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A House in the Country

by Jocelyn Playfair
Persephone book no:

30 31 32

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155202

"And that's how life goes on, Cressida thought. Life goes on and on. The cabbages stand in rows, and somewhere men are clutching at wreckage in wild seas with oil burning on the water. Men are flying in close combat with death in the lonely sky, marching in quiet country lanes, driving lorries through English villages, poring over maps in deep, warm rooms that are never lit by daylight, filling up forms in offices where the rattle of typewriters never ceases. And women are doing most of these things too. Some of them are living new lives with more intensity than they could have imagined, but they are not all doing new things. Women are cooking, bathing their babies, standing in queues for fish, waiting for letters that do not come..."

This quietly profound but humorous 1944 novel is the story of Cressida Chance, who lives in Brede Manor in Sussex and lets out rooms to a variety of disparate characters brought together by the vagies of the war. The Daily Mail called it 'an elegiac romance that describes social niceties, petty squabbles, self-restraint, all played out in a rural idyll, while abroad thousands die defending that very way of life.' The great interest of Jocelyn Playfair's book for modern readers is its complete authenticity. Set at the time of the fall of Tobruk in 1942, one of the low points of the war, and written only a year later when no-one had any idea what was going to happen, A House in the Country has a verisimilitude denied to modern writers. Sebastian Faulks in Charlotte Gray or Ian McEwan in Atonement do their research and evoke a particular period, but ultimately are dependent on their own and historians' interpretation of events; whereas a novel like this one is an exact, unaffected portrayal of things as they were at the time - that is, without the benefit of hindsight. The TLS praised 'its evocation of the preoccupations of wartime England, and its mood of battered but sincere optimism'; and The Tablet remarked on its 'compelling atmosphere and richly apt vocabulary.'


The endpapers show a 1942 Jacqmar scarf that was owned by a Persephone reader's mother; the indefatigable gardener at 'Brede Manor' is a symbolic figure in the book.

Read What Readers Say

Lindy Lit (blogger)

‘A House in the Country’ is the Persephone book I have enjoyed the most. From the opening chapter I was intrigued. It focuses on a submarine attack on a ship. And then we jump to Brede Manor and meet some of the characters who live there. The main character, Cressida, is an engaging and refreshing person who can see that war signifies a huge change in the role of women.

Categories: Country Life Woman and Home WWII

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