30th May 2019 Handheld World War 2 Classics 1
Emerging out of the 1940–1941 London Blitz, the drama of these two short works, a novel and a memoir, comes from the courage and endurance of ordinary people met in the factories, streets and lodging houses of a city under bombardment.
Inez Holden’s novella Night Shift follows a largely working-class cast of characters for five night shifts in a factory that produces camera parts for war planes. It Was Different At The Time is Holden’s account of wartime life from April 1938 to August 1941, drawn from her own diary. This was intended to be a joint project written with her friend George Orwell (he was in the end too busy to contribute), and includes disguised appearances by notable literary figures of the period.
‘Whether her dialogue is invented or recorded — probably a mix of both — Holden was expert at capturing a whole person in their words. Whether it’s a long recollection by Mabs, one of the factory workers in Night Shift that’s almost a one-act play about battling Romeos, or just a line or two, Holden’s gift for exposition via dialogue is exceptional.’ The Neglected Books Page
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Blitz Writing contains two works by Inez Holden – Night Shift and It Was Different At The Time. The experiences recorded in It Was Different At The Time overlap in period and subject with Night Shift, setting up a vibrant dialogue between the two texts. The struggles to maintain any kind of domestic routine in wartime are documented with a dispassionate eye for detail, and an ear for the strange sounds of war. In Night Shift Inez tells the story of factory night shift workers through their chatter and casual talk, on and off their machines, in and out of the bombardment. We enter their lives and they enter our hearts.
Inez Holden (1903-1974) was a British writer and literary figure whose social and professional connections embraced most of London’s literary and artistic life. She modelled for Augustus John, worked alongside Evelyn Waugh, and had close relationships with George Orwell, Stevie Smith, H G Wells, Cyril Connolly, and Anthony Powell.
The introduction and notes are by Kristin Bluemel, Professor of English at Monmouth University, New Jersey. The cover image of women wartime workers is from the archives of the Imperial War Museum.
Watch our video, in which we explain how important Inez Holden’s writing was, for her own period and for ours.
Watch the video of the Handheld Book Club discussion of Blitz Writing, featuring Kristin Bluemel, Jerry White of Birkbeck, and Inez Holden’s literary executor Ariane Bankes.
‘This edition combines two of these wartime texts, which can be seen as essential documents of the Blitz … Holden’s attention to the personalities and backgrounds of those she worked among, to their body language and habits of speech, renders her portrayals vivid and memorable.’ – Rod Mengham in the Times Literary Supplement, 20 September 2019
‘Holden provides an unusual record of multiracial England, usually whitewashed even in contemporary documentary accounts. The sketches of African and Asian patients, students, and doctors are notable for the historical record they provide of nonwhite communities in midcentury England … As the diary unfolds, through her many jobs as a hospital worker, Red Cross volunteer, factory worker, and BBC journalist, Holden captures the shifting discourse of sexuality, gender, and class in a variety of workplaces and from an array of class positions. Her strength lies in providing a broad view of English women in the midst of changing work conditions, which include attempts to undercut women’s wages by exploitative factory owners, condemned in the diary as “dangerous saboteurs”. Labor conditions for women are also repeatedly featured in Night Shift, as are signs of a social revolution in gender and sexual attitudes. The novel carefully explores new possibilities for women in meaningful snapshots of minor characters such as an unmarried woman working as a clerk in the factory, proudly expecting a child.’ – The Space Between
Lucy Scholes in the Paris Review, writing about Holden’s other wartime novel There’s No Story There (which we’ll be publishing in 2021), said that Holden was ‘a writer of documentary realism with a serious socialist agenda, empathetically depicting the lives of the working classes’.
Read the reviews from Lucy Scholes in the Paris Review, from D J Taylor in The Literary Review, from Caustic Cover Critic, from JacquiWine, from BookWord, from What Cathy Read Next and from HeavenAli.
The Neglected Books Page writes: ‘I wrote about Holden’s other war book, There’s No Story There, back in August of 2018. I owe Kate Macdonald, the owner of Handheld Press, for passing along a PDF of a well-worn copy of the book that she in turn got from Kristin Bluemel, and these two women are responsible for bringing Blitz Writing to print. Bluemel’s introduction is invaluable not just for putting these two books in the context of writings about the war but also for providing the only available overview of Holden’s life and work to be published this century … WorldCat tells us that there are a total of 23 copies held worldwide of Night Shift and only 13 copies of It Was Different at the Time. Neither book was ever reprinted or reissued until now. This is what saving neglected books looks like, folks.’ 14 June 2019
‘Night Shift was her most critically successful work, and is a largely autobiographical account of the lives of those who worked the night shift in a factory during the war, and publishing it alongside her diaries was a marvellous idea, as it allows you to then appreciate the real-life experiences that informed the events and characters she depicts. I absolutely loved reading these, and am delighted to have discovered Inez Holden.’ – Booksnob
‘The thing that really struck me about Night Shift is how little has changed for women working in menial jobs. The concerns about wages being paid properly, the way they talk and complain, the relationship with the men in charge, and their relationships with each other will all be familiar to anybody who has worked in a low paid job with a lot of other people, especially a lot of other women. Other people must have written about this, but I can’t think of another example off hand of anyone doing it with the empathy or respect that Holden does.’ – Desperate Reader
Read about Inez Holden the enigmatic author by downloading this brief biography of here: Inez Holden biography