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Restless Lives in the Second World War

by Lara Feigel

Pub Date: July 9th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-60819-984-6
Publisher: Bloomsbury

With bombs falling across London between September 1940 and May 1941, five writers of various ages and backgrounds, selected by the sharp eye of Feigel (English and Medical Humanities/King’s Coll., London; Literature, Cinema and Politics, 1930–1945, 2010, etc.), shifted into romantic overdrive.

The imminent threat of destruction thrust the vulnerable inhabitants of this targeted city into a “suspended present” where “intense emotions could flourish,” writes the author. The five writers (Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen, Henry Yorke, aka Henry Green, Rose Macauley and Hilde Spiel) were decidedly literary, well-connected, mostly married and with solid humanitarian intentions that allowed them to aid in the Blitz crisis without actually going to war. Greene and Yorke hastily moved their wives and children to the countryside to pursue dalliances under fire; Greene, in Bloomsbury, and Elizabeth Bowen, in Marylebone, both worked as Air Raid Protection wardens at night. Yorke was a firefighter, and Macaulay, unmarried but involved for 20 years with her secret lover, Gerald O’Donovan, was an ambulance driver. While these four were directly involved in the action and writing their eyewitness accounts (later to be worked into their wartime novels and memoirs), the Austrian-born Jewish author Spiel was ensconced in a cramped flat in Wimbledon with her refugee parents, daughter and journalist husband, Peter de Mendelssohn, who worked at the Ministry of Information (as did Greene). While the others enjoyed a “good war,” full of danger, sexual intrigue and heavy drinking, Spiel found her release after the war’s end, when she returned to Vienna as a correspondent and recorded unbelievable devastation. These writers left an invaluable record of the war’s toll, both physical and emotional, as researched doggedly by Feigel.

A writerly work that entices readers to seek out the titles in question.