The Village by Marghanita Laski: A Book Review


Persephone edition endpapers

The Village was first published in 1952 and chronicles life in an English village immediately after the end of the Second World War. It begins with two women meeting to go on duty at the Red Cross post as they had done throughout the war. They are from different ends of the village, Wendy Trevor from up the hill where  the gentry live and Edith Wilson from Station Road where the working-class live.  Both knew that the breaking down of social barriers had just been one of those things that happened during a war. Mrs Wilson acknowledged that she would miss the camaraderie:

‘There’s a lot of us will miss it’, Edith said. ‘We’ve all of us felt at times, you know, how nice it was, like you and me being able to be together and friendly, just as if we were the same sort, if you know what I mean.’ (page19)

But the war had changed much and the social barriers were rising, but when Wendy’s daughter, Margaret, falls in love with Edith’s son, Roy, the Trevors are horrified and refuse to give their permission for the couple to marry. Margaret does not have the same attitude as her parents:

‘The trouble with you, Miss Margaret, is that you’ve got no sense of class.’ (page 113)

I thought at first that this book was not as good as Laski’s Little Boy Lost, which I loved, but as I read on I realised the simple direct style of writing contained depth and complexity and  by the end I was convinced I was living in the village, amongst these people at the end of the war. It’s not as heart-rending as Little Boy Lost, but it is absorbing reading.

The Village is not only a love story, it’s a novel exploring the issues of class and social mobility, family relationships, parental control and the position of women. Although the Trevors and the Wilsons are the main characters, it’s a novel about the whole community,with a list of all the characters at the beginning of the book, including their station in life.

Included in the mix are the Wetheralls, Ralph and his American wife, Martha. They provide an interesting perspective on the complex British class system, comparing it with the American attitudes to different groups of people. Ralph, a business man, explains to Martha because they’re in ‘trade’, the Trevors who are gentry but hard up, still look down on them – and class is still most important. Martha wants to help Margaret and can’t understand that class doesn’t go by money, until Ralph points out that it was the same in America – ‘Plenty of your old Boston families are nearly as poor as the Trevors, but they still look down their noses at everyone else.’ (page 166)

He goes even further comparing the position of the working-classes in Britain to that of negroes in the United States, not the southern states but in the ‘enlightened North‘:

‘Many’s the time I’ve sat in your mother’s apartment in New York and heard you all talking in a broadminded way about treating the negro properly, but I’ve never come in and found a black man dropped in casually for cocktails, and I wouldn’t expect it, any more that I’d expect to find the Trevors  accepting Roy Wilson as a son-in-law.

Honestly now, you wouldn’t have married a negro, would you? You’d do your best to stop your daughter from marrying a negro. Well, you take my word for it, the Trevors will feel just the same way about Margaret marrying Roy Wilson, if there’s any question of it, which I very much doubt.’ (pages 231-2)

It ‘s certainly a book I’d like to re-read.

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Persephone Books Ltd; First Edition edition (22 Sep 2004)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1903155428
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903155424
  • Source: I borrowed the book from a friend, and now want my own copy!
  • My Rating: 5/5

I wrote about the beginning of The Village here.

Book Beginnings on Friday

This is the opening sentence of the book I’m going to read next:

The night the war ended, both Mrs Trevor and Mrs Wilson went on duty at the Red Cross post as usual.

from The Village by Marghanita Laski. As this sentence indicates the setting is at the end of World War Two – in fact, the very day it ended. It seems to me as though Mrs Trevor and Mrs Wilson don’t want to give up the routine they had during the war and I’m keen to see what effect the end of the war will have on them.

This opening reminds me a bit of One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, also set in 1946 and chronicles the changes the Marshall family encountered, a book which I loved.

Book Beginnings on Friday is now hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader.