Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes (book #109)

Mollie Panter Downes, 1999 – the stories were originally published between 1939 and 1944.

I like the way she shows the positive side of the war, like Major Marriot having a lovely time as an ARP warden in “It’s the real thing this time” (published 15/06/1940):

‘They dropped the poor devils by parachute in Holland. I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if that fella was mad enough to try it here,’ he said hopefully … [he had] the absent-minded tenderness of a man who loved women and danger but had somehow ended up with Miss Marriot [his sister] and a warden’s rattle beneath crossed assegais.

She also shows the social problems, such as Roger and Madeline moving in with Gregory and Laura in “Combined Operations” (published 29/08/1942): “‘Mad talks brightly at breakfast, and Roger is always in the lavatory when I go there'”.

She’s good on mixed or unpleasant feelings – in “The Hunger of Miss Burton” (published 16/01/1943) Miss Barton, constantly hungry on rations, feels “a sense of utter, wonderful repletion” when her colleague Margaret has argued with her fiancé.

And on awkward social encounters and inadequacy. In “It’s the Reaction” (published 24/07/1943), Miss Birch regrets the end of the Blitz because it’s the end of the communual sleeping in her block of flats and the resulting friendliness. She visits Mr Masters to try to re-ignite their camaraderie – “with lightning, cruel clarity she knew the visit wasn’t going to come off”.

I like Mrs Dudley’s evacuees returning to London in “The Danger” (published 08/07/1944) “as joyfully as cats plunging back into a dustbin”. Mrs Dudley is happy with the peace in her empty house, and then a friend of her daughter-in-law turns up wanting to come as a paying guest with her baby. Panter-Downes achieves sympathy for both:

Everywhere was full, Mrs. Craig said, trying to smile and not succeeding, in a perfectly adult way. … She waited [having refused Mrs Craig] for the usual rush of pure happiness to flood over her at the thought [of being alone in the house] … But today something was wrong, for nothing happened. Nothing at all thought Mrs. Dudley, staring miserably at the clock, which soon told her that the London train would now be steaming out of the station [with Mrs Craig on it].


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