Review: Beyond the Vicarage, Noel Streatfeild

HaHA.  A while ago I read the first two volumes of Streatfeild’s slightly-fictionalized autobiography, and I could not get the third one.  I believe I rather fatalistically said the library didn’t have it and it was out of print and I’d never ever find out what happened to Noel Streatfeild.  Obvious nonsense because of course we know she became a classic writer of children’s books.  But anyway the public library here shocked me by having the third book, and I read it on Sunday after church.

I dunno.  My feelings were mixed.  I liked reading about Streatfeild’s becoming a writer.  At first when she decided to settle down and write for a living, she was always getting calls and dashing off to meet friends and do jolly things; so she decided to stay in her nightdress every morning so that she couldn’t go out even if she wanted to, until she’d finished her writing for the day.  And I was, as ever, intrigued by Streatfeild’s depiction of the changing role of class in British society during the World Wars.  Vicky’s mother could be said to be living in reduced circumstances after the death of her husband, but she persists in thinking of herself as “carriage people”.  There is this squirm-inducing scene when Vicky’s mother is living in lodgings kept by two women who were once a cook and a housemaid, and Mrs. Strangeway treats them as if they are her hired help.  “So funny,” she tells Victoria, “they like to be called Miss Baines and Miss Cook….I’m afraid I’m always forgetting about the ‘Miss’ and wanting to call them just Baines and Cook.”  Oh, and she refers to Vicky as “Miss Vicky” when she’s talking to them.  Yup, she does.

HOWEVER.  This book felt like a collection of anecdotes – not always good ones – the kind of autobiography people write when they do not really know what sort of a story they are telling.  Streatfeild talks about her service during the war, her initial disinterest in writing for children, and it’s not that any one of these aspects is uninteresting in itself.  But there’s no underlying order to them.  Streatfeild is intent on remarking on every single thing her past self did that she now realizes was immature, ignorant, self-indulgent, or otherwise unworthy of praise, and that gets old, as well.  Altogether, not her best effort.

On to happier things!

World War II.  Not actually happy at all, but bear with me.  When I was at the university library for the first time the other day, I checked out one of Juliet Gardiner’s books.  I think I read about her for the first time at Elaine’s blog, and since I am mad for social histories, and mad for Britain during World War II, I got out Gardiner’s Wartime.  Y’ALL.  This book is amazing.  I may not review it for ages and ages because it’s massively thick.  It’s so thick that if it were a sandwich, I wouldn’t be able to take a bite out of it.  But it’s wonderful!  She’s drawn from dozens of different accounts, so that you can see every event through numerous eyes.  I am not even two chapters in, and I already have the biggest book-crush on Juliet Gardiner.

17 thoughts on “Review: Beyond the Vicarage, Noel Streatfeild

  1. I didn’t know there was an autobiography and even though this volume obviously left you dissatisfied I’m going to have to look for the earlier ones as I’ve love Streatfeild since I was a child and still return to her books every now and again as ‘comfort food’. Thanks for the introduction.

    • The earlier two volumes, particularly the first, are well worth reading. Streatfeild’s always at her best when she’s writing about children, and she writes very well about her little self, and her relationship with her parents.

  2. I didn’t know about these ‘autobiographies’! I’m sorry this one was a tad disappointing!

    Juliet Gardiner is amazing – I love historians who write books that are actually interesting – hard to find! I am lusting after her latest, The Thirties…another doorstep of a book but totally worth it, from what I’ve gathered from flicking through a copy in my local bookshop…several times!

    • I love her too, but her books are very hard to get here. The university library has a bunch of them (including The Thirties!), but the bookshops do not. If I eventually do want to order them (I’m trying to be restrained while I’m in an impermanent living situation), I’ll probably have to order from the UK.

      I’m reading The Thirties next & will definitely tell you how it is! 🙂

  3. Oh boy. It doesn’t sound as though this book was well executed at all. I am very curious about the author and her life, but I don’t think I will want to be reading this book. It just sounds a tad repetitive and flavorless to me. I also love that you are chewing your way through a monster tome right now. I am doing the same, and dipping into it between other things. That way, it lasts just a wee bit longer! I will be interested in reading your review of Wartime when you get it up!

    • Hahaha, it lasts a lot bit longer for me. I’m reading three almost-equally fascinating books: Wartime, Sea of Poppies, and Fagles’s Odyssey. Every night before I go to bed, and every morning after I make my coffee, I spend several minutes staring at all three of them trying to decide which one I want to read. Not much headway on any of them at this rate.

  4. Oh, sad, the Gardiner book (or any of her books, really) isn’t even available for wishlisting at But it sounds magnificent, of course. SIGH. I shall have to look in more detail for her later.

    • I know, I heard about her a while ago and haven’t been able to get any of her books in America. I’m going to have to read all of them this summer while I still have access to this fancy university library. Maybe PaperBackSwap would have some of her books?

  5. Ooh I have that Juliet Gardiner book and am looking forward to it! I had no idea that Streatfield had written autobiographies at all, and am mildly tempted to look out one of the early ones. I do have some fellow feeling in that I also stay in my nightie in the mornings until my writing is done, but that’s just plain laziness on my part rather than a concerted effort to avoid jolly society.

    • I always feel grungy when I’m in my pajamas, and it’s hard for me to get anything done. Once I’ve brushed my hair, I always feel like the Day Has Started.

      I hope you like the Juliet Gardiner! You could hardly fail to – it’s so full of interesting tidbits, and it makes the war so vivid.

  6. I didn’t even know that Noel Streatfeild had autobiographies out there. I like books about WWII issues too. I looked at Wartime on amazon, and it looks very interesting. I am wondering if it would be overwhelming though.

    • I wondered the same thing when I got it from the library, because it’s so huge! I thought I probably wouldn’t read the whole thing. But once you start reading, you’ll find it’s quite fascinating. She makes everything really vivid.

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