Friday, March 6, 2015

THE WAR LIST (version 3.0)

Really, this is getting ridiculous.

Had I known when I started this mini-project—to create a short list (short being, as always with me, a relative term) of only the women from my Overwhelming List who had published significant works about World War I or World War II—just how difficult the project was going to turn out to be, and how many embarrassing omissions I was going to find not only from the first draft of the list, which was understandable enough, but from even the significantly revised second draft which I posted a few weeks ago, I might have just left well enough alone.

But alas, fools rush in, and now I'm obsessed with trying to dot all the i's and cross all the t's. So I've now made a third major overhaul to the War List, which you can view in its entirety here.

The new additions are overwhelmingly World War II-related, as I have also been working (glutton for punishment as I am) on a list of texts concerning that war, subdivided by category and minus all my endless blubbering about each author. That list will, I hope, appear soon, but in the process of working on it I discovered a whole slew—and in this case a slew means well over 50—authors who should have been included on the War List but weren't. As before, a few of these were easy enough to overlook, but a humiliating number were quite obvious, and still include many that I've actually read and enjoyed and should have remembered from the beginning. My face is red.

A good many of these were harvested from notes I had made on three very valuable critical works about women's writing on World War II. Jenny Hartley's Millions Like Us: British Women's Fiction of the Second World War (1997) is an absolutely invaluable resource if you're interested in this subject. I disagreed completely with her take on Rachel Ferguson's A Footman for the Peacock when I reviewed that novel, but considering that I might never have known about the novel at all if not for Hartley's book—nor, for that matter, about dozens of other titles she mentions—I owe her a big thanks.

Much additional information and many more titles came from Elizabeth Maslen's wonderful 2006 article "Women Writers in World War II," first published in Literature Compass, which manages to pack more useful information into a mere 11 pages than virtually any critical work I've ever encountered.

And finally, I confess I haven't even read all of Phyllis Lassner's British Women Writers of World War II: Battlegrounds of Their Own (1998), but already I'm harvesting titles and information from it.

How wonderful that there's such superb scholarship in an area that was neglected for many years. Now if the publishers would just get to work on reprinting more of these titles!

At any rate, all of the newly-added authors (and only the new-added authors) are listed below, to make it easy for those of you who have already looked at the whole list. If you happen to be new to the blog or haven't ever looked at the War List, you may want to go directly to the list itself for the full view. I confused a few people with the last update because I didn't make that clear enough. (I seem to think everyone else is as obsessed with my lists as I am and is therefore following each development of them with bated breath!)

Compiling the WWII text list has had the foreseeable effect of getting me thoroughly obsessed with these books and their themes again, so I may be reviewing a few of them here soon. I happened, just a few days ago, to have picked up a memoir by an author already on the War List, and I've been more or less lost to the world ever since, so engrossed have I been. Plus, I still have three more WWII-related "Hopeless No More" novels to get round to…

Hopefully, the list is now at least close to having all the most widely-known authors who fit the criteria, but of course, I could be wrong about that, and there might still be some incredibly obvious choices that I've left off. As always, if you notice any oversights, please do let me know.

JOSEPHINE BELL (1897-1987)
(pseudonym of Doris Bell Ball, née Collier)
Author of mysteries, often set in hospitals, which reflect her extensive experience as a doctor, including Murder in Hospital (1937) and Death in Retirement (1956), as well as mainstream novels such as The Bottom of the Well (1940) and Wonderful Mrs. Marriott (1948). War-themed works included the novel Martin Croft (1941), about a man wounded in World War I for whom Dunkirk is a healing experience, Death at the Medical Board (1944), and, presumably, Total War at Haverington (1947). Of Trouble at Wrekin Farm (1942) a contemporary review noted: "The appearance of the Home Guard in a detective story is a warning more deadly than any red sky at morning: like the line 'Won't you sit down' in a play, it is the sign manual of the mechanical, the obvious and the uninspired. Trouble at Wrekin Farm not only trots out the Home Guard, but also has a German 'plane land to take off a member of the Fifth Column who has obtained possession of a secret instrument. Luckily for us all, there are exceptions to every rule, and Miss Josephine Bell triumphantly retrieves this hopeless situation. Wrekin Farm is a quite credible place with a T.T. licence, a grass-drying plant, and land-girls, and it is run by a harassed producer-retailer whose troubles will win him the sympathy of all farmers (although his handling of his bull is open to a good deal of criticism)." Whether the critic intended me to be or not, I'm sold.

MARY HAYLEY BELL (1911-2005)
(married name Mills)
Playwright and novelist (and mother of Hayley Mills) known for stage hits Men in Shadow (1942) and Duet for Two Hands (1945); also author of at least two novels, including Whistle Down the Wind (1958), which was adapted for film and stage. Men in Shadow was a thriller about the French resistance.

Humorist and novelist who published popular satirical works with Betty Askwith in the 1930s, as well as cynically funny novels such as Salad Days (1928), Which Way? (1931), Façade (1933), and Concert Pitch (1934). Sweethearts and Wives: Their Part in War (1942) was a short book illustrated with home front photographs, encouraging women to take up war work in support of the men who were fighting.

URSULA BLOOM (1892-1984)
(married names Denham-Cookes and Robinson, aka Sheila Burns, aka Mary Essex, aka Rachel Harvey, aka Lozania Prole, aka Deborah Mann, aka Sara Sloane)
Author of hundreds of popular, gently humorous novels of social life. Some of her wartime works, such as Spring in September (1941), Time, Tide and I (1942), Robin in a Cage (1943), or The Amorous Bicycle (1944) may deal with the war. Undoubtedly, however, her later memoir War Isn't Wonderful (1961) covers the war years. She also wrote a biography of Eva Braun called Hitler's Eva (1954).

