Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Jan Struther: Mrs Miniver (329), Try anything twice (361)

Many of you will be familiar with Mrs Miniver as being synonmous with the world of the middle-class house wife during the Second World War, immortalised in the classic film starring Greer Garson (definitely one to watch if you haven't seen it). I read the book as part of my degree when I took an option studying the home front of the second world war through contemporary texts; Mrs Miniver wasn't one of the texts but I spent a lot of time sitting in coffee shops that term reading other relevant material. Of course the film is a heavily fictionalised version of the book which is actually a series of articles which were written for The Times in 1939 and then published in book form. The articles therefore deal with the very early part of the war, and show how England was threatened and how many people feared that life as they knew it and the wonderful countryside would be completely lost. There is not so much plot in the book as in the film, but I think it is a wonderful evocation of the period.

Anyway, I decided to write about Jan Struther this week because I just acquired her other book, Try anything twice, which is also a VMC. Having been interested by Mrs Miniver, I wanted to see what this was about. This is a further collection of essays, written for Punch, The Spectator and The New Statesmen, giving more reflections on life from the perspective of an upper-middle class woman. I have enjoyed dipping in and out of this book since it arrived. Topics covered include gardens, sand-dunes, the collection of weather, ornaments... One of my favourite essays was about the Winter Seaside where Struther describes her acquisition of a seaside getaway and realisation that spending time by the sea in winter months is just as good as during the summer. The title essay describes the maxim by which Struther strives to live by, although she concludes (and you'll have to read the essay to find out why!) that perhaps it should be modified to "try anything twice...but consider the digestion" *

I can also recommend the book "The real Mrs Miniver" by Ysenda Graham, which is a life of Jan Struther. It revealed a plethora of fascinating information; for example she had a considerable talent for writing hymns such as Lord of all hopefulness, which I'm sure many of you sang at school!

Three covers for Mrs Miniver below - I don't own a copy and am definitely on the lookout for the original VMC to complement my copy of Try anything twice.

And just the one for Try anything twice:

* you can read it, and the other essays online here, but I would urge you to look out for your own VMC copy.


  1. I'm pretty sure that this was my first non-Angela Carter Virago, and it's definitely one of my favourites. The film is hardly anything like the book, but I love both for what they are.

  2. I have this but, quelle surprise, haven't read it yet!

    Personally I think this may win the prize for ugliest Virago cover ever. It is frightening! But so 1980s.

  3. I like the fact that the two covers are quite similar; I am also surprised that Virago chose to reuse the image from the original Mrs Miniver when they brought it out again; I haven't noticed that before.

  4. Yes, I'm also surprised that they chose a picture from the film for the new edition when Valerie Grove's introduction makes it quite clear that the 'real' Mrs Miniver was most definitely not Greer Garson. Perhaps they thought that having a familiar image on the cover would make people more likely to pick it up and find out more about the original story behind the film?