It’s time to veer away from All Virago / All August and 20 Books of Summer to enjoy and celebrate another mid-century wonder, very kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint for review. Furrowed Middlebrow (also a blog) is a lovely celebration of women’s mid-century writing, picking up unusual and out-of-print books that haven’t been reprinted by Persephone or Virago, often slimmer volumes, and they have such an attractive cover style, with the house frame and then an original cover or print.

Verily Anderson – “Spam Tomorrow”

(17 June 2019)

You’ll have to read the book to find out why the author was called Verily and why her siblings also had unusual names – although this is primarily a WW2 memoir, we are taken back through her lifetime up until her wedding day before moving forward again.

Elizabeth Bowen apparently praised this 1956 volume for being one of the first to explore women’s lives in wartime. We’re more used now to all the social history that’s come out, all those Mass Observation diaries and books about the Home Front, but this would have been very revolutionary in its day, and we’re not spared the details of pregnancy, birth, babies, housekeeping and anxious care of one’s own and one’s family’s health at the time just before antibiotics came in. It’s a vivid (but never graphic, although bomb damage and upset children are described) account of life on the home front, told with a humorous and light touch overall, but with depth.

Anderson writes with a slightly flat and detached tone, almost naive – if you like Barbara Comyns, Dodie Smith, Elizabeth Eliot et al. then you’re going to love this. Although it’s very funny in places, there are some real struggles, some glossed over (being too ill to attend her first child’s christening party) and an awareness that

At any moment might come a fork in the road.

– with her path either leading to quiet domesticity or the very real prospect of invasion. At one point, she’s so low that she feels “There was no place for spring” but there’s always a friend or family member or an incident to cheer, and she also draws solace from nature. Her family is a comfort, even though pretty eccentric: this description of a sister and her trousseau:

Clothed for comfort in a square Greek tunic, she sat with her farrowing sow, while my mother and I stood by trying to wring some preference out of her for pleats or gathers.

wouldn’t be out of place in a Mitford sister or Comyns novel. While the events, privations and constant moving around are common to many accounts of wartime life, it’s fresh and lovely to read.

Hugely atmospheric, delightful and impossible to put down, thank you to Dean Street Press both for publishing this and for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.