(pseudonym of Mary Christianna Milne, married name Lewis, aka Mary Ann Ashe, aka Annabel Jones, aka Mary Roland, aka China Thomson)
Author of a series of mysteries featuring Inspector Cockrill. The most famous, Green for Danger (1944), is set in a hospital during World War II and is thick with the atmosphere of bombings and blackout. Heads You Lose (1942) is set in a snowed-in country house during the war, but apparently makes relatively little use of its wartime setting. After the war, Brand apparently returned to the thick of the war with Suddenly at His Residence (1946, aka The Crooked Wreath). The postwar feel of London also figures prominently in Death of Jezebel (1948)

ANGELA BRAZIL (1868-1947)
Writer of enormously popular girls' school stories, beginning with The Fortunes of Philippa (1906), often dealing with schoolgirls solving mild mysteries; others include The Girls of St. Cyprian's (1914), The Madcap of the School (1922), and An Exciting Term (1936). Her wartime works generally present war in the most idealized way, such as in The Luckiest Girl in the School (1916), A Patriotic Schoolgirl (1918), and For the School Colours (1918). During World War II, Brazil published The Secret of Border Castle (1943), in which a school is evacuated to a safer location.

MARY BURCHELL (1904–1986)
(pseudonym of Ida Cook)
Mills & Boon romance novelist also known for working to rescue Jews from Germany in the 1930s; her novels often center around opera, and include Wife to Christopher (1936), Dare I Be Happy? (1943), and Choose the One You'll Marry (1960). The amazing story of Ida and her sister Louise and their wartime exploits (posing as shy, frumpy, but obsessed opera fans, they made multiple trips to Germany in the years before war broke out, smuggling valuables which enabled Jewish refugees to prove their financial resources to British authorities and thus be allowed to enter the country) are described in fascinating detail in her memoir, We Followed Our Stars (1950), which was reprinted in 2008 as Safe Passage. How it can not have been made into a movie thus far is a mystery.

ELIZABETH CARFRAE (?c1887-?1961)
(pseudonym of Margaret Wilson, later married name Cradock, née ?????, dates elsewhere incorrectly given as 1879-1968)
One of the first major Mills and Boon authors of romantic fiction, active from the 1920s to the 1960s; titles include Barbed Wire (1925), The Trivial Round (1930), Sunlight on the Hills (1934), Happy Families (1944), Sunshine in September (1955), and Brief Enchantment (1962). Information about most of Carfrae's books is sparse, so it's difficult to know which of her works might make use of the war, but Elizabeth Maslen does mention that in The Lonely Road (1942), "the debate between pacifism and commitment to war are at the core of the romance."

(married name McCorquodale)
Author of 700+ romance novels (!!) over 75+ years; her memoirs We Danced All Night (1970), about World War I, and The Years of Opportunity (1948), about World War II, are of interest; her heroines tended to be moral, but Cartland herself was famed for her bawdiness in interviews.

(née Pellatt, other married name Griffin)
Biographer and historical novelist whose titles include She Saw Them Go By (1933), Worlds Apart (1947), Ever Thine (1951), and Falling Stream (1954). During the war, she published Long Division (1943), a wartime tale in which, according to Jenny Hartley, the narrator "establishes and runs a preparatory school; teaching and caring for children prove absorbing and worthwhile. Married to a compulsive adulterer who eventually abandons her (his average proposal rate is one a month), the narrator learns to manage on her own, and sturdily refuses a marriage proposal from a rich and handsome widower because she suspects he will be dull." It doesn't sound completely promising, but bear in mind that the novel is also mentioned positively by Barbara Pym in her WWII diaries

(married name Hunter)
Author of nearly two dozen mystery thrillers from just before WWII until the 1960s; her titles include Let Him Die (1939), Perhaps a Little Danger (1942), Weathercock (1949), Over and Done With (1952), Discord in the Air (1955), Uncommon Cold (1958), and Honey for the Marshall (1960). Clements wrote at least three novels with wartime themes: Cherry Harvest (1943) is a mystery set at an evacuated girls' school during a half-term break; according to a contemporary review, in Berry Green (1945) "[t]he pastoral village of Berry Green is abuzz with excitement over the visit by a famour actor who says he is doing research but might actually be a German spy looking for a lost bomb"; and in Weathercock (1949), Clements' series detective and his wife return to the home they had lent to refugees during the war, to find a "library book with interesting sketches inside."

MARGARET COLE (1893-1980)
(née Allen, aka M. I. Cole)
Politician, education advocate, and author of numerous mystery novels with her husband G. D. H. Cole, including Poison in the Garden Suburb (1929), Mrs Warrender's Profession (1938), Counterpoint Murder (1940), and Toper's End (1942). The last of these, at least, is set during World War II, and presumably so is Murder at the Munition Works (1940).

BARBARA COMYNS (1907-1992)
(pseudonym of Barbara Comyns Carr, née Bayley, first married name Pemberton)
Novelist known for her brilliant black comedies of childhood and youth, including Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1955), a hilariously morbid story of childhood in an unhinged English village, Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's (1950), and The Vet's Daughter (1959). Her late novel Mr. Fox (1987) is set during World War II and is based on her time, following the breakup of her first marriage, sharing a home with a disreputable man who inspired the title character. Several of her earlier postwar novels, in which she might have applied her wonderfully peculiar viewpoint to postwar conditions, are unfortunately set before the war.

