My mother read me a passage from the newest Jan Karon book the other day; it was actually a quote from an old and somewhat obscure volume of sketches that we both love very dearly: Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther. It was like hearing good news of an old friend and a warm sense of pleasure filled me at the thought of a new generation of readers discovering this remarkable woman by way of a modern author’s hat tip.
Jan Struther created Mrs. Miniver, the indomitable English housewife, in 1937 for her Times column. As the situation in Europe deteriorated, Mrs. Miniver’s courageous allegiance to the beauty of everyday life and steady assessment of new dangers and challenges made her a national symbol of Britain’s resolve, and in 1939, the columns were published in book form. Her fame traveled to America, where book sales were higher than ever; she stirred the sympathies of the public to such an extent that Winston Churchill declared she had “done more for the Allied cause than a flotilla of battleships”. The 1942 movie, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, was perhaps one of the most famous propaganda pieces ever to reach American audiences, and though it bears little similarities to the book was a tremendous boost to the war effort in its own right.
More than fifty years after its release, Mrs. Minver’s reflections are as inspiring as ever. Perhaps the 21st century woman is spared the problem of hiring a charwoman or the torment of an unpleasant county house visit, but Mrs. Miniver’s underlying observations in these and other matters are surprisingly relevant in our own uncertain world. These beautiful little gems of ‘eternity framed in domesticity’ are worth perusing again and again.
Mrs. Miniver became a real person to me when I read her book. She stands before me yet, upholding so many of the responsibilities and privileges I cherish as a woman. She was a heroine for a whole generation; there are few role models so worthy today. I most emphatically encourage anyone who has not had the pleasure of this lady’s acquaintance to find a copy and settle in with a good stout cup of tea and maybe even a notebook for favorite quotes.