Tag Archives: Mrs. Miniver

Books Read in October, 2009

Timeless Treasures Previous Review Timeless Treasures by Emilie Barnes

Dancing with Rose Dancing with Rose by Lauren Kessler

After her mother died of Alzheimer’s, Lauren Kessler took her guilt (years of ignoring her mother) and her journalism and went to work in an Alzheimer’s facility as an aide. Her goal was to learn more about the disease and get first hand experience with patients, then write about it. The resulting book is fascinating and easily readable, but troubling. Troubling not simply because it’s a tough subject and was a very tough job (she has my admiration for being willing to tackle the unpleasant physical labor).

Whether intentionally or not, she comes across as a voice of authority on approach to the disease, family vs. caregivers and the personality changes. Kessler stops just short of saying that who these people have become is really who they always were. She seems to catch before herself saying that these are people in their purest form, without all the restrictions that we put on ourselves to live in society. To me this is a ridiculous, silly and empty-headed view of Alzheimer’s. It is obviously a left-over philosophy from her hippie days. In fact, she says that she and her husband joke about nursing homes of the future: hash brownies and Black Sabbath music.

Which brings me to my biggest complaint about this book: the hidden buddhism. She doesn’t openly name her philosophy until nearly the end of the book, which I consider a cheat. Early in the book, and even without knowing her religion, I saw a pattern developing that bothered me. A more honest approach would’ve been to state it up front.

This was the second book on Alzheimer’s that I checked out from the Grapevine Library that took a buddhist approach to the disease and caregiving. The first book I didn’t even bother to read. If she had been more forthcoming , I wouldn’t have wasted my time on this one, either.

Because the other reason I resent her and her book, is that I wrongly took to heart something she said about a family member who was calling on the phone to talk to their parent. She wrote that she believed that they did it more for themselves than for the patient and that the patient would’ve been better off if they hadn’t called. I don’t know if she meant this as a general rule for everyone, but I took it to heart. We live in another state and can only get up to see my mother about every 3 weeks, so I call her on the phone in between times. With only one exception, she seems to enjoy the calls. But there was once when she was agitated and I thought maybe Kessler was right and I shouldn’t call; that it was making Mama unhappier. So, for several days I didn’t. Then I decided to call and talk to the nursing staff and get their opinion because they deal with her afterwards. I asked if she seemed worse after the phone conversations, more unsettled. Each one of them said that she enjoyed them and they considered that it was better for my mother if I did call. Then I felt like a lousy daughter for having taken Kessler’s advice. I don’t even know if she meant it generally, but that’s how I took it. She sure seems to think she’s one of the experts after her experiences.

Mrs. Miniver, Amazon listing Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther Previous review of book and movie. Related post.

A spoonful of poison

A Spoonful of Poison

A Spoonful of Poison, by M.C. Beaton

Published in 2008, this is the 19th Agatha Raisin mystery by M.C. Beaton. Publisher’s Weekly referred to it as ‘saucy’, which I found perplexing. Surely I’m not more liberal than Publisher’s Weekly! Obviously that’s not so, therefore I really don’t know what they meant. There’s no hard language, descriptive sex or gruesome details.

Cozy mysteries are my favorites and I certainly think that M.C. Beaton is probably the best at this genre, after Agatha Christie. Of course, Christie was the best by far, but both the Agatha Raisin and the Hamish MacBeth stories and light, diverting and easy reads. One of the things I appreciate most about her books is the unexpected humor.

Sooner Cinema, Amazon listing Sooner Cinema – Oklahoma Goes to the Movies, Edited by Larry A. Van Meter

Being a native Oklahoman and a movie buff, I was very interested in reading this book. Van Meter is the editor, rather than the author, because the book is a compilation of 19 chapters by different writers, each focusing on either a film which was set in Oklahoma, or someone who was a native (i.e. Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory).

To be expected some of the chapters are better than others, but one that I found absolutely outrageous was the one by David Charlson called “Oklahoma Values in One Hour or Less: Gary Rhodes’ Banned in Oklahoma and Bradley Beesley’s Okie Noodling” .