MARCH COST (1897–1973)
(pseudonym of Margaret Mackie Morrison, aka Peggy Morrison)
Novelist known for A Man Called Luke (1933), about a physician who may be reincarnated; others include The Dark Star (1939) and The Hour Awaits (1952); under her real name, Morrison wrote lighter fare like Flying High (1943) and Wider Horizons (1952), about an air hostess who finds love. It's unclear whether Flying High is set during wartime or prewar, but Paid to Be Safe (1948), which she published under her real name in collaboration with Pamela Tulk-Hart, "follows the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary, where the glamour of flying is undeniable. But, as the book's epigraph quotes from the ATA Pilot's Reminder Book, 'Remember, you are paid to be safe, not brave.' Safety can be rather a dull virtue, and the women's lives turn out to be an odd blend of strenuous activity, flying jargon, bridge hands and romance" (Hartley).

(pseudonym of Richmal Crompton Lamburn)
Best known for Just William (1922) and dozens of subsequent books about a schoolboy's adventures, Crompton also wrote novels for adults, including Family Roundabout (1948), reprinted by Persephone, and Leadon Hill (1927) and Matty and the Dearingroydes (1956), reprinted by Greyladies. Mrs. Frensham Describes a Circle (1942)—also reprinted by Greyladies—is a very enjoyable tale of an older woman rediscovering her interest in life following her husband's death in a bombing raid. A series of William's war-related adventures was collected as William at War.

CLEMENCE DANE (1888-1965)
Playwright, mystery writer and novelist known for A Bill of Divorcement (1921), a successful play about changing divorce laws, Regiment of Woman (1917), a controversial novel about lesbianism in a girls' school, and Broome Stages (1931), about several generations of a theatre family. The Arrogant History of White Ben (1939) is an allegorical novel about the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

(pseudonym of Olive Gwendoline Potter, aka Margaret Potter)
Author of numerous girls’ school novels, including Evelyn Finds Herself (1929), Elder also wrote six adult novels, often centered around medicine and some reprinted by Greyladies, including Sister Anne Resigns (1931), The Mystery of the Purple Bentley (1932), Lady of Letters (1949) and The Encircled Heart (1951), Doctor's Children (1954), and Fantastic Honeymoon (1961). Two of the Strangers at the Farm School (1940) are Jewish refugee children, discussed here. Doctor's Children is very much a novel of the postwar, dealing with a woman doctor at the time that the National Health Service was being implemented.

LEONORA EYLES (1889-1960)
(née Pitcairn, married name Murray, aka Elizabeth Lomond? [see entry for Lomond below])
Journalist and novelist who focused on working class women in her non-fiction The Woman in the Little House (1922) and novels like Margaret Protests (1919) and Hidden Lives (1922); published successful mysteries in the 1930s, including Death of a Dog (1936) and No Second Best (1939). During World War II Eyles wrote For My Enemy Daughter (1941), a series of letters to her daughter, who had married an Italian and was living in Italy. Perhaps also of interest are Eyles' cookbook, Eating Well in War-time (1940), and her wartime advice book Cutting the Coat: A Book for Every Housewife in War-time (1941).

Quirky novelist best known for The Brontës Went to Woolworth's (1931, now available from Bloomsbury); other novels include The Stag at Bay (1932), Alas, Poor Lady (1937, reprinted by Persephone), and A Stroll Before Sunset (1946). A Footman for the Peacock (1940) is one of my favorites of World War II, a hilarious, edgy, biting satire about a family of snobs dodging any and all wartime responsibility while coping with a Nazi-sympathizing peacock who may be the reincarnation of an ill-fated footman from the family's distant, cruel past. Passionate Kensington (1939) and Royal Borough (1950) are her acclaimed memoirs of life in Kensington, the latter of which includes the war years. Among Ferguson's other wartime works, Evenfield (1942) and A Stroll Before Sunset are both historical, and Spectator's tongue-in-cheek review of The Late Widow Twankey (1943) makes it impossible to tell what it might be about.

PAMELA FRANKAU (1908-1967)
Prolific and popular novelist whose novels elegantly explore social issues; A Wreath for the Enemy (1954) is a spellbinding story of a young girl's life-altering summer; others include The Willow Cabin (1949), The Winged Horse (1953), and Frankau's personal favorite, The Bridge (1957). A portion of The Willow Cabin takes place during World War II, and the main character leads a rather drab life in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, billeted in a former girls' school.

Novelist and children's author, known for The Little White Horse (1946), J. K. Rowling's favorite children's book; novels include the bestseller Green Dolphin Country (1944), a trilogy, The Eliots of Damerosehay (1940-1953), and the powerful wartime novel The Castle on the Hill (1943). Of Castle, my notes at the time mention that it occasionally veers into sentimentality and the romantic scenes are awkward, but also that Goudge had something in common with Iris Murdoch, with her "serious concerns for good and evil, for the ways people reason through their own behaviors and religious and cultural dogmas, and for a sort of mysticism that, though perhaps more postmodernly questioned in Murdoch than in Goudge, certainly permeates the works of both." Hmmm, perhaps a re-read is called for. Pilgrims' Inn (1948, aka The Herb of Grace), the second volume of the Eliots trilogy, is set immediately after the war.

