I enjoyed this book immensely. The prose alone was worth the read. The story will tug at your heart strings as it takes you down memory lane into the world of England with its proper manners, pomp and circumstance in the early 20th century. It is told in four parts, by a wonderfully gifted author whose last book "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" charmed me as well. It begins just before WWI and immerses the reader into the very proper and quiet life of Rye, a community very much aware of class distinction and a woman's place in the world. Using vocabulary that is descriptive, civilized and literary, the reader will not be subjected to any over-the-top, possibly inappropriate descriptions of sex or of foul language so common in many popular books of today. For that reason alone, I found the book quite refreshing. Readers might be pleasantly reminded of Downton Abbey and even find similarities in some of their character traits. I was reminded of Lord Grantham and Countess Cora Grantham, Lady Mary and Lady Edith, and the maid Daisy, just to name a few. John Kent holds a high position in the foreign office, and as such was privy to information not yet available to the general public concerning the coming war. His wife, Agatha, quietly promoted women's rights without offending the powers that be. She worked through proper channels, gently manipulating others to get her way. She had been able to secure a Latin teaching position for Beatrice Nash who had suddenly found herself in need of employment after the death of her father, a man of some minor fame as an author. Daniel Bookham, a poet, and Hugh Grange, training to be a surgeon, were nephews of the Kents. Beatrice's job and future were on the line and they all became the greatest supporters of her endeavors. When Beatrice had first arrived in the town of Rye, she was expected to be unattractive and spinsterish. Her finer appearance both concerned and surprised many. Unmarried women were frowned upon and dependent on the kindness of other, especially if they had no visible means of support. Beatrice's had been her father's assistant and was brought up to be independent. Suddenly, with his death, she had been thrust into a world in which others would oversee her finances and lifestyle. She would no longer be able to manage her own affairs and would not fully inherit until she married. This was, a state to which she did not aspire, and she was surprised by her father's actions. To complicate life in Rye, there was the murder of the heir-apparent to the Austrian throne, the Archduke Franz Joseph and his wife, in Sarajevo. This caused great turmoil as WWI loomed on the horizon. Enormous changes were coming. Rationing was expected as well as a demand for soldiers to defend England. Hoarding was frowned upon. The town of Rye and its surrounding residents were thrown into a frenzy trying to figure out appropriate ways to help in the service of their country. Some enlisted, some knitted socks, some passed out white feathers to those who shirked their duty, and some housed soldiers and refugees from Belgium after it was invaded by Germany. The inappropriate behavior and expectations of some citizens demonstrated that they had lost themselves in the nitty-gritty of position and class and tended to forget the cost of war for its victims. They tended to forget compassion in their need to stand on ceremony. The story will sometimes make you smile and sometimes bring a tear to your eye, but it will always be a good read. The pages will fly by as you are immersed in the countryside, on the battlefield and in the life of the upper class and working class of England at a time when class and birth were still of the utmost importance, when change was resisted first and foremost and protocols had to be followed. There are some contrived moments with problems serendipitously solving themselves, but they work well for the tale. The prose is sharp and the dialog between the characters is refined even when words are used to cut like ice picks. The historic background, including the need for strict adherence to rules regardless of the circumstances, illustrated how those in charge subjected those beneath them to cruelties and exposed the fragility of life and the stupidity of war which is often conducted by ill prepared or improperly trained men and women.. The book uses a subtle wit, genuine romance and the terror of war in the telling of the story as it exposed the differences in the lives of those living in poverty and those living with wealth. Both the gentry and the working class in their expectations and approach to their futures is well defined and obvious. The unfairness of the system may rankle some readers as they observe that the design of the class system actually prevented the advancement of the working class even when qualified and intellectually able to move ahead. There are characters whose snobbish behavior will offend, like Mrs. Fothergill, Professor Fontaine, and Mrs. Turber, as well as characters whose innocence and charm will endear them like, Hugh, Snout and Celeste! War affects those with or without the refinement imposed by birth and background. All equally suffer. However, the humor that infused the tale, as the idiosyncrasies and snooty reactions of the characters were highlighted in all avenues of life, worked to make the tale even more enjoyable.
About This Item
**NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . . a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community.”—The Washington Post
The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I that reaches far beyond the small English town in which it is set.**
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND NPR
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.
When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.
But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.
