Reading through Burn-out: A Retreat into World War II Women’s Fiction

Blogger burn-out is a strange concept. Writing a blog is a voluntary activity, done for the love of writing, or perhaps for self-promotion or sales. It can be an escape from the real world, which is a fairly horrible place at the moment. Blogging is usually a personal choice.

And yet I suffer from blogger burn-out, intensified by the serious burn-out known as Covid fatigue.

Because of my two major burn-outs, I have retreated abruptly into English women’s fiction. It takes me far away from my own troubles, though I am a bit surprised to find myself suddenly in the late 1930’s and ‘early 40’s. Everything I read is set in England during World War II.

Over Thanksgiving, always a good time for light reading, I became absorbed in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Cazelet Chronicles. Then I picked up a copy of Angela Thirkell’s 1942 novel Marling Hall (one of her Barsetshire novels) to complement the reading of Howard. The genres and styles are very different, but they treat many of the same issues. There are, however, so many characters to keep straight. Fortunately The Cazelet Chronicles has a family tree in the front of the book, but I would love one for the Thirkell, too.

I certainly wish I had this copy!

Mary consider Howard’s Chronicles a literary masterpiece, though I view these books mainly as an engrossing, beautifully-written family saga. Thirkell’s light, comical novels are unique, perhaps best compared with E. F. Benson’s, though her characters are, in my opinion, more fully developed. But tell me, Thirkell fans, about David Leslie, who I suspect will marry Lettice by the end of Marling Hall. Was he in love with Mrs. Brandon in The Brandons? Or was that someone else? It has been a while since I’ve read Thirkell!

Then I decided to watch the movie Mrs. Miniver. Such a great World War II movie, on the domestic front! There was much crying her over the death of one of the characters. But now I have mixed up some of the events in Mrs. Miniver (the movie, not the book) with the Cazelets and Marlings! So do you suppose I will read Mrs. Miniver next?

My coy seems to have been marketed to romance readers! The cover has nothing to do with the content.

My husband looks askance at these charming women’s books, and assumes they are trash because of the covers. I assure him that COVERS LIE (especially the Thirkell). It isn’t even the right period!

Alas, he will never read them. I did get him to read a Thirkell once, and he disliked it. I doubt he will read the Cazelets. So it goes: men and women are different.

My copy of this Cazelet cover is also marketed to women readers

6 thoughts on “Reading through Burn-out: A Retreat into World War II Women’s Fiction”

  1. British women’s fiction of WW2 and just before and after is not necessarily light reading. Diana Wallace’s study of this literature shows that: you are forgetting May Sinclair, Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby, Rosamond Lehmann, Rebecca West, Storm Jamieson. And Elizabeth Jane Howard is better than light reading, especially the two books you show. They also have dark gothics (DuMaurier, Compton-Burnett, Iris Murdoch). Ellen

    1. Oh, I do know how varied it is, and I have read the authors you mention. But Thirkell is Wodehouse-ish, a very different kind of writer. I agree that Howard writes so beautifully it is hard to pigeonhole her.

  2. I’m a long time fan of Thirkell’s, but I do admit that there are a lot of characters. To set you straight, there’s a book, still available on Amazon, called Angela Thirkell’s World. I came to Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Cazelet Chronicles late, but I love them, too. My comfort reads are mid-20th century British domestic novels. We all need somewhere to go when we have to get out of our world for a while.

    1. A Thirkell guide! Perfect. I do need it.
      And I agree, 20th-century British domestic fiction is the way to go. I love Howard for that reason! So many great British women writers. Is it the air or the water? šŸ™‚

  3. There are some men who enjoy these stories though! I’ve let my Thirkell reading lapse for a time, but maybe I’ll return to her later on. I’ve just finished a very enjoyable literary biography, of Winifred Holtby by Marion Shaw. It’s also made me want to not only revisit and read more Holtby, but her friend Vera Brittain too. I was thinking of rereading South Riding in 2021 and that’s sounding more likely now! Have you enjoyed this pair too?

    1. I am a great fan of Brittain and Holtby, especially Brittain, so I couldn’t approve more of your choices. Happy Weekend Reading!

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