LORNA HILL (1902-1991)
(née Leatham)
Prolific author of girls' ballet stories, pony books, and other children's fiction; A Dream of Sadler's Wells (1950) and its sequels present an ideal view of ballet training, while The Vicarage Children (1961) and its sequels offer more realistic portrayals of middle class family life. Hill's early books were written only to entertain her daughter, and she had completed eight by the time she began to publish her Marjorie series in the late 1940s. The fourth title in that series, Northern Lights, was written as a Christmas present for her daughter in 1941, but by the time the stories were being published, its wartime setting was deemed not of interest to readers. It was finally privately published in 1999 and then reprinted by Girls Gone By.

MARGARET ILES (?1903-?1998)
More research needed; published five novels in the 1930s and 1940s—Season Ticket (1934), Elder Daughter (1936), Perry’s Cows (1937), Burden of Tyre (1939), and Nobody’s Darlings (1942). The last is mentioned by Hartley and seems to deal with evacuees in a rural village—intriguing enough, but apparently it's impossible to locate a copy.

(married name Harwood)
Novelist, historian, and criminologist known for The Lacquer Lady (1929), about life at the Burmese Royal Palace, and A Pin to See the Peepshow (1934), a novel about a famous murder case, both reprinted by Virago in the 1980s. Early in World War II, Jesse and husband Harold Harwood collected their letters to friends in the U.S. and published them in two volumes, London Front (1940) and While London Burns (1942). Also in 1942, Jesse wrote an account of the courageous salvage of a tanker set on fire by Germans, called The Saga of the San Demetrio (1942). This was later made into a movie.

(married name Snow)
Popular author of satirical novels, of which The Unspeakable Skipton (1959), based on the life of the infamous Baron Corvo, is regarded as her best. Johnson published several war-related novels. The Family Pattern (1942) is a family saga beginning in the 1890s and ending during World War II. Winter Quarters (1943) focuses on an army battery stationed in a small English village. The Trojan Brothers (1944) also makes use of the war.

(married name Davies)
Novelist best known for the massively successful The Constant Nymph (1924), about an eccentric family, which was also dramatized and filmed; others include a sequel, The Fool of the Family (1930), A Long Time Ago (1932), Return I Dare Not (1934), and Troy Chimneys (1953). Early in the war, Kennedy published Where Stands a Winged Sentry (1941), which Phyllis Lassner rather irresistibly describes as "her memoir of wartime domestic life." The Feast (1950), sometimes considered Kennedy's best work, makes vivid use of postwar conditions, including concerns about rationing and the fact that the central catastrophe of the novel is brought about by a stray mine which has exploded a few months earlier.

MARGARET LANE (1906-1994)
(married names Wallace and Hastings)
Biographer, children’s author, and novelist, known for biographies of Beatrix Potter and the Brontës, and for novels including Faith, Hope, No Charity (1935, winner of the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse), At Last the Island (1937), A Crown of Convolvulus (1954). and A Calabash of Diamonds (1961). Where Helen Lies (1944) provides polished romantic melodrama (from the sound of a contemporary review) set against the backdrop of the war, and Walk into My Parlor (1941), about a bogus spiritualist, was published during the war and is set in London, but could be set in earlier years.

(married names Runciman and Philipps)
Now sometimes compared to Woolf or Bowen, Lehmann was seen in her lifetime as a quintessentially middlebrow writer; her novels include Dusty Answer (1927), The Weather in the Streets (1936), The Ballad and the Source (1944), and The Echoing Grove (1953). According to the Guardian, "[w]ar looms large" in her story collection, The Gypsy's Baby and Other Stories (1946). Her one wartime novel, The Ballad and the Source, was set in the years before World War I, but The Echoing Grove (1953) is very much a novel of the postwar, and includes flashbacks to the Blitz & wartime conditions.

DORIS LESLIE (1891-1982)
(née Oppenheim, second married name Hannay)
Author of numerous romantic and historical novels from the 1920s-1970s, including Puppets Parade (1932), Concord in Jeopardy (1938), and That Enchantress (1950). Polonaise (1943) was a success during the war, but was historical in themes. Only House in the Dust (1942) seems to qualify her for this list, and just barely at that. It too is primarily historical—my notes about it say that only about 8 pages, in which the "spunky female lead, now elderly, comes to view the ruins of her old house," are set during wartime.

JEAN MACGIBBON (1913-2002)
(née Howard, aka Jean Howard)
Intriguing author of one highly-acclaimed novel for adults, When the Weather's Changing (1945), about the events of a farmer's wife's summer. Although this takes place as the war is drawing to a close, it seems that the war remains more or less in the background. MacGibbon then suffered a nervous breakdown and thereafter turned mainly to children's fiction, including the school story Pam Plays Doubles (1962).

HELEN MACINNES (1907-1985)
(married name Highet)
Bestselling author of spy novels. Several of her earliest novels deal with World War II, while later works focus more on Cold War themes. The acclaimed Assignment in Brittany (1942) and While Still We Live (1944) deal with the French and Polish resistance respectively. Above Suspicion (1941) and Horizon (1945) are also set during the war. Some later works, such as Pray for a Brave Heart (1955) and The Salzburg Connection (1968), deal with wartime secrets that still provoke adventures. MacInnes also wrote two lighter, humorous works—Rest and Be Thankful (1949) and Home Is the Hunter (1964).

