Home Front. So when I was offered the chance to pick some books from Bloomsbury’s catalogue, Henrietta Sees it Through was the main title I knew I would definitely want to read from their selection.Β  As I expected, I was not disappointed; I actually thought it was better than Henrietta’s War, largely because it is much more candid about the hardships of living in a world at war. Though it hasn’t lost the jovial and witty tone of its prequel, Henrietta Sees it Through is tinged with a melancholic note of weariness and worry that made it feel much more heartfelt and genuine to me.

This volume of letters from Henrietta, a middle aged provincial doctor’s wife and mother of two grown up children, to her childhood friend Robert, a soldier at the front, chronicles the last three years of the war, from late 1942 to 1945. For the inhabitants of Henrietta’s Devonshire village, life is becoming increasingly frustrating as shortages continue, loved ones are killed, terrifying air raids occur with more frequency, and the war drags interminably on. Henrietta, Charles and their neighbours; the kindly, good natured elderly widow Lady B, the curt Mrs Savernack, the Colonel and his wife, the Admiral and his wife, the flirtatious Faith and the smitten Conductor, are carrying on as best they can, and Henrietta captures their characters and the often hilarious every day events of life with her usual dry humour. However, the underlying tension of life lived in a period of such uncertainty frequently makes itself known in the form of bad tempers and snappy comments, often in one of the queues at the shops, and sometimes coming to blows. I particularly loved it when a horrified Henrietta is told by no nonsense Mrs Savernack that she must donate some of her books to the Red Cross bank – Henrietta’s inability to give up any of her beloved books, before giving in, only to be told that they will be pulped – made me both laugh and rejoice in the fact that Joyce Dennys was clearly a kindred spirit when it comes to loving books like they are children. I also enjoyed the lamentations of poor Lady B, who was turned away from the V.A.Ds for being too old, and whose only contribution to the war effort can be knitting jumpers, which she finds highly unexciting.

There are some interesting asides about women’s roles during the war; many of the female characters desperately want to do something useful to help the war effort, but for those over a certain age, all they can do is knitting, bandage rolling or committee attending, and Henrietta and her friends find this incredibly frustrating and also guilt inducing. It reminded me of Laura in One Fine Day’s comment that during wars ‘men fight, women sew’.Β  Though younger women could be nurses and ambulance drivers and all sorts of things in the various women’s auxiliary forces, women with children or those past forty were not allowed to do anything much but keep the home fires burning. Their sense of frustration at being stuck at home, making the best out of their meagre rations and waiting for news while their sons and husbands were out fighting for their lives must have been difficult to cope with. The belief that the women must stay at home and wait passively for the men to decide their fate on the battlefields is still very prevalent today, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. From what I understand, the British army still bans women from frontline combat. While this is very gallant it still upholds the notion that women are the weaker sex, and need to be protected. I don’t have a problem with being protected or cared for by a man; I’m not against gentlemanly behaviour by any means, but I know that if I didn’t entirely disagree with wars and were the type to join the army, I’d be more than peeved to be denied the active role I was equally qualified for just because people can’t cope with the idea of women being killed in combat. I’d be interested to hear other people’s views on this.

Anyway, I found this underlying sense of frustration and guilt among the villagers quite moving; despite the sacrifices they have made and the private griefs they have suffered, they feel they have had an easy time of it compared to their city dwelling friends and so aren’t really in a position to complain, even though they frequently have just cause to. This leads them to constantly hide their fears and troubles from one another, putting on a mask of good cheer, and the effort of doing so adds to the sense of general weariness they already feel. No matter how cheery Henrietta is to Robert, and how amusing the events she describes, she can’t hide how fed upΒ  everyone is at having their lives on hold and potential doom ever waiting around the corner. This realism is what takes Henrietta Sees it Through to another level, and when there is a sad loss to two of the characters, you really will feel it along with them. In these letters, the flippancy I found a little insensitive in Henrietta’s War has well and truly disappeared, replaced with a still very funny, cosy and excellently characterised novel, but one that is unafraid to show just how difficult living through a war was. As such I think it is really an unmissable and wonderful read for anyone who has an interest in life on the Home Front but also enjoys a critical eye that can lampoon the often difficult circumstances of a country at war; I know I’ll return to it time and time again. Plus, the illustrations add an extra layer of delightfulness to the text, and I particularly loved the drawings of the well endowed Lady B!

