Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther

288 pages
Published in the US in 1940, reprinted 1942
by Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York

I've been giving World War II a lot of thought this week. Sunday marked the 65 anniversary of D-Day and the ally invasion of Normandy. At the same time I was reading Mrs Tim Carries On by D. E. Stevenson, a war-time diary type novel about the wife of an officer in a Scottish Regiment (review forthcoming). This reminded me that I had yet to post my review of another British-war-time story, Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther.

Years ago I watched the film adaptation of Mrs. Miniver starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. I remember liking the story (who doesn't enjoy a Greer garson film?), albeit finding it rather bitter-sweet. So when I stumbled upon the book in a box of used books at a random charity sale I had to buy and read the book. What a surprise to find the book is nearly nothing like the movie!

The book, first published in the UK in 1939 has nothing to do with World War II, in fact the war doesn't even become a reality until the very last chapter of the book! Meanwhile the movie, released in 1942 was very much a "Pro-British" war morale booster. Together the two are nothing alike, but separate they are each their own interesting tale.

Mrs. Miniver, the novel, first published in the UK in 1939 addresses the the day-to-day happenings of a British woman during the late 1930s and pre-war England. It is interesting to note that in actuality, Mrs. Miniver is based on Jan Struther's own life -- Jan Struther is Mrs. Miniver. Although there is a shadow of danger looming just out of reach of the reader, the story is so good at address the "every day domesticities, the comings and goings of family life and finds them good. Mrs. Miniver at tea, Mrs. Miniver trying to discover what the windshield wiper is really saying, Mrs. Miniver and her three unpredictable children and her altogether predictable husband, Mrs. Miniver and the woman who said she could only accept 'Really Nice Children' as evacuees -- the writing and the characters are disarmingly simple and recognizable, and yet, by the author's gift of intense observation, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, and suddenly important." (Quotes courtesy of the publisher)

As I mentioned, the movie adaptation is nothing like the novel. In the movie most of the Miniver family has the same name, but otherwise there is little to connect the two versions of the story. Mrs. Miniver has two children (instead of the three in the book) and they are separated by several years, with the oldest attending university. Because of this age difference the movie version also adds in a sweetheart and a tragic German plane attack scene that always made me cry. There's also no bashful Mr. Ballard and no Miniver Rose. As I mentioned above, it's a drastic difference that the movie is about life during World War II in England and in the novel the war doesn't begin until the last chapter of the book. Still, the "keep on fighting the fight to put a stop to the spread of evil" message that Hollywood pressed through this film adaptation is a good message and the movie is a worthwhile viewing, but it is missing some of the charm and wit that I found within the pages of the novel.

And the novel is indeed charming. It's a quick read and a little reminiscent of Mrs. Tim Christie by D. E. Stevenson (reviewed 3/2010). I enjoyed Struther's writing style. She had a gentle wit and her descriptions and dialogue kept the story plot moving.

Although the movie was good (it won Best Picture in 1942) I have decided I like the book a little better. Oh, and as a word of warning. There was a film sequel, but it is a very sad story and in my opinion not worth the time once you've read this book. For those looking for a gentle read from an era long past be sure to check out Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther.


Carrie said...

It's been so long since I've read this book that it was helpful to read your review as a refresher. I love both the book and the movie. I did NOT realize that there was a film sequel. Hmm...

Sarah M. said...

Yes, it's called The Miniver Story. It's a little more melodramatic and dysfunctional IMO. The ending is very sad because someone dies. I guess if you keep it seperate of the book and think of it as a continuing story to the movie it's not so bad? I don't know. I just remember not liking it as well as the first movie.

Sherry said...

That sounds so good, as does the D.E. Stevenson you mention. I've seen the movie, and enjoyed it, but it sounds as if I can get a new story by reading the book. Two for the price of one.

hopeinbrazil said...

Yes, Greer Garson is a joy to watch. You have really intrigued me with this book review!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I love the movie, so I definitely should read the book!