Olivia Manning

(married name Smith, aka O. M. Manning, aka Jacob Morrow)
Novelist best known for two semi-autobiographical trilogies about a young couple in World War II, The Balkan Trilogy—comprised of The Great Fortune (1960), The Spoilt City (1962), and Friends and Heroes (1965)—and The Levant Trilogy (comprised of The Danger Tree (1977), The Battle Lost and Won (1978), and The Sum of Things (1980), collectively known as "Fortunes of War" after the title of a BBC dramatization. Her earlier novels included Artist Among the Missing (1949), about a painter scarred by his war experiences. Her story collection, Growing Up (1948), includes several stories written during and immediately after the war—in particular, "Twilight of the Gods," set in 1946, evokes the exhaustion of the immediate postwar.

ANNE MAYBURY (c1901-1993)
(pseudonym of Anne Arundel, married name Buxton, aka Katherine Troy)
Author of romance and romantic suspense novels; early works include Love Triumphant (1932), Catch at a Rainbow (1935), Arise, Oh Sun (1940), and A Lady Fell in Love (1943), though she is best known for late novels like The Minerva Stone (1968) and Ride a White Dolphin (1971). Arise, Oh Sun, at least, seems to have some wartime themes. Other wartime titles include All Enchantments Die (1941), To-Day We Live (1942), A Lady Fell in Love (1943), Journey Into Morning (1944), and The Valley of Roses (1945).

NANCY MITFORD (1904-1973)
(married name Rodd)
Novelist and biographer, known for the popular social comedies The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949), and for successful biographies such as Madame de Pompadour (1953), Voltaire in Love (1957), and The Sun King (1966). Pigeon Pie (1940) is a rather zany spy story set in the earliest days of World War II.

MARY NORTON (1903-1992)
(née Pearson)
Best known for the Borrowers series of children’s books (1952-1982), Norton’s early novels The Magic Bed-knob (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947), are of interest to me first because they focus on a spinster who is learning to be a witch, but also because they are set during wartime. The former includes a scene in London, where the main character and her young charges get into trouble in the blackout. These novels were (more or less) the source of Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Virago issued some of her other work as Bread and Butter Stories.

KATE O'BRIEN (1897-1974)
Playwright and novelist who often focused on Irish family life; novels (most available from Virago) include Without My Cloak (1931), The Anteroom (1934), Mary Lavelle (1936), The Land of Spices (1941), The Last of Summer (1943), That Lady (1946), and The Flower of May (1953). Of O'Brien's wartime titles, The Land of Spices is set in the early years of the 20th century and That Lady is set even further back in history. Only The Last of Summer seems to make use of the war at all—set during a two week period in late summer of 1939, just as the war is beginning and causing dilemmas for the characters of its social drama.

JANE OLIVER (1903-1970)
(pseudonym of Helen Christine Rees, née Easson Evans, aka Joan Blair [with Ann Stafford])
Author of more than two dozen novels, most historical, from the 1930s-1970s, including Tomorrow's Woods (1932), Mine is the Kingdom (1937), The Hour of the Angel (1942), In No Strange Land (1944), Crown for a Prisoner (1953), and Queen Most Fair (1959). The Hour of the Angel is a Blitz novel, whose main character's husband is in the RAF. In No Strange Land appears to be primarily historical but perhaps end with the war? Hartley says of it: "Sometimes it seems as though all roads must lead to war and even a novel starting in Biblical times finishes in the RAF." Oliver's concern for the RAF was personal—her husband, John Llewellyn Rhys, had been in the RAF and had been killed in 1940. She later initiated the literary prize bearing his name.

CAROLA OMAN (1897-1978)
(née Lenanton, aka C. Lenanton)
Biographer and historical novelist, known for bios of Elizabeth of Bohemia, Walter Scott, and others, Oman also wrote several historical novels including The Road Royal (1924), Miss Barrett's Elopement (1929), Major Grant (1931), Over the Water (1935), and Nothing to Report (1940). The last seems to be a domestic novel set in the early days of World War II.

SHEILA PIM (1909-1995)
Also a popular writer on gardening, Pim is best known for her four mystery novels, in particular Common or Garden Crime (1945), which vividly portrays wartime life in an Irish village; the others are A Brush With Death (1950), Creeping Venom (1950), and A Hive of Suspects (1952).

DORIS POCOCK (1890-1974)
Poet and children's author whose work includes girls' school stories such as The Head Girl's Secret (1927), mystery stories like The Riddle of the Rectory (1931), and World War II stories like Catriona Carries On (1940) and Lorna on the Land (1946), the latter about Land Girls.

(pseudonym of Eileen Arbuthnot Robertson, married name Turner)
Novelist known for three early novels reprinted by Virago in the 1980s—Cullum (1928), Four Frightened People (1931), set in the Malayan jungle, and Ordinary Families (1933), a family comedy set in Suffolk. The Signpost (1943) is about a wounded RAF pilot and his relationship with a French woman in a remote Irish fishing village.

JEAN ROSS (1907-1985)
(pseudonym of Irene Dale Hewson)
Children's author and novelist; titles include Flowers Without Sun (1938), Aunt Ailsa (1944), Jania (1948), A Picnic by Wagonette (1953), The Great-Aunts (1964), and the intriguing A View of the Island: A Post-Atomic Age Fairy Tale (1965). Kate O'Brien, writing in the Spectator in 1945, said of Aunt Ailsa that it "is a book about English family life between the last war and the present time. It is like a great many such books, in being truthful, matter-of-fact, humorous and likeable. Miss Ross has a steady eye for character and an easy naturalistic way in dialogue, and a great many people will derive entertainment from her unaffected exploitation of these talents." Strangers Under Our Roof (1943) certainly sounds as though it might deal with evacuees or refugees, two popular themes during the war, but I can find little information about it.

