Good Evening, Mrs. Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes

Good Evening, Mrs. CravenGood Evening, Mrs. Craven
by Mollie Panter-Downes
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1999
Genre: short stories
Pages: 203
Project: a century of women

For fifty years Mollie Panter-Downes' name was associated with "The New Yorker", for which she wrote a regular 'Letter from London', book reviews and over thirty short stories; of the twenty-one in "Good Evening, Mrs Craven", written between 1939 and 1944, only two had ever been reprinted - these very English stories have, until now, been unavailable to English readers.

Exploring most aspects of English domestic life during the war, they are about separation, sewing parties, fear, evacuees sent to the country, obsession with food, the social revolutions of wartime.

In the Daily Mail Angela Huth called "Good Evening, Mrs Craven" 'my especial find' and Ruth Gorb in the "Ham & High" contrasted the humour of some of the stories with the desolation of others: 'The mistress, unlike the wife, has to worry and mourn in secret for her man; a middle-aged spinster finds herself alone again when the camaraderie of the air-raids is over ...'

This book collects short stories that were first published in New Yorker magazine between October 1939 and December 1944. Prior to ordering the book, I had never heard of Mollie Panter-Downes. It seemed like a great companion to The Splendid and the Vile, which is why I chose to read it now. Persephone published two other anthologies of her work: Minnie’s Room: the Peacetime Stories, which were written after the end of WWII, and London War Notes, which compiles her “Letters from London” published in the New Yorker between 1939 and 1945.

The stories were relatively short, and are deceptively light in tone, containing rich details and deep humanity. The setting for the stories included both London and English villages. The war and the Blitz are omnipresent, and the perspective was that of the (mostly) women who were left at the home front while their men went off to fight. The Red Cross Sewing Party at Mrs. Ramsay’s shows up in a couple of stories, including one of my favorites, titled “Literary Scandal at the Sewing Party.”

One of the most poignant stories, Goodbye My Love, details a young couple’s last few days before the husband, Adrian, is required to report for service. They visit his mother and go to church. They go out dancing with friends and drink and then spend their last day together, the clock chiming the quarter hour and reminding Ruth that time is almost up. She bravely puts him in a taxi in the morning without breaking down, and then copes for the next two days, when he calls and tells her that there’s been a mistake, and he doesn’t need to report for ten more days – he’s catching a taxi and he’ll be home in two hours. And that’s the point at which she breaks down:

Ruth heard the click as he hung up, and she hung up slowly, too. For a moment she sat quite still. The clock on the table beside her sounded deafening again, beginning to mark off the ten days at the end of which terror was the red light at the end of the tunnel. Then her face became drawn and putting her hands over it, she burst into tears.

If this time period interests you at all, I highly recommend these stories..

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