Just as an aside, is there anyone else who has noticed a lot of novels written in the 1930s have young female characters called Linnet, like the bird? I first noticed it in Illyrian Spring, then I saw it’s an Agatha Christie character’s name, and it’s in Henrietta’s War (Henrietta’s daughter), and another book from the 1930’s that I can’t remember but know I’ve read it in. I have never met anyone called Linnet or seen the name in use anywhere outside of mid century novels, but I’d be interested to know whether it was a name particularly en vogue during the period, or simply a coincidence! If anyone can enlighten me, I’d be most grateful!


  1. Have you already read To Bed With Grand Music? If not, I think you may be ready for it. Another woman left to keep the home fires burning finds she prefers a little more action. Dreadfully unsympathetic character, but Marghanita Laski seems to pull it all together.

    1. No, I haven’t, Heather, but I REALLY want to, as it sounds fantastic by all accounts and gives a fairly unique view of wartime life. Marghanita Laski is an author I need to read more of – I have The Village waiting to be read and I might see if I can fit it in before I leave the country, and my book collection, behind!

      1. If you don’t get to it before leaving for NYC, I will lend you my copy during the time you are here. It’s quite a tale and Laski knows how to tell it.

  2. Dear Rachel,

    I neglected to tell you how much I enjoyed Henrietta’s War and how anxious I am to follow her adventures in Henrietta Sees It Through; unfortunately it will not be published in this country until 1 February 2011!!! Ah well, it will make good fireside reading!

    Charles in Dallas Texas where we are enduring our sixteenth day in a row of 100+F

      1. Splendid idea! I have ordered from the Book Depository before and been very pleased with their prompt service. May I blame my forgetfulness on the punishing heat? Thank you very much indeed, Ida.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Charles – I had a feeling that you would! πŸ™‚ Get yourself to the Book Depository website post-haste – I know you will love this even more!

      Goodness me – 100F for sixteen DAYS?! Summer has disappeared in England – I wouldn’t mind a brief exchange but 16 days would floor me!

      1. It is 106 right now and we have not reached the hottest time of day! 110 is the forecast and no relief in sight.

  3. Both of these books sound wonderful, I’ll have to put them on my list. (Actually, all of the Bloomsbury Group books sound very appealing!)

    1. They really are, Audrey. The Bloomsbury Group books are indeed very good – I’ve read several, some before they were republished by Bloomsbury – and they are quite quirky reads that deserve rediscovery. I hope you’ll try one!

  4. And I thought it was difficult waiting the few months for my books to cross the ocean, but leaving them behind entirely, that’s rough! Let us hope New York public library is well stocked! And surely you could sneak one or two non-american books into your reading in the next year? I always make these pledges “I’m going to only re-read my favorites this year” etc etc and then find if I don’t sneak in a new to me read or something else, I all of a sudden feel I’m in this grueling nightmarish literature course and I’m not enjoying any of it. Maybe it’s just me. πŸ˜‰

    1. I KNOW! It’s killing me…I keep looking at my bookshelf and feeling terribly sad that I am leaving so many books behind unread. BUT they will still be there when I come back, and it will be like Christmas every day as I gradually rediscover all of the books I had to put in storage!

      Well I hope NYPL is well stocked because that’s where I’ll be getting all my books from! Obsessive book buying and an intern’s salary certainly don’t mix!

      I probably will sneak some English comfort reads in, yes – I don’t do very well at sticking to resolutions either! πŸ˜‰

  5. I’ve read a couple of reviews of this novel and yours has made me think that at some point I shall read it and not just to keep Mrs Harris goes to Paris company on the bookshelf.
    Your thought on women and front line made me think. I’ve never thought about it before as I’m so not someone who’d be in the armed forces for all sorts of reasons. I think if I were, I’d want to know I did a my best and a good job and so therefore possibly may want to be there for that reason. Plus if I want equality in the work place I should want it everywhere and with no exceptions.
    Hope your American plans are coming along well.