MAUREEN SARSFIELD (dates unknown)
(aka Maureen Pretyman)
Author of two humorous mysteries now reprinted by Rue Morgue Press—Green December Fills the Graveyard (1945), set in a partially-bombed out manor house in the late years of the war, and A Dinner for None (1948). Sadly, Rue Morgue felt the need to give both books extraordinarily dull new titles for their reprints—Murder at Shots Hall and Murder at Beechlands respectively. Sarsfield also published one long-forgotten non-mystery, Gloriana (1946), and several children's books including Queen Victoria Lost Her Crown (1946).

Author of numerous children's books and adult novels including two with a school component—Redhead at School (1951) and The Golden Cap (1966); others are Pippin's House (1931), Moonshine in Candle Street (1937), Blue Fields (1947), Scarlet Plume (1953), and Breton Holiday (1963). Other of her works could deal with the war, but certainly Enemy Brothers (1943) belongs on this list—it's about a British airman who believes that a young German prisoner is actually his brother, who had been kidnapped many years before. Enemy Brothers was reprinted by American religious publisher Bethlehem Books in 2001. The physical version seems to be out of print, but the ebook is still available.

(married name Fleming)
Scholar and mystery writer known for her Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane novels, including Strong Poison (1930), Have His Carcase (1932), Murder Must Advertise (1934), and (the most acclaimed), The Nine Tailors (1934) and Gaudy Night (1935). After the 1930s, Sayers wrote no more novels, though she did write one short story featuring Lord Peter during the war. "Tallboys," written in 1942, did not appear until 1971, in the collection Striding Folly (1971).

MARGERY SHARP (1905-1991)
(married name Castle)
Novelist and children's author known for her children’s series starting with The Rescuers (1959) and for numerous light humorous novels including The Nutmeg Tree (1937), Harlequin House (1939), The Stone of Chastity (1940), Cluny Brown (1944), and The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948). Sharp's own experiences living through the bombing of London show up in Britannia Mews (1946), considered one of her best novels. Cluny Brown, though published in wartime, is set in 1938.

DOROTHY EVELYN SMITH (dates unknown)
Novelist whose work ranged from romantic melodrama, as in Lost Hill (1952), to dark comedy, in Miss Plum and Miss Penny (1959), to the war-themed He Went for a Walk (1954), in which a boy made homeless by the Blitz finds his way across wartime England. The last has been recommended on the D. E. Stevenson discussion list. Other titles include My Lamp Is Bright (1948), The Lovely Day (1957), and Brief Flower (1966).

STEVIE SMITH (1902-1971)
(full name Florence Margaret Smith)
Well-regarded poet and critic who also published three eccentric novels, Novel on Yellow Paper (1936), in which Smith’s alter-ego, a secretary named Pompey, is introduced, Over the Frontier (1938), and The Holiday (1949), all reprinted by Persephone. The last of these was actually written in the final years of the war, but when it was published a few years later the publisher felt that readers were no longer interested in the war. Smith revised the novel and removed or veiled many of the references to wartime conditions. It still retains an oddly claustrophobic feel, however, which surely comes from the pervasive fatigue and resignation to fate that seems to characterize the final years of the war. A few more short wartime writings appeared in Me Again, which collected numerous previously unpublished or uncollected pieces by Smith.

MURIEL SPARK (1918-2006)
(née Camberg)
Major novelist whose works combine dark humor with a Catholic sensibility; her most acclaimed works include Memento Mori (1959), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), The Girls of Slender Means (1963), Loitering With Intent (1981), and A Far Cry from Kensington (1988). The Girls of Slender Means takes place in a London boarding-house for girls during the final days of World War II.

FREYA STARK (1893?-1993)
(married name Perowne)
Best known for travel books like The Valleys of the Assassins (1932) and A Winter in Arabia (1940), Stark also wrote several significant memoirs, including Traveller's Prelude (1950) and Dust in the Lion’s Paw (1961), the latter of which covers her wartime years, which included frequent travel in the Middle East and beyond in her work for the Ministry of Information.

(aka Susan Scarlett)
Known for children's fiction such as Ballet Shoes (1936) and Curtain Up (1944, aka Theatre Shoes), Streatfeild wrote serious novels as well as her romantic and family-themed novels under the pseudonym Susan Scarlett. Of the latter, Summer Pudding (1943) and Murder While You Work (1944) are certainly set during the war, and Poppies for England (1946) is evocative in its immediate postwar setting. Among her "serious" novels, I Ordered a Table for Six (1942) is bleak but intriguing, and Saplings (1945, reprinted by Persephone) Is a compelling family story about the lingering effects of the Blitz.

(aka Georgina Groves)
Known for a children's series featuring Pansy and Atalanta, two children who find themselves in major historical events, including the suffrage movement in Miss Rivers and Miss Bridges (1971); her three adult novels are All Souls (1950), French Windows (1952), and The Suckling (1969). Her novel Now and Then (1977, published in the U.S. as Crocuses Were Over, Hitler Was Dead) is a time-slip story of a girl moving with her family to a country estate and occasionally slipping back into World War II when she befriends meets a gardener and his dog from those earlier years.

P[AMELA]. L[YNDON]. TRAVERS (1899-1996)
[pseudonym of Helen Lyndon Goff)
Known for Mary Poppins (1934) and its sequels, including Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935), Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1944), and Mary Poppins in the Park (1952), Travers also wrote I Go by Land, I Go by Sea (1941), about evacuees in World War II, and the memoir Moscow Excursion (1934).

