One of goals I set for myself as part of our Striving for Victory Challenge was to explore the media available during World War Two. I love to read and so I decided to read some of the books made available by organizations such the Council on Books in Wartime and The Books for Victory Campaign.
One of the most recognizable books associated with the Council on Books in Wartime is The Great Gatsby.
“Excellent, ” I thought, “it’s about time I read this ‘great American novel’.”
I tracked down a free ebook and downloaded it to my tablet using a free kindle app.
If your read some of the reviews for this book, you will note that The Great Gatsby is a book you either love or hate.
Like my character Rose, who read this book on the train to see her cousin, I did not like this book.
Fitzgerald’s writing is beautiful. In Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt talks about how he felt when he first discovered Shakespeare and how Shakespeare’s words were, “like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words.” I felt like I had jewels in my mind when I read Fitzgerald’s words but I was impatient for something to actually happen (it didn’t until half way through the book) and I couldn’t relate to the characters. In fact, they bored me to death. There is a reviewer on goodreads.com who sums up my feelings towards this book perfectly, “This book is very overrated. Beautiful writing; characters thinner than a toothpick.”
It’s not all bad news, however. The publishers were not the only ones interested in the written word during World War Two. The next book I read was the result of the Mass Observation Project. The Mass Observation Project was a private endeavor that used diaries written by volunteers and surveys to record everyday life in Britain.
Nella Last was one of their correspondents. I found a copy of her diary through our library. I’m glad I did. I really liked this book. I think that Nella and I would be great friends if we ever met and not just because Nella is about the same age as myself and she spends much of her free time making dolls to donate to the hospital and cot quilts for evacuated children. She is also a kind and thoughtful women who is very observant and a fine writer.
Nella Last is the “every woman” of her time and I appreciated the glimpse into everyday life on the home front that she gave me. I was also glad that this diary is not propaganda. Not everyone on the home front pulled together, followed the rules, and kept calm and carried on. Nella tells of several of her peers who either broke down or even took their own lives because of the strain. These times were tough and they did take their toll on everyone. I sometimes think that our vantage point in 2018 Canada gives us a rosy view of what life was like for our fore mothers.
One of the topics H and I were interested in exploring as part of this challenge was how women went from earning their own money doing “a man’s work” during the war to dependent wives when peace broke out. Nella asked the same questions herself. I think she loved her husband but domestic life where she, “had to sit quiet and always do everything he liked, and never the things he did not, were slavery years of mind and body,” (pg. 160) took a toll on her physical and mental health. The war gave her a chance to nurture others and she really rose to the challenge. She recognized the, “…other little changes, both in myself and my friends. I wondered if people would ever go back to the old ways. I cannot see women settling to trivial ways – women who have done worthwhile things.” (pg. 221). In many ways, women’s participation in the war effort fundamentally changed women’s role in society. Nella’s diary gives us a glimpse into what the average women thought about the evolving role of women at that time.
What I learnt from Nella Last’s diary is that small domestic acts bring great comfort and that dark times are opportunities for growth. I am so glad I took the time to track this book down.
If you want to join in, please do! We have a collection of resources available on Pintrest and Youtube. We would love to hear about your experiences. If you have a story to tell, please leave a comment or post a picture on instagram with the hashtag #strivingforvictory.
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