Mid-century, not so modern

I’ve been on a kick of reading WWII vintage authors on and off for a while now, and it’s on again with a new bunch being republished as e-books. They might be classed as romances, but I don’t think of them that way; there’s usually a romance that comes out right at the end of the book, but it’s far from the only thing going on. Maybe these are what romances were before Mills & Boon started their assembly line. (I’ve also been rereading Miss Read, who has almost no romance, and enjoying her too.)

A lot of them are jarring in different ways. For instance, when you’ve read Theatre Shoes and Ballet Shoes and so on, it’s a bit of a shock seeing sentences like “People like Sara are always in a flap about something. Copulation isn’t one of the simple pleasures as it is to you and me, it’s a high-brow affair, which you go it as if it was an opera”. Or just the word “copulation”, maybe. I’m pretty sure none of the girls in the dancing classes knew that word.

The other odd thing was realizing that I understood the MC in Ursula Orange’s book, Company in the Evenings, more thoroughly than almost any other character I can think of … and knowing the author killed herself. Only thing I can say to that is that the character isn’t the author, and I can’t imagine the character doing away with herself except under the circumstances I’d consider it myself – say, if struck with a very painful and invariably fatal disease. Or maybe Orange did put herself into the character but left her depression out.

Of all of them – Noel Streatfeild, Ursula Orange, Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth Cadell, Richmal Crompton, Elizabeth Fair – that flourished from around the 1930s to the 1960s and are being reprinted now, I think my favorite is D.E. Stevenson.  There’s a sweetness to her books even when they’re in the middle  of war and scarcity. Streatfeild and Cadell are a bit uneven, some of the others get a bit arid after a while, and while Thirkell’s chief characters are great, some of her books are disturbingly xenophobic. Stevenson’s people are interesting and sensible and all different, and I like them.

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