    1. I think from what I’ve read of your blog, you would very much like both this and its predecessor. Lots of lovely tender moments that make you glad about the beauty of the human spirit.

      No I am a determined pacifist but I agree – equality should be available even within the armed forces. I know it’s well meaning discrimination but discrimination it still is.

      Thank you! Had my US Visa interview today and now all I have to do is pack. πŸ™‚

  6. I loved the Henrietta books, which I found much more appealing than A Provincial Lady because Henrietta’s husband is loving and interested in what she’s doing. I hate the PL’s husband!

    Interesting what you say about the army. I’m a pacifist, so wouldn’t be a soldier, but I’m also a feminist and so it annoys me that women can’t be equal with men. In the same way, I’m an anti-royalist, but it irritates me greatly that Princess Anne isn’t second in line to the throne, but comes after her younger brothers. It’s the principle of the thing!

    1. Penny I love how you got there before us with all these books – already a fan of Dorothy Whipple, and D E Stevenson, and now Joyce Dennys…how I wish I’d known you all my life and could have benefitted from your marvellously good literary taste earlier!

      I totally agree – the PL’s husband is a terrible hide behind The Times uncommunicative type and it does make me sad for PL that she has such a husband. She needs someone to converse with! Yes – I am a pacifist too and it IS the principle of the thing – I know it’s a nice idea that women should be kept from the nastiness of combat but if they want to fight, they should be allowed to. Equal opportunities!

      1. That’s very sweet of you, Rachel! It’s what happens when you’re getting on in years… Have you tried Barbara Pym and O. Douglas? Two other favourites of mine. BP is in print, but I don’t think O.D. is. All my copies are old hardbacks, collected over the years from the ‘Scottish fiction’ sections of secondhand book shops.

      2. I don’t seem able to respond to Penny’s second comment, so I’ll do it here, just to say some of the O. Douglas books are reprinted by Greyladies books in Edinburgh!

    2. Penny, like you I’ve read all these books before because I’m old πŸ™‚
      Let me second the O Douglas recommendation. Old copies are cheap and they’re also being reprinted by Shirley Neilson of .Greyladies publishers

      1. This is hilarious! Penny, Simon and Barbara, thank you for the O Douglas recommendation – I frequently see books by her/him (?) in second hand book shops and I have always wondered whether they would be my sorts of books. Now I know! I shall try one out next time!

      2. I’m so pleased about the reprints. She deserves to be better known! There’s so much I want to say about her that I think I’m going to have to devote a blog post to it!

    1. Yes you must, Darlene! The Brontes… is good and very quirky – though not AS good as Henrietta in my opinion.

      Oh really? I didn’t know that. Thank you for the article – I found it very interesting. It seems the reasons I thought women were barred from active service are actually not as important as things such as morale and camaraderie. I didn’t think about the effect it would have on men’s ability to focus to have women working alongside them. In Naomi’s article that she sent me below, apparently the effect on male soldiers’ emotional health is much more devastating when they see female colleagues wounded than male, and that hampers their work and endangers their safety. Looking at it that way, while it’s still wrong, in my opinion, to actively bar women from certain roles, I can appreciate why fully integrating women into the armed forces is a more complicated issue than people might think.

  7. I’ve just come from Lyn’s blog (I Prefer Reading) where I read her review of Henrietta Sees It Through – and then clicked through to yours for the same! I read this just after the first Henrietta book came out, in the library, but didn’t blog about it because I thought it might infuriate those who couldn’t get hold of it… so pleased it’s been reprinted!

    I liked it as much as the first, though not as much as the PL books (which are in my top three favourite books ever, so that’s not surprising). Dennys’ style and illustrations are always a joy, I encourage you to seek anything else by her.

