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The Winds of Heaven

by Monica Dickens
Persephone book no:

89 90 91


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A Well Full of Leaves
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PREFACE BY AS BYATT
328pp
ISBN 9781903155806



The Winds of Heaven is a 1955 novel about 'a widow, rising sixty, with no particular gifts or skills, shunted from one to the other of her more or less unwilling daughters on perpetual uneasy visits, with no prospect of her life getting anything but worse’ (Afterword). One daughter is the socially ambitious Miriam living in the commuter belt with her barrister husband and children; one is Eva, an aspiring actress in love with a married man; and the third is Anne, married to a rough but kindly Bedfordshire smallholder who is the only one who treats Louise with more than merely dutiful sympathy. The one relation with whom she has any empathy is her grandchild.

The Winds of Heaven is very readable: like Dorothy WhippleMarghanita Laski or Noel Streatfeild, Monica Dickens had the knack of writing about ordinariness while making the reader unable to put her books down. It is about family relationships: it seems rather cruel that all three of Louise's daughters are so harsh to her but that, Monica Dickens is saying, is the way of the world.

As John Betjeman said in a Daily Telegraph review when the book was first published: 'Monica Dickens is one of the most affectionate and humorous observers of the English scene, particularly of the pretensions of genteel suburban life, that we have. Not only this, but she can always tell a good story, touch the heart with a pleasant sentimental grace… I think The Winds of Heaven is her best novel yet.'’ While Elizabeth Bowen wrote in Tatler: ‘Monica Dickens has chosen a situation perfectly suited to her art – her sense of comedy, her affection for people and her almost uncanny knowledge of their small ways. Here, in fact, is humour at its most kindly… How well she sees extraordinary in the ordinary, and how familiar she is with all kinds of people… Not a page of The Winds of Heaven is not enjoyable: here's a fine blend of comedy with sheer good sense.'

Endpaper

A 1950s furnishing fabric, origin unknown.

Picture Caption

The Knitting Party by Evelyn Dunbar 1940, at the Imperial War Museum


Read What Readers Say

Matthew Dennison, ‘The Spectator’

Widowhood in 1955 was not a desirable state. Not, at any rate, for Louise, heroine of 'The Winds of Heaven'. She is 57 and has a small, inadequate income from her parents. From her ghastly husband Dudley she has inherited nothing but debts. She has lost her house and her possessions, save a few clothes, and with them her way of life and her identity. In middle-age, she has been down-graded to second childhood. None of which is her fault. Within the parameters of Monica Dickens’s mid-century, middle-class world, such is the inevitable result of financial ruin and dependency. At a time of economic uncertainty, this is a troubling suggestion for readers today. So Louise is “like a child who has got lost on a church outing”. During the course of the novel, she will be found – although rescue comes from an unlikely quarter and is, again, none of her doing. Her three grown-up daughters devise a plan: their mother will live with each of them in turn throughout the course of the summer, while during the winter she will stay in a hotel on the Isle of Wight belonging to her oldest schoolfriend, who offers her cut- price rates. A victim of charity, she becomes “a surplus piece of furniture”, a minor element of discord in her children’s homes. But Louise is a universal figure, a sorrowful outsider who, burdened with domestic minutiae, attains the nobility of the romantic heroine at odds with an unfeeling world. The novel invests her with a grace and stature that those nearest her cannot see. And it does so with much style and wit.

The Guardian

If Monica Dickens means nothing more to you than horsey books and no-nonsense memoirs of nursing and service, then ‘The Winds of Heaven’, an eloquent novel about the genteel poverty of a widow shunted between her three egotistical daughters is a fine corrective’ wrote the Guardian. ‘Louise discovers her husband had lost all their money and she must depend on her children’s charity, moving between Miriam and her home-counties pretensions; Eva’s fragile London world of theatre and treacherous lovers; and a muddy smallholding where the slovenly Anne ignores her. Though Louise is a slight kind of Lear, her tragedy plays out in postwar Lyons Corner Houses and the ill-heated rooms of an out-of-season hotel. Dickens acutely observes the brittle veneer of social conventions; but is never quite acerbic enough in her criticism of the ungrateful children, and perhaps too sentimental about her distressed gentlewoman. But ‘The Winds of Heaven’ is a worthwhile reissue.

Categories: Family Grandmothers Mothers Widows Woman and Home

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