23rd March 2021 Handheld World War 2 Classics 4
‘This is a journal of the tense months between Dunkirk and the start of the Blitz – months when a German invasion of Britain seemed both imminent and inevitable. It’s written with a steady intensity; raw worry pokes through the elegant prose, and though there are many vivid details, and moments of wit and levity, this is also an extraordinary meditation of what it means to be free in a world of encroaching tyranny.’ — Lissa Evans
‘Most people knew in their hearts that the lid had been taken off hell, and that what had been done in Guernica would one day be done in London, Paris and Berlin.’
Margaret Kennedy’s prophetic words, written about the pre-war mood in Europe, give the tone of this riveting 1941 wartime memoir: it is Mrs Miniver with the gloves off. Her story, taken from her war diaries, conveys the tension, frustration and bewilderment of the progression of the war, and the terror of knowing that the worst is to come, but not yet knowing what the worst will be.
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English bravery, confusion, stubbornness and dark humour (‘Nanny says that an Abbess is threatening to swallow the whole of Europe’) provide the positive, more hopeful side of Kennedy’s experiences, in which she and her children move from Surrey to Cornwall, to sit out the war amidst a quietly efficient Home Guard and the most scandalous rumours. Where Stands A Wingèd Sentry (the title comes from a 17th-century poem by Henry Vaughan) was only published in the USA, and has never before been published in the UK.
Margaret Kennedy (1896-1967) made her name as a novelist with The Ladies of Lyndon (1923) and The Constant Nymph (1924), and continued publishing fiction, screenplays and plays until the year before her death.
The Introduction is by Faye Hammill, Professor of English Literature at the University of Glasgow.
‘Where Stands A Wingèd Sentry was published by Yale University Press in 1941 in the US … but never in Britain until now by Handheld Press, which has a mission to rediscover forgotten stories. It has struck gold with this absorbing and engaging slice of social history … This is a fascinating book, an important example of contemporary home-front literature.’ – Cathy Rentzenbrink, The Times
‘She talks about politics but also writes with equal verve about floor polish and how the certainties of ordinary life can be whisked away in an instant.’ – Sunday Express
‘Margaret Kennedy’s skill as a writer is in evidence throughout this memoir. I enjoyed her sketches of people, such as the woman who posts pro-German leaflets (like an antivaxxer on social media); the refugee couple from Vienna who have seen terrible things; her friend who denies that anything bad is happening … She comments upon class issues, pouring scorn upon the ‘Gluebottoms’ who arrive seeking safety and expecting service they had enjoyed before … The presentation of this memoir in this new edition is excellent. There is a useful and interesting introduction by Faye Hammill.’ Bookword
‘One of the many things I loved about the book is the persistent sense of defiance and fortitude. I found this remarkable given the author did not know at the time whether the war would end in victory or defeat. For anyone interested in women’s writing or the experiences of those on the ‘Home Front’ during the Second World War, Where Stands A Wingèd Sentry is a gem waiting to be discovered amongst the growing list of titles published by Handheld Press.’ – What Cathy Read Next
‘There’s a lot in Where Stands A Wingèd Sentry that feels like it could be being written now. The same surprise at feeling ourselves living history, not knowing what’s coming, wondering if it will be a social leveler, if something better can be built on the ruins of the old normal, growing awareness of social disparity and anger at the visible effects of poverty on children’s bodies. There’s plenty about fear, isolation, and fifth columnists (which seems appropriate after [the March 2021] riots in Bristol) too. Margaret’s fears for her children are quite hard to read.’ – Desperate Reader
from Ninja Book Box’s March Books of the Month: ‘These diaries are a beautiful combination of bleakness and fear, paired with everyday things and the general hilarity which can be found in small daily stories … This is the first time I’d heard of Margaret Kennedy, but included in the book (and in all of Handheld Press’s books) is a brilliant introduction giving context and background information about the author and the book’s publication history.’
from Shiny New Books: ‘Beautifully produced, as always, by Handheld, with excellent explanatory notes, this is a really valuable reprint both for anyone interested in the history of WW2 in Britain and for the views of an intelligent and literary observer. As Faye Hamill points out in her useful introduction, written in the summer of 2020, the extreme anxiety of the 1940s has been mirrored in our own time, though with a different cause – a time when, as she says, “British people began to move about, to work, and to relate to one another, in new and unprecedented ways”.’
‘This is far from being a gruelling read. Kennedy’s powers of observation and her sense of the absurd made me laugh out loud … Kennedy writes brilliantly about the way that every day life somehow continues even in times of great stress and anxiety.’ – A Reading Life
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