    Yes, I agree that (while a pacifist myself too, for the most part) it must have been frustrating for those women who wanted to do something more militaristic. But my greater sympathies still lie with those men who (like myself, had I been alive) would have much preferred, and been much better and more useful at, home front activities – who were still conscripted. I think conscription must be the most terrifying thing, for those not of a militaristic disposition, and I can only imagine what so many would have gone through. Which isn’t to diminish the anguish of wives, mothers, daughters etc. – but defining the roles by gender rather than ability or suitability must have left so many men AND women in situations for which they weren’t right.

    1. Wise move, Simon – I know I’d have been very annoyed if you’d reviewed this before I could get hold of it! I think it’s definitely an excellent choice for Bloomsbury and I hope it sells well! I only wish Dennys’ other books weren’t so hideously expensive!

      Good point well made – I do think it’s ridiculous that men were forced to fight, whether they had the disposition or ability to, or not. More than ridiculous, actually – barbaric. Thank you for raising this, as I do often find myself only thinking about the female point of view, which I know I shouldn’t!

      Very true – doing anything merely by gender will always be limiting and cause untold misery to many.

    1. It’s pretty isn’t it? Though is is Linn-ET or LINN-et? No idea.

      No and just read it – thanks, very interesting. As I said to Darlene, I didn’t realise that the reasons behind not putting women on the front line aren’t necessarily due to women being the weaker sex (though they aren’t, apparently, as physically capable of withstanding the regime as men, which I’d say fair point to – I know I’m not strong enough to do all that lifting) but because it messes the men’s heads up to see women being injured and so distracts them from their work. I never thought about the psychological effects on men of having women fighting alongside them – it would take a big culture shift to make it work I think.

  8. Isn’t at least part of that no-women-in-combat thing meant to be because they think it would keep men from giving focus to protecting the womenfolk? It’s still a sign of gender stereotypes, of course, but my impression has always been that it’s an issue of practicality–not that men need to be chivalrous and bear the brunt of the attack, but that their training from society has all been to protect women, and in a moment of high tension they’d make that their priority rather than, I guess, fighting off the enemy properly? But of course the army trains them into all sorts of things, you’d think they could manage training them out of protecting the girls in their combat unit. :p

    1. Well according to the article Bloomsbury Bell links to above, yes, you are perfectly right! In other countries when women have been allowed to fight on the front line with men, the male comrades of female soldiers have been traumatised by female soldiers being hurt in a way they aren’t by male soldiers being wounded. There’s also the issue of women being a distraction and effecting the men’s focus. I think because the armed forces are so traditionally male and they work along very macho, male bonding lines, women are going to be difficult to slot into front line roles. Plus as that article also says, women aren’t physically strong enough, in the vast majority of cases, to lug all the ammo and stuff around. Obviously they could be trained to be strong enough, but most women won’t ever develop the same muscle mass as their male counterparts. So there are a variety of reasons and it’s not as simple as I thought. I’d be really interested to read more about the psychological effects of having men and women fighting alongside each other, actually. I really hadn’t thought about that before. PLUS what happens if two guys like a girl and they start fighting over her? That’s going to effect morale!

  9. I enjoyed this one as much as the first if not a little more and I think that in part was because it seemed darker than the original, still witty as you say but very much a more emotive book in some ways.

    Now then Linnet, not a name that has had a rivival like Esme, Iris, Florence etc.

    1. Yes, darker and emotive are perfect words to describe it – a much less chipper book all round. This does echo the fact that not a lot happened in the first few months of the war, and I suppose in Henrietta’s War, they hadn’t had enough of living through it to be fed up of it yet!

      No – and I wonder why. Linnet is quite pretty really. Though I’m not quite sure which syllable the emphasis lies on.

  10. The thought of watching one of my children leave for the front absolutely chills me to the bone so I have only the greatest admiration for the women who waited for the return of their menfolk – or bore the pain of losing them. Bad enough that a father was obliged to fight but I think I can’t agree with mothers of (particularly small) children going to war. From experience I know that a mother’s enforced absence is unbearable.

    Rosamond Lehmann wrote wonderfully about WW2 women at home, particularly in her short stories. ‘A Dream of Winter’ (and two other stories) in her collection ‘The Gipsy’s Baby’ is unforgettable, a perfect little jewel of a story.