Charlson is an instructor in English and Documentary Film at Oklahoma City Community College, which is really a shame. He is not a native and has nothing but disdain for the conservative atmosphere in the state. He is appalled that John McCain carried every single county in Oklahoma in the 2008 election (the only state in which this was true). He punishes conservative students who won’t watch one of his assigned films by giving them another choice: gruesomeness instead of child pornography.

Other chapters are about Cimmarron, True Grit, Silkwood,The Outsiders, Far and Away, Oklahoma Crude and The Grapes of Wrath, among others. The rest of the book is interesting, but Charlson’s chapter is so snide and irksome, it was a waste of time and money.

Handmade Home Handmade Home – Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures by Amanda Blake Soule

Speaking of a waste of money brings me to Amanda Soule’s book. I bought this one while traveling home from Oklahoma and we stopped at a book store to stretch our legs. I should’ve known better than to stretch them in a book store because books are my biggest weakness. I usually buy used ones. Rarely do I pay full price and I have kicked myself repeatedly for doing it this time.

It is craft book, a sewing book, which is what I wanted. What I did not want was a new age/green/hippie book. But that’s what I got.

In the store, I briefly looked at the introduction (she talks about the family history of practicality, which I appreciate) and some of the projects like pot holders, wall pockets, and computer mouse pads. What I didn’t see until I got home was the publisher’s leaflet advertising their zen/new age books on family. Had I seen this, it would’ve been the Red Warning Flag: Carla, you will hate this book. And I do. I don’t even like the smell of it. They probably used strange ink.

Sewing books should be just that. I’m not interested in her personal beliefs. I don’t believe that I should have to carefully look through a SEWING book to see if I’m going to be offended. As I was for the “Women’s Cloth”. Gross. Just plain gross. Besides which Soule doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She wrongly opines “Disposable menstrual pads have become the norm only in the past 30 years or so …” (emphasis mine). I am almost 50 years old and disposables have been the norm and around a lot longer than me. How do I know? Because one of the things I collect is old magazines. Frankly I was surprised that these products and some of the ones I considered more modern were available as far back as they were.

So, there were happy experiences with books in October, and some which set my teeth on edge. And I didn’t even list the ones I started and gave up on.

My November reading is off to a good start. Kind of gets some of the bad taste out of my mouth.

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Filed under 1940s, Alzheimer's, Books, Cozy, Faith, Fiction, Movies, Needlecrafts, Oklahoma, Tea

Cozy Reading

100_8353Brenda over at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me is asking her blog readers to submit their favorite books and movies that are in the Cozy category. She defines them as ones that make her feel all warm and cozy in the winter weather. Partly because we live in the south, my definition would be a little different – books and movies that me feel contented. There’s more to it than that, but when I start trying to nail it down, it gets elusive.

For instance, Agatha Christie mysteries are considered cozies, but they almost always involve murder. No gory details or horrible unpleasantness – but murder, none the less. I struggle with my affection for her books. Surely a Christian shouldn’t be so fascinated with sin. If I’m wanting to rationalize, I could say that it’s actually the intricacies of logic and justice that intrigue me.

Cozy books of all types make up a good deal of my reading. I also read a lot of challenging non-fiction: political, Alzheimer’s tales, biographies, but I find that after a few of these books, I need to read something that calms me down a bit. Because, even though I believe those topics to be necessary and important to my life, they can be a bit stressful.

Anyway, here’s some of my list. It isn’t complete because I’m sure that I’ll remember an omitted favorite this afternoon.

I’ve used Brenda’s format, to help me compare my list to hers.

AUTHORS
M.C. Beaton -mostly mysteries: Edwardian, Scotland, Cotswolds
Elizabeth Caddell – light mid-20th century novels of England
Agatha Christie – mysteries
Emily Kimbrough – reminiscences of very early and mid-20th century
L.M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables series
Miss Read – very light and pleasant novels of an English village school
D.E. Stevenson – light English romances
Gladys Taber – journal-like books about living in New England
Laura Ingalls Wilder – Little House books

FICTION
+Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
*Absolutely any of the Miss Read books
*Mrs. Miniver, Jan Struther (disclaimer: there is a chapter on fortune telling which I skipped. I don’t think witchcraft/occult is harmless fun.)
*The Gown of Glory, Agnes Sligh Turnbull (one of the reader reviews on Amazon compared it to Our Town.)
*The Nightingale, Agnes Sligh Turnbull (same town as The Gown of Glory, different people)
*Half Crown House, Helen Ashton (post WWII England)
*Owl’s Castle Farm, Primrose Cumming (mid-WWII English farm life)
*Now That April’s There, Daisy Neumann (English children returning home from America 1945)
SERIES
*Fairacre series by Miss Read
*Thrush Green series by Miss Read
*Some of the Mitford books by Jan Karon
*Reminisce Magazine books – collections of short personal stories from very early to mid-20th century

NON-FICTION – HOME ARTS
*A Thousand Ways to Please Your Husband with Bettina’s Best Recipes, Louise Bennett Weaver & Helen Cowles LeCron (either 1917 or 1932 edition)
*The Little House Cookbook, Barbara M. Walker
*If Teacups Could Talk, Emilie Barnes
*The Charms of Tea, by Victoria Magazine
*Beautiful Home on a Budget, Emilie Barnes & Yoli Brogger
*Timeless Treasures, Emilie Barnes
*Sew Pretty Homestyle, Tone Finnanger
*Crafting Vintage Style, Christina Strutt
*Creating Vintage Style, Lucinda Ganderton

BIOGRAPHIES & AUTOBIOGRAPHIES
*Farewell, Horton Foote
*In My Father’s House: the Years Before the Hiding Place, Corie ten Boom
*Agatha Christie: an Autobiography, Agatha Christie
*A Fortunate Grandchild, Miss Read
*Time Remembered, Miss Read

FASHION

*20th Century Fashion, John Peacock
*Fashion Accessories, John Peacock
*The Costume Collector’s Companion 1890-1990, Rosemary Hawthorne Air

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Filed under Books, Cooking, Cozy, Faith, Fiction, History, Tea

Mrs. Miniver Era Hats

Henry Travers, Greer Garson

Henry Travers, Greer Garson

In the opening scenes of the movie, Mrs. Miniver is about to board a London bus. She hesitates, ponders, then boards.  But she can’t get something out of her mind. She asks the conductor to stop the bus, and rushes into a shop and claims the prize for her own. It’s a hat. The corresponding scene in the book concerns an engagement book. Jan Struther describes it charmingly, but a date book just doesn’t carry the same weight as a new hat. The one she’s already wearing is beautiful, in fact the prettiest hat among those on the crowded streets. Clearly, this is a woman of taste and style.

Vogue Magazine, July 1944

Vogue Magazine, July 1944

Hats were an important part of any woman’s wardrobe.  They finished the look and were an expression of her personality. Sophisticated, wholesome, alluring, sensible, old fashioned or modern.  Along with the shoes, gloves and jewelry, they polished the appearance.

Although I love hats, most of the ones from the 1940s look silly to me.  There’s a blog review of Mrs. Miniver, in which I agree with the writer about everything, except her hats. She thought Garson’s hats were silly. I think they were fairly stunning.

Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday

Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday

For an example of a really silly hat, how about the one Rosalind Russell wore in His Girl Friday?

So, it’s all a matter of personal preferences, which was one of the creative aspects of dress. As women, we still present ourselves to the world, but much differently. I love pretty clothes, but I dress very casually. It’s seriously doubtful that the Apostle Paul was talking about clothing when he said “…for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” Romans 7:15. He was writing about spiritual matters. I’m just using it to illustrate how we humans are inconsistent.

Vogue Feb 15, 1940
On the occasions when I dress up, I feel dressed up. My behavior changes, becomes more ladylike. My mother used to say that with the advent of casual clothing, came casual behavior. She did not mean this in a good way, and I agree with her. Our society has not improved in most ways. Thinking that most things don’t really matter has resulted in the loss of the many of the really important things in modern American life. This, I see is a result of the very casual 1960s.

