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The Deepening Stream

by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Persephone book no:

140 141 142

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The Far Cry
A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781910263310

A Persephone reader wrote on her blog I Love Reading: ‘I loved this book. It’s the coming of age story of Matey Gilbert. We first meet Matey (her name is Penelope and the nickname is never explained) as a small child, living in France with her parents and siblings Priscilla and Francis. All three children are scarred by the experience of tiptoeing around their parents. Matey learns to cope by avoiding confrontation and through the love of her dog, Sumner. I admired the accuracy of Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s psychological insights into the mind of a sensitive child like Matey even though I have never really been interested in books written from a child’s eye view: usually I skim the opening chapters of biographies too, especially when they go back several generations. However, here it was compelling. Once Matey grows up and visits Rustdorf, her future home, I couldn’t put the book down. This is where she begins to develop as a person, the deepening stream of her personality begins to emerge from her troubled childhood.’

But above all this book is absolutely extraordinary about life on the home front in France during WW1. Matey has a miraculously happy marriage. Then in 1915 she and her husband make the decision to go and help the French war effort. The description of their life in France is quite simply stunning and one can safely say to anyone reading this – you will never read anything like it, and never forget it. As the novelist and critic Diana Birchalls wrote to us: ‘This is the best evocation of what domestic life was like in France during WW1 I have ever read’ and it will undoubtedly prove to be the most memorable book on the subject that any Persephone reader has ever read as well.

Our proofreader (always a wise voice) wrote: ‘I loved the book! She has the best description I’ve ever seen of absolute total exhaustion in the scene where Matey is helping the doctor with the wounded soldiers returned from the Front. Also such fascinating stuff about America’s early, and later, responses to the war in Europe. It feels like lived experience of being on the Home Front in France during WW1 – not to mention her very lived experience of Quakerism. It is one of the few books where, as a Quaker, I can recognise her experience in Meeting, and on matters of ethical banking, and conscientious objection – and it’s not too over-idealised, which can be easy to do. It must have been progressive for its time in its references to the pleasures of sex for a woman. I felt it was a very new, very interesting voice for me.’

And our preface writer Sadie Stein concludes: ‘It is a mystery to me why The Deepening Stream is not listed alongside Testament of Youth, A Farewell to Arms and Parade’s End as a definitive WW1 novel… Without ever taking the reader into the trenches, DCF makes us feel how war grinds you down, until one’s receptivity to tragedy is necessarily blunted… The Deepening Stream is strikingly modern: domestic hurts are addressed with complete seriousness; the pain of the war, meanwhile, is rendered intimate. The focus remains tight, unsparing, humane. By the time I read her taut descriptions of the ravages of the Somme, I realised I had come to respect DCF as what she is – a great American writer – and The Deepening Stream as a neglected treasure of the last century.’


The endpapers are taken from a design for a 1914-23 chiffon voile by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.

Picture Caption

Valve Testing - The Signal School, Royal Naval Barracks, Portsmouth, Arthur David McCormick (1860-1943)

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Categories: America Childhood WWI

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