    Thanks for this introduction to a new author (to me).

    I’ve been away and your new blog design startled me. Now you are quite different to other book blogs. A new style for your new beginning!

    1. Yes I can’t imagine having to go through that worry for five years, never knowing if a telegram was about to come. I don’t think mothers of young children should be allowed to go to war, but neither do I think fathers of young children should be either. In the wars going on now, there are always fathers of babies being killed, and I think it is so cruel that those children have been denied the chance to meet their fathers. However, I suppose there is an element of choice in an army life today; they aren’t conscripted, after all.

      I love Rosamond Lehmann but haven’t read The Gipsy’s Baby yet, though I have it on my shelf. I shall check it out when I get home tonight, thank you for the recommendation Chrissy!

      I hope you will give Joyce Dennys a try – she really is very funny and a fantastic way to while away an idle afternoon. πŸ™‚

      Oh I’m sorry! I fancied a change and didn’t give any warning! I hope you like it – it is indeed a new style for a new beginning!

  11. Late to the party – none-the-less, I have something to say to your exciting review with so much conversation going on. Isn’t it grand when a book spurs on such lively dialogue? That, alone, is the sign of a good book, then add booksnob’s consistently well done reviews to the mix and, viola, we have a conversation. Hurrah!

    I have gone through different phases and thought about women in combat. The feminist bent in me says, why, well yes, women could and should do the same as men, while the mother in me would not want one of my daughters in harm’s way, for the many reasons already listed which also apply to the realist in me. The pacifist in me trumps all, of course, for with no war comes no need at all to have the conversation.

    Women do not have to do the same things to be equally as important (ah, here comes the old lady in me) – what irks me is that women are not equally credited, even today, for what they do accomplish, especially here as we consider the military. Here in the state,s we have finally come to honor those women who were POW’s, who served in military hospitals and who were injured in their duty. We know that during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War it was the women who not only kept the home fires burning, but, took active roles in the effort, risking life and property (which they could not own). An interesting book, whose author escapes me, The Guests of the Emperor, deals with women who were imprisoned in the Philippines at the start of WWII.

    As always, Rachel, you inspire the rest of us to step forward and “out of the box”.

    PS I love your new banner and format. The banner brings to mind certain little women, whose creator, herself, served as a nurse during our Civil War and took ill treating others in the course of her duties, nearly dying and plagued with residual effects all her life.

    1. I so agree! We’re different, but equal!
      I have a son and a daughter and I wouldn’t want either of them to be on the front line, but as they’re both pacifists, too…

    2. Great Pennys think alike it would seem!

      Thank you for your, as usual, wonderfully kind and intelligent contribution, Penny! You make the excellent point that women do not have to do the same things as men to be equally important or make equally as significant a contribution. Women have been forgotten in a lot of accounts of war – though they didn’t have to face combat, they were nurses, like Vera Brittain, battling in awful conditions to keep men alive – ambulance drivers, Land Girls…they were also mothers and wives and daughters and sisters, keeping society going and coping with grief and worry and deprivations we couldn’t imagine. Someone has to keep the home fires burning, I suppose, and without the knowledge that they were fighting for their womenfolk and their homes, men wouldn’t have had the same incentives to keep on going through the horror of war.

      I am a determined pacifist, but I do think that everyone who lived through the wars our world has seen, whether fighting or not, faced horrors of all kinds that we today would be terrified to have to face. Both men and women who sacrificed their own plans for their lives for the greater good deserve to be honoured for that, whether they served on the battlefield or the homefront.

      Thank you so much – I’m glad you like the new format! It is actually a Jessie Willcox Smith illustration of Little Women – I wanted to honour my heroine, Louisa May Alcott, whose achievements and bravery you so beautifully described.

  12. This sounds like a really wonderful book! I am so glad to you reviewed it, I have been looking for books about women during WWII. Great blog, by the way.

    1. Thank you, Willa! It’s lovely to see a new face and I’m so glad you enjoyed the review. I read a lot of books about women during WWII so have a browse through my reviews to get some more ideas! You should start with the Diary of a Provincial Lady in Wartime – it’s wonderful!