Back to early 1940’s hats. Here are a few more:

February 1940 Home Arts

February 1940 Home Arts

February 1940 Home Arts

February 1940 Home Arts

Vogue Magazine, January 1945

Vogue Magazine, January 1945

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Filed under 1940s, Fashion, Hats

Mrs. Miniver, 1942

In the Anderson shelter

In the Anderson shelter

After the fall of France, England was struggling for survival under the relentless pounding by the Germans.  Tens of thousands of civilian lives and homes were lost. For over two years they alone fought the Nazis. Then we were attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. America was immediately thrust into a two-front war, with very little preparation.  President Roosevelt had to choose where to concentrate our first efforts and he chose to stand with England while we rebuilt our decimated Navy.  Americans didn’t understand that decision because the Pacific was where we’d been attacked.  He felt it was vitally important to have the support of the American people in giving England much needed help.

This is the story of a family, of a little boy who takes his cat into the air raid shelter (of course, the cat looks calmer than anyone else), of the difficulty of a changing society, of romance. Of the importance of roses and those beloved cats. It is cozy, humorous and suspenseful. Most of all, it is the story of perseverance, courage and faith that sustains us in treacherous times.

Miniver home after a bombing raid

Miniver home after a bombing raid

Mrs. Miniver was used as the tool to illustrate to the American people just how rough the war had been on ordinary English citizens.  And it worked.  Winston Churchill was very pleased by the reaction to both the book and the movie.  He’s quoted by Bernard Wasserstein as saying that they did as much good as “six divisions of war effort”.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Mrs. Miniver for being war propaganda.  And I suppose it was, but still, it was accurate; actually maybe it wasn’t accurate enough.  William Wyler, the director, joined the U.S. Army after the filming was completed and was overseas when he won the Oscar. He later said that he had been too soft in his portrayal of war.  It seems hypocritical to me that modern critics ignore the blatant, agenda driven, anti-American bias in current films but point an accusing finger at patriotic movies.  The fight  was for the survival of the free world. And we should remember that it was made during the war. No one knew what the outcome would be but William Wyler was very clear about what we were fighting for.

A few of the reviews by the English complain about it being an unrealistic American view of them.  If anyone from the UK reads this, I’d appreciate a comment from them concerning inaccuracies.  I know it’s quite different from their modern culture, but things have changed.  How truthfully does it portray the 1940’s?  Also, the fake English accents have been  pointed out.  Well, yes.  I’m sure the British are sensitive about that.  I know that when I watch British productions like Fawlty Towers or Foyle’s War or Agatha Christie stories, I’m sensitive to not only how we are portrayed but also by the flat accents they employ when imitating us (they usually use British actors with fake American accents). Can you spot the Americans in Mrs. Miniver?  There are only 3 in the 15 credited roles; 11 are from the United Kingdom, (mostly England), and 1 from Vienna.  See * at bottom of page

Tea on the terrace

Tea on the terrace

I simply love this movie.

Sometimes after reading a story or watching a movie that I’ve really enjoyed, I want to know more about the story or the characters.  And often, whichever one I read or see afterward is disappointing.  But not Mrs. Miniver.

The movie is only based on the characters Jan Struther wrote about; originally the stories were printed in the Times (London), then compiled in novel form in 1939.  The book is simply a collection of vignettes about the Miniver family.  Almost no events are transferred from the book but still the book and the movie fit together hand in glove.  The screenwriters stayed very true to Struther’s tone and characters. More often than not, Hollywood has ruined original stories or at least twisted them out of all recognition.  But not here.  I feel that they took good material and improved it.  Jan Struther was not Kay Miniver; she might have been someone I wouldn’t have liked. After reading about her life, I can say I probably wouldn’t have.  But she was a good writer.

All of the actors are wonderful, especially … no, if I start naming all the good ones, I’d just end up listing the cast.

Wilcoxon Speech

Wilcoxon Speech

Some of the most memorable scenes:  reading Alice in Wonderland aloud to the children in the Anderson shelter, tea on the terrace, when Kay hears his boat returning after Dunkirk.  Possibly the very best is the last one: in the church Vin goes to stand beside Lady Beldon. And the vicar’s sermon.  Incredibly stirring.

From imdb “The vicar’s speech near the end was reportedly re-written by William Wyler and Henry Wilcoxon the night before it was shot. It was translated into various languages and air-dropped in leaflets over German-occupied territory, was broadcast over the Voice of America, and reprinted in Time and Look magazines at Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s request. This speech has come to be known as The Wilcoxon Speech, in tribute to actor Henry Wilcoxon’s stirring delivery of it.” The enemy was recognized and survival required resistance. The sermon reflects Winston Churchill’s embracing words. Here is a  short clip; this one is more complete.