FRANCES [MARY] TURK (1915-2004)
Prolific popular author of light romantic novels. At least two of her works feature wartime themes: Candle Corner (1943) is about an RAF pilot recovering from injuries on a farm—naturally, romance follows; and The Five Grey Geese (1944) is a lively, gung-ho tale about a group of young Land Girls (who also, naturally, find romance)—I had fun with it, but don't expect too much… Other Turk titles include Ancestors (1947), Salutation (1949), and Dinny Lightfoot (1956).

(pseudonym of Dora Amy Elles, married names Dillon and Turnbull)
Novelist who published several historical romances before turning to her successful Miss Silver mystery series. She published regularly from 1910 until just before her death in 1961. Several of her wartime mysteries use the war as a backdrop, including The Chinese Shawl (1943), The Clock Strikes Twelve (1944), Miss Silver Deals With Death (1944, aka Miss Silver Intervenes), The Key (1944), and The Traveller Returns (1945, aka She Came Back). Several postwar titles make retrospective reference to the war, but The Case of William Smith (1948) is probably most prominent, featuring a returning soldier with amnesia. The deaf main character of The Listening Eye (1955) is described as having lost her hearing in a bombing raid during the Blitz.

REBECCA WEST (1892-1983)
(pseudonym of Cicily Isabel Andrews, née Fairfield)
Novelist, journalist, and travel writer, best known for the semi-autobiographical family saga The Fountain Overflows (1957); her debut, The Return of the Soldier (1918), in which a soldier with shellshock struggles to remember two very different women who love him, is considered an important novel of World War I. West does not seem to have written any major fiction about World War II, but The Phoenix: The Meaning of Treason (1949) focuses on Brits, including William Joyce (aka Lord Haw-Haw), who worked for Germany during the war, and A Train of Powder (1955) features her accounts of the Nuremberg trials. Other works include The Judge (1922), Harriet Hume (1929), The Thinking Reed (1936), and The Birds Fall Down (1966), as well as Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), a massive exploration of the culture of the Balkans.

(née Stirrup)
Popular novelist whose works have been revived by Persephone in recent years, including High Wages (1930), Greenbanks (1932), The Priory (1939), They Were Sisters (1943), and her powerful final work, Someone at a Distance (1953), about the destruction of a happy marriage. The Priory is set during the leadup to the war, and features a poignant scene in which a pregnant woman imagines her chances of surviving a bombing raid. (As a side note, E. M. Delafield's Provincial Lady in Wartime, published the following year, recommends The Priory to a friend as the perfect wartime reading.) They Were Sisters (1943), though written during war, is actually set in the 1930s. The story collection Persephone put together a few years ago, The Closed Door and Other Stories includes some stories set during the war. And Whipple's final novel, Someone at a Distance (1953), is highly evocative of the postwar years, as well as recalling the characters' wartime experiences. I am also intrigued by a title published after Whipple's death. Random Commentary (1966) is subtitled Books and Journals Kept from 1925 Onwards and is compiled from her working notebooks. It reportedly "relates the details of daily life," which, includes observations on rationing and making do during the war years, as well as some glimpses of her life as a writer, including a party at which the room was "filled, at first sight, with Dorothy Sayers in a furred red velvet robe with gold chains, like a mediaeval Alderman of the City of London."

VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882-1941)
(née Stephen)
A central figure in British literature, known for novels such as Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), and The Waves (1931), and for her voluminous diaries and letters. Many of her early works deal prominently with World War I, including Jacob's Room (1922) and Mrs. Dalloway (1925), which includes a traumatized ex-soldier among its cast. She wrote two very famous long essays, A Room of One’s Own (1929), about the difficulties for women of being creative artists, and Three Guineas (1938), a passionate condemnation of war and fascism. Woolf's final letters and diary entries are revealing about the war and its traumatic effect on her, which probably played a role in her suicide, and her musings about the war in "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid" (1940) are also fascinating. Woolf's final novel, Between the Acts (1941), published posthumously, is set at a village pageant just before the outbreak of war. The approach of war remains muted on the surface of the novel, but is symbolically present throughout.


  1. Well I am glad you have listed all these authors, so many were still on library shelves in the 70's but now gone. It has given me lots of ideas and reminders of things to read

    1. It's true. Perhaps instead of time-travelling to wartime to do some book shopping, I need only travel to the comparatively safer years of my childhood. I'm glad the list is giving you ideas!

  2. So glad to see my big fave Patricia Wentworth listed. And you certainly mentioned the heavy-hitters! I never thought of "The Clock Strikes 12" as WWII-related, but of course it is. I reread it every New Year's! IF you can find them, also try "Silence in Court," and (if you can track a copy down without selling yourselves into slavery, "Danger Point." Well, the list just always goes on and on, eh? Tom

    1. I hope I've finally added most of the heavy-hitters, Tom, but who knows, there may still be some glaring omissions. Are the other Wentworths you mention set during the war as well, or are they just particularly good reads?

    2. Set during the War, and all refer to rationing, war work, etc.
      I just noticed you list Sheila Pim. Wonderful writer; only wish she had done more mysteries. Hers are interesting, as they do discuss transportation difficulties and rationing, and men off to serve, but always careful to mention that Ireland was neutral during what they call "The Emergency." Tom

  3. Scott, how do you find time to go to work? Your research on all those wonderful covers alone must take ages.

    I hate to add to your list :-) but I'm going to. Jane Shaw is one of my favourite writers for girls; her Susan books are very funny. House of the Glimmering Light (1943) is a wartime spy story (not Susan).