  13. You don’t get to be a woman in the army without taking rigorous fitness tests. I’ve a female mate in the army who will be working as a pharmacist when she goes on tour, but she had to run miles with kit and pass fitness tests as part of her army training. So women not being allowed to fight on the frontline because of strength issues isn’t an issue of theory, where we have to guess whether they can carry kit, they’re doing it in training. I would guess that frontline soldiers must continue to train at such high standards while other army positions don’t, but all women in the army have to initially be capable of running the same distance as men, carrying combat kit and undertaking combat manouvers in order to pass out of army training.

    Now my friend did once say that fitness levels are being lowered across the board so that the army can fill gender quotas. That type of positive discrimination I could not hate more, as it means that the women who are up to original army fitness standards get lumped in with all those who perhaps aren’t, but who the army encourages in because they need to prove just how equal they are being. I’m not sure gender quotas can work in the army the same way they might work in politics, or publishing, but that’s an issue that’s too huge for comments.

    As for the idea that women should be kept out of frontline combat because men are more likely to compromise a mission to save them if they’re hurt….I’m not quite sure where to start. One, formulating that idea relies on the assumption that women will naturally be less capable in the field and so will be hurt and require male soldiers to rescue them – it’s a pretty gender discriminatory statement, that masks itself in chivallry (aiming that at the articles linked to here not you, or any other commentator). Two, men’s emotional state get prized above (not eual to) womens right to working equality in this statement. Three, there are lots of male ‘realities’ that we’ve discarded along the way because they obstructed womens ability to enter the work place (for example the idea that a man wouldn’t want to talk to a female doctor, the idea that men wouldn’t be able to control themselves sexually if women worked in offices with them). I’m not trying to say that I want men to be emotionally harmed by seeing women get hurt, or that I ignore the reality that social conditioning may make men likely to try to save female soldiers (if the need actually arose). Instead what I want to point out is that it’s not a woman’s responsibility to stay out of front line combat because of this (and I know you’re not saying that, but that’s what’s implicit in the reasoning in the articles left in the comments). It’s army men’s responsibility to re-educate themselves and it’s the wider pressurising society’s responsibility to remove the conditioning forces from men. And that’s complicated and it’s not going to happen tomorrow, but it’s the ideal we should be working towards.

    I thought the idea that a woman might distract an army man from his job, or cause arguments in the ranks through an attraction/relationship had gone away. The idea that men couldn’t control themselves on the job and that it’s a womans job almost to keep them from ever having to be in that situation by staying out of a combat situation is just maddening. If we come at it from a male angle it demeans men and makes them sound incapable of the professional behaviour that is one of the things people are always saying is a very male thing.

    As I understand it part of the reasoning behind openly gay men not being allowed to serve is that they may be distracted and straight men may be distracted by their attraction/unable to form a bond of camaraderie with a gay soldier/they may form romances in the ranks which could be distracting. And that’s blatant discrimination based on prejudice and assumptions, why isn’t it the same when it the same when similar reasoning is applied to women being able to fight in combat?

    So I’ve gone on not about the book again haven’t I? I would like to read this and it’s companion book. All the new releases from Bloomsbury look so gorgeous at the moment.

    1. Jodie, so many excellent points, I was quite overwhelmed! Your point about women’s rights being sacrificed for the men’s emotional health was a very good one and something I shall need to think about to come to a conclusion. I completely see what you mean on many fronts and I do think it is lazy for arguments about men’s needs and social expectations to be used in this day and age to prevent women from serving on the front line if they wish to. Women didn’t used to vote or have jobs and men adjusted to that easily enough, so I am sure they could be trained and adjust to serving alongside women – if they were given the opportunity to do so, which currently, they’re not. I am no psychologist so I don’t know how easy it would be for men to be ‘reconditioned’ to not want to instinctively protect female colleagues or to feel more disturbed when a female colleague was injured, but I’m sure such things aren’t insurmountable. Also, as women have never served on the front line in the British army, they don’t really know with any certainty how British male soldiers would react. As you say, it’s not fair for women to have to adjust their ambitions because of men’s emotions, anyway – excellent point.

