A Year of my Life
The first edition of Year of my Life is dated 1939. It would have benefitted from thorough proof-reading but that is excusable in that particular year. Street takes the reader through a complete year of his life as a farmer in south Wiltshire. There are four sections corresponding with the seasons. He begins with Autumn, describing the busy month of September, both the beginning and the end of the farming year. Writing at a time of change, when tractors were establishing themselves and were taking over from horse-drawn machinery, he seems to bemoan the place that agriculture has in the hearts of town people and governments. However, also writing with the threat of war, he applauds measures being taken to avoid Britain starving. Both the text and the full-page monochrome photographs are history in the making. His thoughts about the changing countryside are interspersed with anecdotes from local folk, some written in dialect. He argues on both sides for the changes in methods but comes down firmly in favour of country ‘pursuits’.
Street concludes that the land itself is our greatest asset and as such must be respected.
Les Silences du Colonel Bramble
I found this book at a book dealer’s in Malvern not a hundred yards from where I lived. It is a 1918 copy in French. This presented me with a challenge!
The Silence of Colonel Bramble is about a group of officers, who discuss subjects in their mess, in the midst of the Great War. The Scottish Colonel, English Major, Anglican padre, Irish doctor and French interpreter talk about social etiquette, fishing and other topics whilst playing records and drinking port. The war seems of little importance until a shell kills the padre and the interpreter receives shrapnel wounds. Drawing on his own experience as an interpreter and officer to the British army in the battlefields around Ypres, Maurois shows his deep understanding of conditions on the Western Front not only on the battlefields but in the rural villages where soldiers lived among the local people.
The book ends by quoting the people of Crecy who have forgotten their fourteenth century battle and, at the time when war graves have no markers, the hope that the current war will never be forgotten. In June 1940 Maurois was sent to London and this is how he came to receive a request from the Queen to write and rehearse with her the speech that she gave to the women of France. Jim mentions this in her diary on June 14th, 1940. This was three days before the fall of France. This event frightened Jim into cancelling her passage to America scheduled for June 25. As we know, she changed her mind and sailed on June 29.
In Night Flight, the author describes the start of night flying in South America. He then left Argentina, returned to France and published the book in Paris in 1931. It opens with his thoughts about how man learns by experience rather than through reading. St Exupery’s books went a long way to restoring respect for France in America so in some way contributed to their involvement in the war. In mentioning Maurois, Hugh was speaking of someone who wrote an appreciation of St Exupery, describing an apolitical man of action, someone whose books became increasingly autobiographical.
All Passion Spent
Also published in 1931, the title of All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West is another quotation from Milton. In it she echoes her friend Virginia Woolf’s autobiographical A Room with a View. The novel begins with the death of Lady Slane’s husband in whose shadow she has spent her long married life. Her children have plans for her widowhood but Lady Slane has other ideas and proceeds to move house and indulge herself in the dreams of her youth – her unfulfilled ambitions as well as memories of the early years of her marriage. We learn about what she thought were the really important things in life rather than what society expected of her. The book ends with the death of Lady Slane and the unexpected contents of her will.