Apr. 22nd, 2017

osprey_archer: (books)
E. M. Delafield's The Spirit of the Age and Other Stories from the Home Front filled me with mixed emotions. On the hand, I liked it so much I wanted to gobble it all up; but on the other hand, the short stories inside are just so perfectly the right size for my ten-minute breaks at work, I really wanted to save them just for that purpose.

I held out for as long as I could, but in the end I did gobble up the last quarter of the book in one sitting. It's a series of interconnected short stories about an English country village during World War II - published during the war, not after, which gives it a somewhat different feel from historical fiction somehow. The war is all-pervasive, and yet at the same time there's less emphasis on the specific events than historical fiction often has, somehow? No one mentions battles by name, but there's quite a lot of talk about how to create decent black-out curtains using your grandmother's old bombazine.

Delafield has that eye for the foibles of human nature which I often find in mid-twentieth century British authors (D. E. Stevenson, who also wrote about village life, has it too) - the way that people who are thrown together by proximity and don't necessarily have much of anything in common rub along together, and even become in an odd way fond of one another's annoying quirks.

I think my favorite, in this book - favorite in the sense of "the most amusing literary creation," not in the sense that I would ever want to spend time with her - is Miss Littlemug, a spinster neighbor whose conception of herself is almost ludicrously at odds with her actual behavior. When a visitor offers sympathy, for instance, Miss Littlemug replies:

"Dear, I must ask you not to say that. You mean it kindly, I know, but it's altogether misleading and sounds quite as though I were complaining - a thing I should never do, I hope, at any time. (As a mere child, I always preferred torture - actual physical torture at the stake - to making any complaint. I was like that.)"

Then of course she proceeds with a litany of complaints.

I have learned that it is wise to take the things people tell you about themselves with a grain of salt, especially when they are complimentary (for some reason this is especially true if the compliment is something like "I'm a good listener"), and it's great fun to see this kind of contradiction between self-understanding and actual deeds in a book.

And it's not at all mean-spirited; exasperating as the others may find Miss Littlemug, they beg her to remain on committees every time she tries to quit in a huff - never mind she seems to be useless as well as irritating. She's become part of the village and they're going to include her, even if doing so does occasionally call for some eye-rolling afterward. Actual physical torture at the stake, good grief.

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