    I have a book by Clemence Dane called The Shelter Book. It contains reading suitable for a night spent in an air raid shelter and has space at the beginning for the owner to enter personal details. I'd have to fish it out (probably still in a box) to find more details.

    1. Well, I find once I get started looking at all those covers, I get obsessed and can't stop! Thanks so much for the suggestions--I didn't know about either of those books, and will add them with my next update. At least those aren't books that I had actually read and just forgot to add!

  4. That's true, Sue, I hadn't even noticed!

  5. It's that cowlick over the forehead that was so defining for John Mills. The Mills family lived opposite us in Richmond, Surrey and included another daughter, Juliet, who also acted. We were in the same class at primary school; no love lost between us

  6. This list contains at least ten books I need to track down Scott. Grr...

    Sayers did write the best part of one more Wimsey novel, Thrones, Dominations, which has been finished by Jill Paton Walsh. Opinions are divided amongst Sayers' fans as to whether it is worthy of its originator but I like it, as I do the following books by JPW.

    1. Oh, good, Gill, I'm always happy to make other people's TBR lists as overwhelming as my own! :-)

  7. Oh good. More books and authors to explore.

    And the two books you mentioned, Millions Like Us: British Women's Fiction of the Second World War and British Women Writers of World War II: Battlegrounds of Their Own, plus that article you mentioned.... I hope I can track them all down.

    John Mills for sure. Well spotted, Sue.

    1. As I mentioned to you via email, Susan, the Hartley book shouldn't be too difficult to track down, and I should have mentioned that she published another book, Hearts Undefeated, which is an anthology of non-fiction by women about the war. It's published, as you already found, together with Anne Boston's anthology of wartime short stories by women, Wave Me Goodbye. Both are well worth reading. As for the Maslen and Lassner books, they are more challenging to find, but hope to report a bit more on them in the future, if I get around to more of the research I'm intending to do. Stay tuned!

  8. Safe Passage. I tracked that one down (not at all hard to find on line) when you mentioned it while review another writer. It is hands down the Best Book I read in 2014.

    1. Isn't it great, Susan? I'm thinking Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet as the two sisters. What do you think?

  9. Hi Scott – another author for this list could be Kathleen Hewitt – about whose unfindable black-market book, Plenty Under the Counter, I inquired a while back – but she also wrote two other quite lively mystery-suspense-thrillers during World War II, namely, Lady Gone Astray ('41 – a young heiress, targeted by a pair of refugee confidence-tricksters, gets amnesia after being coshed in the blackout) & The Mice Are Not Amused ('42 – to free up a man for military service during the Blitz, a lady legal secretary takes the job of head porter at a fifth-columnist-infested London block of flats). BTW, the covergirl on the Mice dustjacket (on Amazon) to my eye looks like hottie Hewitt herself – the reprint of her '45 autobiography, The Only Paradise, has the former actress' silent-era headshot on its cover – she humble-brags in the book that she missed out on a movie career because her eyes were too light a blue to register on the filmstock of the day(!) – Grant Hurlock

    1. Oh, Grant, yet another intriguing author to explore (and yet another who is almost impossible to find). Do you know anything about Still the World Is Young? That appears to be the only one of her books that is fairly readily available. Thanks so much, I'll make sure she's added to my main list, the war list, AND to the mystery list with my next updates. As a legal secretary myself, The Mice Are Not Amused sounds particularly interesting!

    2. Hi Scott – Still the World Is Young is also a pretty lively read, following its young protagonist over the course of about a dozen years from the late 1930s, when he's about 10 and is revealed to have a semi-supernatural power to heal people through the force of his will, up to about 1950. (The healing power is a given, so the reader either buys into it or doesn't. It reminded me of the postwar Nova Pilbeam film Green Fingers, itself based on a novel from '45 by Edith Arundle – so the topic apparently was in the air.) The title of Hewitt's novel, though, refers to its theme of intergenerational psychic healing, with the protagonist and his mother working off past guilt (papa was hanged for murder) as the boy grows up, too young to fight in World War II, and their struggles to scrape a living in the postwar economy – he opens a secondhand bookshop, which I for one found interesting. The mother is of Hewitt's generation, and her occupation as dressmaker running a clothing shop resembles Hewitt's own experience from earlier days as revealed in her autobiography. (This book's generational shift in characters is reminiscent of how Stella Gibbons in the 1950s started using her own daughter's life experiences in the plots of novels, until that daughter asked her to stop!) The best thing about Still the World Is Young, though, is its evocation of postwar Soho street culture, rife as it is with political refugees, prostitutes, and more than a spiv or two – including the hero's nemesis, a villain who lives by blackmailing former tarts and effeminate young men. – Grant Hurlock

    3. You not only sold me on Hewitt's older novels, Grant, but you've sold me on Still the World Is Young. I've just ordered a copy!

  10. Wonderful and oh-so-tempting list. I'm currently rereading a couple of Patricia Wentworths and the war does seem a better integrated part of her series than say in Agatha Christie books of the same time. In Eternity Ring, for instance, the idea that one has created a generation of men trained to kill is quite overt.

    1. Thanks, Vicki. When I was first reading Christie, I assumed that she mostly erases the war in her books because people wanted escape from thinking about it, but the fact that many (or even most) other mystery authors incorporated the war, some very effectively, makes me rethink that and I am now back to wondering why did she felt she couldn't or didn't want to tackle it. As popular as she is, I'm sure some biographer or fan has documented her reasons!


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