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.