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Doreen

by Barbara Noble
Persephone book no:

59 60 61


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A Well Full of Leaves
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PREFACE BY JESSICA MANN
256pp
ISBN 9781903155509

In 1946 the theme of Doreen was, alas, horrifyingly topical - whether parents should have sent their children away from cities that might be bombed; and if they had done so, whether they could hope to maintain their relationship with them. 'The experience of this long separation, very difficult for all concerned at the time, often proved traumatic over a lifetime' comments Jessica Mann in the preface. 

Barbara Noble writes with great insight about the mind of a child, 9-year-old Doreen Rawlings, torn between her mother, whom she leaves behind in the East End of London during the Blitz, and the couple who take her in when she is evacuated to the countryside. Everyone wants only the best for Doreen yet, in the end, what is being explored is a clash of values: those looking after her will eventually realise that Doreen will go back 'to a world where most of the things you've taught her will be drawbacks rather than advantages.'

This is a deeply involving book, fascinating for the portrayal of a child trying to balance the needs of their mother and their temporary mother, as well as for its understanding of the tyrannies of the English class system. 'The manner of telling this poignant, subtle tragedy is beyond admiration, restrained, penetrating, deeply moving,' wrote Dorothy Canfield Fisher; and the Spectator reviewer described 'a gentle, serious story in which...the author's argument is scrupulously fair; she is observant, sensitive and intelligent.'

Endpaper

The endpaper is taken from a 1940 silk scarf 'London Alert' designed by Arnold Lever for Jacqmar (it is owned by a Persephone reader).


Read What Readers Say

JS, Headington

I so loved ‘Doreen’, identifying strongly with the character and similarly desperately missing my mother, who remarried in London during the Blitz while I was sent to the safety of the countryside. I have given copies to two friends, neither of whom had had similar experiences but we all adored the book’s gentle simplicity. None of us could put it down.

FleurFisherReads

I finished ‘Doreen’ a few days ago and thought it quite wonderful. Barbara Noble writes beautifully and with great insight about the mind of a child torn between her mother and the couple who take her in. Doreen is likeable and utterly believable. Indeed, all of the characters are wonderfully drawn and you can empathise with every one. There is much detail about life in Britain during the war, both in the Blitz in London and in the quiet countryside. A wonderful story and much food for thought.

odetomybookshelf via Instagram

Noble's writing is stunning and her honesty allows you to get to know her characters as if they were your own dearest friends. The social history of the novel paints real lives on to old history books, bringing to life a small part of a big war. I wish I could experience it again!

Sultana Bun via Instagram

This is my thirtieth Persephone and it is my new favourite. Barbara Noble’s writing might not be as fine as Dorothy Whipple’s, but this story tore my heart out... When war broke out, the children of London were evacuated. Mrs Rawlings, however, perhaps because she is the single mother of a lone child, an office-cleaner with little joy in her life, can’t bear to part with nine-year-old Doreen. As the air raids intensify, Helen Osborne’s conscience forces her to intervene. Geoffrey, her brother, is a respectable solicitor, has a nice house in the country and won’t refuse to house a child, if only to make up for what he couldn’t give his wife. Geoffrey’s nice wife, Francie, furthermore, has longed for a child of her own and will surely welcome an evacuee with open arms. Mrs Rawlings, reluctantly, agrees to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her daughter’s safety. And so Doreen is swept up by the guilt, fears and desires of adults. She leaves behind her tenement home and boards a train for the Middle Classes... And from there, it’s like watching a rosebud opening, knowing all the while that, in one way or another, the beautiful bloom is going to get crushed. “Growing up was not conditioned by the time you went to bed. Growing up was finding out that grown-ups suffered.” There’s a striking similarity to Claire Keegan’s 'Foster'. A close comparison of the two would make a very interesting study. Noble tells more, where Keegan’s so good at showing. Both, however, demonstrate with painful clarity the perils of crossing social divides. All the stars, highly recommended.

Categories: Childhood Family Mothers WWII

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