Furrowed Middlebrow Winifred Peck Bewildering CaresThis book was kindly sent to me by the publisher in return for an honest review. Furrowed Middlebrow, based on the blog of the same name, is a new imprint of Dean Street Press, which exists to “rediscover and reissue entertaining and important works by lesser-known British women novelists and memoirists”. Well, we like that kind of thing around here, don’t we, and it’s so lovely to see so many people rescuing these great authors, remembering the Margery Sharp and Mary Hocking reissues earlier in the year. You can see a list of the first tranche of books behind that link – there’s lots to enjoy, published in the 1930s to 1950s, with a bit of an emphasis on the WWII experience and with some crime as well (see the postcard in the image).

The books are available in print or e-book format, and this book has a lovely cover illustration by Eric Ravilious, enclosed by the house roof frame which seems to be used throughout the range.

Winifred Peck – “Bewildering Cares”

Published in 1940, this is the fictional diary of a week in the life of a clergyman’s wife in a small town near to Manchester, which operates as a ‘teacup’ with its own storms, including inappropriate sermons from the curate, whispers of middle-aged love affairs and, being set in that year, the first inklings of wartime shortages and privations.

I find books written and published during the war very moving, thinking of how the author didn’t know how it was all going to work out, and this was no exception. As with “Mrs Miniver” and “The Provincial Lady in Wartime”, as well as Peck’s own “House-Bound”, which I read and reviewed back in 2010, the comedy moments and scenes from general life are underpinned by very real worry and the tang of the horror of war:

Living in war-time is rather like skirting the edge of a bottomless pit. The least slip over some tiny obstacle may make one lose one’s footing and sink into the black gulf of despair awaiting you.

There is of course much gentle humour around the situations of dealing with one’s ‘help’ and the inevitable items that go from one jumble sale to a next via special drawers in which such unwanted items are placed on arriving home. There are a few very English and very Anglican musings from a lovely central character whose philosophical husband despairs of her as being too fond of analogies; these are punctured by the everyday interfering as ever.

Thirkell, Whipple and Delafield are mentioned – and preferred by the central character to George Eliot, amusingly – and the clergy and small town setting would appeal to lovers of these authors as well as those keen on Pym, Taylor, D.S. Stevenson, Ann Bridge and Margery Sharp.

A lovely book; quite a quick and gentle read, but very comforting and satisfying, and I will definitely watch out for more from this new imprint!

You can find out more about Dean Street Press on their website and the books will be available via the usual outlets, including Amazon, from today.