Tuesday, 4 April 2017
Wouldn't you think that I'd have read this before? But in fact I hadn't - and this biography of The Real Mrs Miniver by her grand-daughter had been on my list for simply ages.
I knew the outline of the real Jan Struther's life - but it was still kind of disappointing to discover that she wasn't her character. Worse still was the dawning realisation that if we'd met, I'm not sure we'd have been friends. Well, there was an awful lot of strumming guitars and singing folk songs and I'm afraid I've never been a Joiner In. And, oh dear, once you'd fallen out of love with your husband - who was a golf club bore - and fallen head over heels for a much younger Jewish refugee ... oh, Mrs Miniver-Struther you really were rather tiresome company, going on and on and on about being such soulmates. Partly, I got a bit bored because there's so much detail - your wartime sojourn in America was recounted almost lecture by lecture. And although I could see that it was a gruelling tour - and undoubtedly useful propaganda in the war effort - I still couldn't help feeling that Jan Struther had a very cushy war indeed and had legged it to America mostly because she was hotfooting it after her lover. Vera Brittain - whose children sailed on the same boat, but who remained in London herself for the duration - wrote in her diary that she loved Mrs Miniver the movie: 'But I think Jan Struther is a charlatan posing as a patriot in the safety of the USA.' So did I. I think Mrs Miniver might have Behaved Better.
I did enjoy the reactions of contemporary readers to the fictional character. Americans, of course, adored wise and plucky Mrs M. The British were more cynical. Fond as I am of Mrs Miniver, floating serenely as a swan thinking her Beautiful Thoughts ... it's still hard not to be snarky about one who was born not only with a silver spoon in her mouth but Georgian silver sugar-tongs, as well. 'She is always so smug, so right, such a marvellous manager,' bitched someone (male or female? surely female?) in a letter to The Times. 'It would be so much more helpful if Mrs Miniver would tell us how she would behave if her husband had an affair with a pretty ARP worker, if her son refused to join up, and if some of the workers at the hospital supply depot rose up in revolt and told the lady where she got off. No, I think the only thing for Mrs Miniver is a direct hit from a bomb ...'
I'm sure that person would be highly amused to discover - as I was - that this twit is the real Mrs Miniver's grandson.