One of the books I’m recently read is Fallen Into the Pit, by Ellis Peters. She’s best known for Brother Cadfael, but this one is an Inspector Felse mystery (contemporary, published 1951). Lately I’ve been reading a lot of BritLit from WWI to just after WWII (DE Stevenson, Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth Cadell), and in the past I’ve read lots more from then and earlier: Miss Read, Sayers, Christie, Tey, Conan Doyle, R. Austin Freeman (Dr Thorndyke mysteries), Gaskell, Dickens, Trollope, etc, etc. I can only conclude that English writers up through the 1950s or so just really don’t like Jews. At best, you get a Jewish character who is not too bad, or alien-but-really-a-decent-person, like a couple of Dr. Thorndyke’s clients or the jewel dealer Lord Peter Wimsey works with. This book is really about the only one I can remember that has a completely sympathetic portrayal of a Jew.
She’s a German Jew, a Holocaust survivor who had made her way across Europe, ended up in England, married a farmer and lived a very quiet life. Her whole family were killed by the Nazis. Peters does a remarkable, sensitive job in imaging what her inner and outer life would be like, how she might think about her past, how she could be able to reach toward happiness again. It’s also good to see that she is completely accepted by not only her husband and their shepherd but all the locals. There is some anti-Semitic ugliness, but it’s from an intruder, a German POW still in England, and Peters means it to be ugly and intrusive – it’s not shown as ‘normal’ or OK in any way, and it’s not accepted by her family or the neighbors. Even Felse, the local police inspector, offers his support once he finds out she’d been harassed, though it’s too late at that point.
It’s a very pleasant change from having to shut your eyes and hurry past the icky bits in Sayers and the rest of them.
Only problem is, I liked this book a lot but now I’m not sure I want to read the read of the Felse mysteries, because from reading reviews I get the feeling she switches focus to other locales and to a grown-up Dominic Felse, and doesn’t really develop this setting or these characters further.