Praise for The Summer Before the War
“What begins as a study of a small-town society becomes a compelling account of war and its aftermath.”—Woman’s Day
“This witty character study of how a small English town reacts to the 1914 arrival of its first female teacher offers gentle humor wrapped in a hauntingly detailed story.”—Good Housekeeping
“Perfect for readers in a post–Downton Abbey slump . . . The gently teasing banter between two kindred spirits edging slowly into love is as delicately crafted as a bone-china teacup. . . . More than a high-toned romantic reverie for Anglophiles—though it serves the latter purpose, too.”—The Seattle TimesThe Summer Before the War - eBook
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The Summer Before the War
I enjoyed this book im...
Helen Simonsons The S...
Helen Simonson's The Summer Before the War is a wonderful novel that depicts life in Rye, an ancient and beautiful hillside port town in Sussex, England during the 1914 breakout of World War I and continues into the beginning of the War. Rye is a community of artists, writers, eminent and not so eminent townspeople, servants, refugees, and gypsies. Beatrice Nash arrives as a young woman hired as the Latin master of the local school. The hiring of a woman teacher (gasp!) was championed by the indomitable progressive Agatha Kent. Small town life teems with gossip and speculation. Women struggle against their repression in various levels, while balancing a desire to preserve their good reputations and tenuous positions. Beatrice meets Agatha's nephews Hugh, a levelheaded young surgeon, narcissistic Daniel, a passionate poet, as well as her pupil, Snout, a half gypsy boy looking improve his station. Rye's provincial society clings to their sustaining rituals of life. Outsiders and misfits are viewed as threats to their idyllic world and are suspect or shunned. The frivolousness of summer ends when the War breaks out and the brutal truth of its toll soon alters their peaceful lives and attitudes. You see a contrast that develops between what is held as important before the War, and what remains after all has fallen apart. The characters are amply drawn, although I was interested in a deeper embodiment of Beatrice, yet I came to care for them all, admiring their fine points, while understanding their flaws. The novel does start out slowly and builds. As a caution, there are some brutal and sad scenes that depict the cruelties of war. Yet the novel is balanced with light and shade. Simonson's excellent writing immerses the reader in the time and place on the precipice of upheaval. She paints a vivid story of love, betrayal, honor, petty prejudices and a community that rises to the call of duty and country. I also recommend her earlier work Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, which contains a very different setting, but also beautifully written.
THE SUMMER BEFORE THE ...
THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR by Helen Simonson What begins as a lovely and genteel story of discrimination against a "professional" woman in an English village just before World War I, quickly becomes a fascinating tale of honor, class, love, discrimination and village life with all its charm and meanness. The characters are delightfully and realistically portrayed. The situations show the class and gender lines in pre-war England. There is humor and pathos, greed and generosity, refinement and pretentiousness, honor and scandal. But above all, it is a well written, engrossing story. 5 of 5 stars
Downton Abbey Fans rej...
Downton Abbey Fans rejoice -- a historic novel, set in the small coastal town of Rye, the summer of 1914. And just like Downton Abbey, there is plenty going on for the upstairs gentry class as well as the downstairs working class. It's a beautiful summer and the whole town loves watching and gossiping about the tea parties and picnics of the upper crust. But class division becomes much more serious than who gets to eat their scone with Lady Emily with the onset of the Great War. Simonson addresses some very sticky social issues beyond the obvious division of class, including homosexuality, the role of women, and the ostracism of the nomadic Romani. Whether you're looking for a light charming summer read or a more in depth look at inequality in British Edwardian society, you'll love this book.
The Summer Before the ...
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson is, I'm happy to say, another winner. Like many other readers I loved Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and was afraid I would be disappointed in Simonson's second book, but I actually like it even better. I'm at odds with a few elements in the plot, but that's a small dissatisfaction. Beginning just before WWI, Beatrice Nash is hired as a Latin teacher in the village of Rye. As soon as she arrives she is inspected by one of the most prominent ladies in town, Agatha Nash. Beatrice is told in no uncertain terms that Agatha, as one of two women on the hiring committee, has staked her own reputation on supporting Beatrice and she is expected to live up to expectations. After meeting Beatrice, Agatha is worried that although Beatrice is over qualified and presenting herself in an acceptable manner, she is much too young at 23, and not the older spinster that was expected. And so it begins. A character driven book, there are the same themes in The Summer Before the War as in Major Pettigrew; snobbery, discrimination and love. As refugees flee to England from Belgium, as young men face their inevitable future, as love places itself in the wrong places, the people of Rye go forward. And dear reader, expect to shed a few tears as they do.
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