      I think there are a lot of old fashioned and unfounded sentimental and sexist ideas used to prevent women from fulfilling an active role in the armed forces. The army is, in its very essence, a bureaucratic, racist, sexist old boy’s club, and a lot of changes – not just in incorporating women – need to be made before it reflects the society it supposedly represents.

  14. Hi again, you won’t believe this but I have just bought these 2 books in Beautiful hardback editions from our Trademe site (like Ebay). So my pile gets ever bigger.

  15. Hello Rachel, sorry to be painful and write a comment so belatedly…

    First thought on this book which I also shared on Lyn’s I prefer reading blog is that I liked Lady B as an example of an admirable or good person in fiction. Lyn pointed out that she also had some quite ‘human’ emotions during the war made her all the more believable and lovable.

    Second (random) thought: I like the Henrietta novels more than The Provincial Lady. Henrietta, more than the Provincial Lady was not afraid to say she was afraid, or worried, or angry, and didn’t have to always have a ‘chipper’ front. TPL seemed to keep any emotion attached to war-time at arms length and just flap about doing her (not terribly important) canteen war work, worry about her outfits, and say cynical things about her friends. (Sorry to Simon T for saying such things about his beloved Provincial Lady…) Henrietta was sweeter, less savvy, more earnest.

    As a therapist I am interested in mental health, especially in adversity, and I found it really interesting, how anger came through in the second Henrietta book. Also the enforced rest weekend for Henrietta’s husband was interesting…the price paid by people slaving on the home front, in terms of mental and physical fatigue was really well illustrated in the stoic GP having to stay in bed for two days when he wasn’t actually ‘ill’, just exhausted.

    A while back there was some comment on the blogosphere about Henrietta’s War trivialising the home front experience – one or two WW2 survivors had made this point. While I don’t have the authority of someone who has lived through that war, I didn’t feel that trivialisation. If you read both books closely, fear, anger and grief are there throughout the letters. I can see that the overlay of self-deprecating humour and comedy could be confused as trivialising the subject, but I just interpreted the slightly black and absurd humour in amongst the tragedy as being a really ‘British’ way of seeing the world, and also was a writing style that common to that time.

    V. late at night, here, hope I’ve made a word of sense and gosh how I’ve rambled on… thank you again for your brilliant in depth reviews.

    1. Hello Merenia! No need to apologise – a comment from you could never be painful!

      I quite agree with you about Lady B – her character is divine. She is so sweet and lovely, yet not above a good old moan sometimes. Just the sort of person I like!

      I see what you mean about the PL – I haven’t read any PL books in a while so I can’t say for definite which I prefer but I think the PL is much more polished and written for deliberate amusement than the Henrietta books come across as being. However, I do love the PL books regardless. Even so I do think the Henrietta books are better and more soulful than the PL book about living through the war.

      Yes I thought that was very interesting too – I think there isn’t enough credit given to those who had to toil their way through the war on the home front, taking on the extra work left by those gone off to war. It wasn’t just soldiers who had a hard time of it and I like the acknowledgement given to the ordinary people who are working hard to just keep things ticking over in the Henrietta books.

      Ha! That was me who started that discussion! I still think Henrietta’s War treated the war a tad too flippantly – I enjoyed Sees it Through better because I felt it had more heart and was more upfront about the difficulties faced by people. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was offensive, as some people did, but I do think it could have been a bit more heartfelt.However, perhaps I could do with a reread to see the qualities you say are in it, as I’m sure you are quite right and it’s probably my fault for reading too quickly!

      Thank you for your lovely and interesting comment, as usual! I’m glad you enjoyed the review. πŸ™‚

  16. Am currently re-reading Henrietta’s War…and the thought that there is another henrietta book published by bloomsbury ( after reading your blog post) is brilliant:) Yay I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

    1. Hi Edina, thanks for coming by! I am glad you are another Henrietta fan, and yes – you are in for such a treat with the next book! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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