Thursday, October 29, 2009

Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys

45. Henrietta's War
News from the Home Front
by Joyce Dennys
fiction, written in the 1940s;
compiled in book form, 1985
finished, 10/7/09

There's a kind of women's humor that seems to me to be particularly British. I first discovered it when I read Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield. Then I saw it again in two more modern authors: Helen Fielding in Bridget Jones's Diary; and in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. I can't believe I lived so many of my years not even knowing it existed. It makes you wonder about fate and life and how much is out there we might like that we have never even come across.

Now I add Joyce Dennys to that list. I just loved her 'voice' - that wry, quiet humor. This epistolary novel is a collection of letters written by Henrietta to Robert her 'Childhood's Friend.' She shares tales of home life during the Second World War, in mostly light and cheery tones. She says,

if I write of everyday things, it is only because I know that they are what you would rather hear about.

I'm sure many women on the home front wrote just such letters to friends, boyfriends, and husbands during this, and every, war. Surrounded by horror, who would not want to read a story like this:

Our biggest excitement this week, however, was provided by the Simpkinses. On Wednesday night Colonel Simpkins woke up and heard a commotion going on in his chicken-run. Convinced it was nothing less than a descending parachutist, he rushed out in his pyjamas and found an enormous badger which had got into the hen-house through the nesting-box and was busy trying to dig its way out through the wooden floor.

There have been a lot of hen casualties here lately, and Colonel Simpkins says he was almost as excited as he would have been if he had found Hitler in the hen-house.

On a tour of a neighboring garden:

Charles and I wandered round in a depressed way, wondering how we could ever have dared to call the jungle which surrounds our house a garden.

And another letter begins,

My Dear Robert,
I have got a croaking sort of cold and am having a day in bed.
This, as you know, is a tremendous treat.

Though she writes of domestic life, that life has changed much because of the war, and Henrietta doesn't falter when it comes to mentioning rationing, evacuees, sirens, and blackouts. Yet, even these circumstances are described with some humor, and that wonderful British coping attitude. She tells Robert about her doctor husband Charles:

But Charles is one of those people who like what is called good, simple English fare, which means two nice lamb cutlets, followed by kidneys on toast, and in case the news has not reached you on your far-flung battle-line, Robert, I may as well tell you that kidneys, though not actually rationed, are more precious than rubies these days. Though he is far too noble to grumble, he does look a little wistfully at the unlikely-looking dishes which are put before him.
'What's this, Henrietta?'
'Well, dear, it's a tiny teeny little bit of mutton mixed up with some spaghetti and tomatoes.'
'I see.'

I was lucky to be one of several winners of Henrietta's War in Elaine's drawing. These are her words:

Bloomsbury are considering reprinting the second book, Henrietta Sees it Through and this would be simply marvellous, but they are a publisher not a philanthropic society and much though they might wish to do this, it all depends on the reception/sales of Henrietta's War. Therefore, I now declare I am A Woman on a Mission to make sure that this gorgeous book reaches a wider audience and that sales increase. Anything this blogger can do she will....

She warned us that if our names were drawn:

There are conditions attached to this, however and they are as follows:

if you win you must read immediately and fall in love with on the spot [I did!]
if you have a blog you must write review and rave straight away [a little late, but here it is]
if you do not have a blog please email all your friends, family, neighbours et al and tell them how wonderful it is
if you are in the habit of reviewing for Amazon then please do so [I'm not in this habit]
If you are not, then start immediately with Henrietta's War [have to say no to this one]
Write to the Bloomsbury Group and tell them how wonderful this book is and please reprint the second
[I fully intend to]
And if you don't want to do any of the above, then there is no hope for you at all..
Yes I know, I am going over the top but this is just a super duper book, witty, beguiling, funny and full of razor sharp wit and pathos and I want everyone to love it as much as me so you will just have to put up with my bullying.

And here is Elaine's review. Because she included some of the delightful illustrations, I'll let you go over there and see them, rather than post them here.

I love this book. It has quickly joined the list of my all-time favorite books. I shall read it again and again as time goes by. Oh, it is wonderful.


  1. This sounds delightful! I can't remember if I have it on the list already or not, but if I haven't it's going on there now. What a charming review.

  2. Sometimes I find myself aching for that particular brand of humor you describe. As a rule, at this stage in my life, I rarely re-read books -- except I make an exception for Raffaella Barker's books, which seem to me to be another example of the "voice" you describe. Sometimes I need a spot of her crisp and bracing take on it all. I am so happy to know about Henrietta. I was just saying to Birch, "I'm aching for a hit of British domesticity." So be it!

    As always, thank you, Nan!

  3. I really enjoyed the quotes from the story that you shared with us. I love epistolary novels and this one sounds like one I would totally enjoy! I will try hard to get my hands on a copy for sure!!