Twelve Academy Award nominations, 6 wins.

Best Picture
Best Director – William Wyler
Best Actress – Greer Garson
Best Supporting Actress – Teresa Wright
Best Cinematography – Joseph Ruttenberg
Best Screenplay -George Froeschel, Claudine West, Arthur Wimperis & James Hilton (novels:  Random Harvest, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Lost Horizon)


Where I’ve Seen Them

Greer Garson – Good-bye , Mr. Chips, Pride and Prejudice
Walter Pidgeon – Meet Me in St. Louis, Forbidden Planet
Teresa Wright – Shadow of a Doubt, The Best Years of Our Lives
Dame May Whitty – The Lady Vanishes, White Cliffs of Dover, Suspicion
Richard Ney – Midnight Lace
Henry Wilcoxon – The Ten Commandments, The Big Valley
Reginald Owen – Mary Poppins (Admiral Boom)
Henry Travers – Dark Victory, Shadow of a Doubt, It’s a Wonderful Life
Brenda Forbes – Blithe Spirit
Helmut Dantine – Casablanca (the young newlywed who loses at gambling).  Although Austrian, he was really playing against type.  He had been involved in the resistance and was arrested.  His family  secured his release and sent him to the U.S.

Very highly recommended.

If your library doesn’t have a copy, you can watch it on youtube. There was a sequel, The Miniver Story, filmed in 1950 with both Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, but I’ve not seen it (That’s what I’m doing tomorrow). This link has foreign sub-titles. Perhaps you can find one that doesn’t. If I do, I’ll update this post.

Please check back if you’re interested in this subject. I plan on writing more about this compelling period of history.

*The Americans are Teresa Wright, Richard Ney and Christopher Severn.

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Filed under 1940s, Battle of Britain, History, Movies

Mrs. Miniver Comes Home

MRS_MINIVER-6
“… And there was the square itself, with the leaves still as thick on the trees as they had been when she left in August; but in August they had hung heavily, a uniform dull green, whereas now, crisped and brindled by the first few nights of frost, they had taken on a new, various beauty. Stepping lightly and quickly down the square, Mrs. Miniver suddenly understood why she was enjoying the forties so much better than she had enjoyed the thirties: it was the difference between August and October, between the heaviness of late summer and the sparkle of early autumn, between the ending of an old phase and the beginning of a fresh one.

She reached her doorstep. The key turned sweetly in the lock. That was the kind of thing one remembered about a house: not the size of the rooms or the colour of the walls, but the feel of door-handles and light-switches, the shape and texture of the banister-rail under one’s palm; minute tactual intimacies, whose resumption was the essence of coming home.

Upstairs in the drawing-room there was a small bright fire of logs, yet the sunshine that flooded in through the open windows had real warmth in it. It was perfect: she felt suspended between summer and winter, savouring the best of them both. She unwrapped the chrysanthemums and arranged them in a square glass jar, between herself and the light, so that the sun shone through them. They were the big mop-headed kind, burgundy-coloured, with curled petals; their beauty was noble, architectural; and as for their scent, she thought as she buried her nose in the nearest of them, it was a pure distillation of her mood, a quintessence of all that she found gay and intoxicating and astringent about the weather, the circumstances, her own age, and the season of the year. Oh, yes, October certainly suited her best. ..

…She rearranged the fire a little, mostly for the pleasure of handling the fluted steel poker, and then sat down by it. Tea was already laid: there were honey sandwiches, brandy-snaps, and the small ratafia biscuits; and there would, she knew, be crumpets. Three new library books lay virginally on the fender-stool their bright paper wrappers unsullied by subscriber’s hand. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed, very softly and precisely, five times. A tug hooted from the river. A sudden breeze brought the sharp tang of a bonfire in a the window. The jigsaw was almost complete, but there was still one piece missing. And then, from the other end of the square, came the familiar sound of the Wednesday barrel-organ, playing, with a hundred apocryphal trills and arpeggios, the “Blue Danube” waltz. And Mrs. Miniver, with a little sigh of contentment, rang for tea.”

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Filed under Autumn, Cozy