Bookmooch is a project I’m nearly daily grateful of. Even as French postal fees are increasing a lot (grumble grumble), I can’t consider stopping it altogether. Just as blogs, Bookmooch is a unique window on the world. A very open and generous one. My books cross the seas and find a new owner who will appreciate them more than I. How else would I gotten books that I’d never have gotten my hands on – and for free! Completely by chance I found a British “moocher” who has a huge load of very old books. That’s how I “met” Alice Duer Miller.
She is now mostly forgotten, but she wrote stories and plays and got famous for 2 novels in verse, Forsaking All Others (which I have received as well) and this one, The White Cliffs. It was published in 1940 and was amazingly popular, selling a million copies. It supported the entry of the US into the war at a time where UK was the last European country resisting the Nazis. Surprisingly, the tone of the poem is not martial and ideological, but full of sadness and nostalgia. The White Cliffs is a sentimental story of an American woman marrying a British (impoverished) aristocrat at the eve of WWI and sticking with her adopted country later on, even though her husband dies at war. It’s also about culture shock between class-dominated England and a United States that still harboured distrust and bitterness against the old empire.
I’m entirely new to that form of the novel in verse. It was surprisingly easy to read. The most famous verse is the last one: “But in a world where England is finished and dead, I do not wish to live.”, yet I’d rather give you one “chapter” about befriending her mother-in-law:
Strange to look back to the days
So long ago
When a friend was almost a foe,
When you hurried to find a phrase
For your easy light dispraise
Of a spirit you did not know,
A nature you could not plumb
In the moment of meeting,
Not guessing a day would come
When your heart would ache to hear
Other men’s tongues repeating
Those same light phrases that jest and jeer
At a friend now grown so dear— so dear.
Strange to remember long ago
When a friend was almost a foe.
I’ve looked for reference texts about Alice Duer Miller, but they are surprisingly few. An interesting article by Rebecca Stelzer explains the success of her piece by the culture of radio in the US and UK of the 1930s-1940s. I love owning an old book from 1940, but if you’re interested, the text is available online too.