  4. On my blog I posted a photo that I think you'll appreciate. I'm fairly certain you'll work out which one it is.

  5. I did my bit by purchasing, and loving, this book. Here's hoping they publish the next title! English humour is my favourite kind, I adore a quietly funny book full of wit and charm.

  6. Thanks for this, Nan. It sounds like my kind of book. I think you will love the one I've just written about over on RD. More of the same and exquisite.

  7. Thanks Nan it's on my list now!

    Have you read "With Malice towards some by Margaret Halsey"

    Published in 1938 It's an amusing book that somehow goes with Diary of a Provincial lady

  8. I've been gathering a list of books about WW 2 and that era. This sounds like just the thing. I like the quotes you used. It tells me I'm going to like her writing too.

  9. You've just convinced me to buy a copy!

  10. Thank you, Kiirstin. It is so wonderful.

    June, I should have included Raffaela - I love Hens Dancing and Summertime so much. Henrietta is just the ticket for what you want right now! Amazing.

    Staci, I think you'll love it.

    Margaret, I'll be over to take a look. You've got me very curious!

    Darlene, I feel exactly the same way.

    Maureen, this is absolutely your kind of book! And just this morning I read your blog. I can't wait to read it.

    Val, I went and looked it up, and I definitely want to read it. Thank you so much for the suggestion. I just bought it from a used bookstore via amazon.

    Margot, that's what I try to do when I choose quotes - to give a sense of the writing and the subject matter. I think you will like this.

    JoAnn, hooray!!

  11. Your selection of excerpts, along with your enthusiastic endorsement, sent me straight to Amazon.

    I bought a used copy as the new edition is not available in the U.S. until next spring.

    Glad you won the prize. Your win is our win.

    By the way, I'm really enjoying your blog -- it reminds me of one of May Sarton's journals.


  12. Hello Dear Nan!

    This book sounds wonderful! I love all your book reviews.:o) Sure hope you enjoyed a most lovely day and ready for a wonderful weekend.

    I am having a giveaway over at my place and would love for you to be apart. If time permits drop by. The giveaway ends Sunday, November 1, 11 p.m. PST. Enjoy a lovely weekend.



  13. I can't think of a better person to win it :)

  14. Janell, that is just great! I wonder if you know about a bookstore called The Book Depository -

    You may buy books from England with no shipping charges. And though you've already bought it, H's W is here:

    Thank you so much for your kind words - May Sarton, wow!! I love her. If you haven't read it already, you will enjoy Thomas' entry on her:

    Beverly, thank you!!

    Susan, I hope you can read it sometime - it is pure pleasure.

  15. I love Diary of a Provincial Lady, and will add this to my list. It sounds delightful.

  16. Nan,

    Thanks for the link on the UK bookseller -- and for the link to Thomas' post on May Sarton.

    I enjoyed it very much.


  17. Needless to say it's another one added to my 'To be read' list. Have you ever read Mrs Milburn's Diaries by Clara Emily Milburn? It is a non-fiction diary from a rural housewife in the English Midlands in WWII. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it really summed up so much of what the War meant in England.

  18. Have you read the poems of Pam Ayers? She is an English poet and SO funny!!! If I may, I recommend "Yes, I'll marry you" and "Goodwill to men"
    Laughter guaranteed! It's wonderful to discover authors along with you and I hope that I introduce Pam Ayers to you too!

  19. Common weeder, I am quite sure you will like it.

    You're welcome, Janell. This is what I love best about blogging - all the common interests and connections.

    Thank you Scriptor S. - I am going to order a used copy. It sounds great.

    K, how very nice to hear from you. I've wondered about you. I have never heard of Pam Ayres, but looked her up, and will be buying her work! Thank you so much.

  20. I'm so glad you liked Henrietta, Nan! And fingers crossed that Bloomsbury will bring out the second volume.

  21. Nan - so glad you enjoyed your win. This title was one of the most subscribed prize draws I have ever had. I purchased the second book as well, tracked down a second hand copy and it is just as delightful as the first.

    If you have not already read it, may I suggest The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer? Another epistolary novel, this time set in the Channel Islands during the German occupation. Witty, amusing again with the indomitable spirit and bravery that shows through in Henrietta. If you liked Henrietta I am sure you and everyone who has read and loved it, will also enjoy this title.

    Thanks for your lovely review and, as always, I love visiting your blog!

  22. Thank you, Elaine! I did read the 'Guernsey' book, and my book report is here:

  23. It arrived today a nice slim parcel...I love it when a good book arrives in the mail ... bliss

    Now I just have to wait for the children to be in bed, find a nice corner of the sofa by the stove grab a cup of tea and I can open the covers...lovely

  24. What a lovely scene you set, Val. I love it.


I'll answer your comments as soon as I possibly can. Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.