Mollie Panter-Downes, Good Evening Mrs. Craven (rev. ed. 2008)

What a delight this collection of WW2 short stories was! The preface by Gregory Lestage in this (otherwise very beautifully designed) Persephone Classics edition was very helpful for my comprehension, but I don’t want to end up paraphrasing it.

It’s not the front lines you get to see, it’s the subdued, anxious, rationed population back home. Soldiers, bombs, dead people are nowhere to be seen, but young wives unsure whether they should rejoice that the dreaded separation has been postponed for a few more weeks, old aristocrats lingering in decaying manors without any maid left, slightly patronizing women sharing their large houses with London refugees not nearly as well-mannered and grateful as they hoped, food-obsessed schoolteachers, evenings spent together with neighbors sewing for foreign soldiers… The most moving story probably is the title one, where we soon realize that Mrs. Craven actually is Mr. Craven’s mistress, who worries and pines for him in silence.

These stories are typically British to me, especially the stiff upper lip and the class conscience. A 21C British reader would maybe find them a little cliché, but that’s probably because they were intended for publication in The New Yorker during WW2, as atmosphere vignettes for Americans, and participating to the growing awareness by Americans of European hardships and the need for them to enter the war. Danielle wrote a review of the collection too, but somehow I can’t find her post about it… I’m grateful to her for introducing me to this book and to the Persephone Books company (they are located in Bloomsbury, near the British museum and seem just about as stylish as Mollie Panter-Downes’ heroins… oh I wish I could go to London again soon!).

11 thoughts on “Mollie Panter-Downes, Good Evening Mrs. Craven (rev. ed. 2008)

  1. I was hoping you would write about this book first. I am bad–I have probably only mentioned the book, but I have not yet read it. I read her novels One Fine Day and The Shoreless Sea, last year. I loved One Fine Day and would highly recommend it–it is set after the war. The Shoreless Sea was good, though it was her first novel and much more on the sentimental side—not showing the same sophistication as One Fine Day. I plan on reading this collection of stories next if I can just finish reading the Alice Munro I have started. Panter-Downes also wrote a lot of essays for the New Yorker as well, which you probably already know about! 🙂 And isn’t it a lovely book…..

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