‘Peace for our Time’ – Domestic Drama between two World Wars
The Great War, or what is now known as the First World War, began with great patriotism – ‘cleansing society of decadence’ - between European nations in August 1914. It was however fought as a war of attrition, a war of the trenches, finally ending in the rain and mud of the Flanders in November 1918. The surviving protagonists, having fought to a point of exhaustion and beyond, were to be ever haunted by the horror of a conflict that had been fought with all the weaponry, even with gas, the conflicting industrial nations had manufactured so efficiently.
The two short decades – the twenties and thirties of the 20th century were, for that surviving generation, an era of domesticity, where one’s home was one’s castle, where one’s own small garden was superior to any foreign field. It was little wonder that when, in September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the then British prime-minister, returned from Munich after meetings with Hitler, with an assurance of ‘peace for our time’, no war in Europe, he was welcomed by wildly cheering crowds, as he stood alone, a little lost, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. A year later, Europe was again at war.
These two short decades are the focus of the five novels, plus a collection of short stories that comprise this course of English literature. They relate the drama of the undramatic. They describe those times: the hedonism, the joy, the song and dance, the propriety and impropriety, but, above all, the human condition.
All the six books chosen for this course of reading and discussion are published by Persephone Books - unique in that it reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction, mostly be women writers and mostly dating from the mid-twentieth century.
The books will be discussed in the following order:
- Miss Pettigrew lives for a day by Winifred Watson
- Mariana by Monica Dickens
- Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan
- They knew Mr. Knight by Dorothy Whipple
- Expiation by Elizabeth von Arnim
- Tell it to a Stranger by Elizabeth Berridge