THE REAL MRS. MINIVER by Ysenda Maxtone Graham

THE REAL MRS. MINIVER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A granddaughter brings alive the woman who created Mrs. Miniver, the perfect wife and mother who affirmed British values on the eve of WWII.

Making adroit use of quotes from the author’s letters, autobiography, and other writings, Graham creates a sensitive and full-rounded portrait of a woman whose temperament and interests were often at odds with her milieu. Born in 1901 to parents who later divorced, Joyce Anstruther went to school with the future Queen Mother and was raised like other proper little girls. But her mother, who also wrote, encouraged Joyce in early authorial efforts, published under the pseudonym Jan Struther. In 1923, she married Tony Maxtone Graham, the son of a Scottish laird. They were initially happy and had three children but drifted apart as Tony took up golf while Joyce contributed poems and articles to Punch and other publications. In 1936, she found a new outlet, writing twice a month in the London Times about a fictional middle-aged upper-class wife and mother. Mrs. Miniver, unlike her creator, was happily married, but the columns avoided complacency thanks to sharp insights and vivid metaphors (a rickety old car was “at best a reluctant and treacherous ally, and of late . . . more or less openly, our enemy”), and it struck a chord with English readers. Working with refugees after war broke out, Joyce fell in love with an intellectual young Austrian Jew, Dolf Placzek, and followed him to New York when he got a visa in 1940, ostensibly at the behest of her American publisher. Graham then relates how the collected volume of Mrs. Miniver columns became a bestseller and later a movie, rallying support for war-torn Britain. Jan (as she had called herself ever since she arrived in America) enjoyed the fame, but after her divorce and marriage to Dolf, she became severely depressed and unable to write. She died in 1953.

An accomplished biography of a minor writer made famous by her times.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-30826-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2002