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Wilfred and Eileen

by Jonathan Smith
Persephone book no:

106 107 108

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155974

Wilfred and Eileen is by Jonathan Smith, author of several novels and non-fiction books. For many years he taught at Tonbridge School and one day the young Anthony Seldon (now the Master of Wellington and the biographer of Tony Blair) told him the story of his grandparents Wilfred and Eileen Willett. Jonathan Smith's first novel a few years later was based on their lives.

Wilfred Willett was 22 in 1912 when, at a May Ball at Trinity College, Cambridge, he met Eileen Stenhouse. The couple fell in love but because of parental opposition on both sides they married in secret. The approach of the First World War is evoked with great simplicity; Eileen stays living at home in Kensington whilst Wilfred continues his medical studies at the London Hospital. When Wilfred joins up and is shot in the head, it is only through the efforts of his wife and colleagues that he survives.  The Financial Times reviewer noted that it recaptured the spirit of WWI 'with such curious conviction that I almost felt I had come across some lost document of the time.'

However, this 'delightful novel' (Margaret Drabble) also focuses on the beginning of the Willetts' new life in deepest Kent after the War. It is a charming, poignant book which manages to write about harrowing matters without being in itself harrowing. 


The endpaper fabric is taken from 'Maud', a 1913 furnishing fabric by Vanessa Bell manufactured in Maromme, France, in a private collection

Picture Caption

'A Royal Army Medical Corps Stretcher-Bearer Fully Equipped' by Gilbert Roger, 1919

Read What Readers Say

Jo via Goodreads

I've never read a bad Persephone book, so I was excited when I saw this copy of ‘Wilfred and Eileen’ in my local library. It's a sign of a great book and superb writing when you whizz through it in a couple of days. This is a First World War story with a difference, simply because it focuses on the positive. Neither Wilfred or Eileen allow tragedy to stand in the way of leading a good, simple life and making a difference to the world around them. Neither of them dwell on what might have been, but instead focus on the love they share. This is an uplifting read as well as a glimpse into a bygone era. It also a wonderful love story.

I Prefer Reading (blogger)

‘Wilfred and Eileen’ is a lovely novel with the added interest of being based on truth. The story is simply told, with a great economy of style. It’s short and spans only a couple of years but there’s so much experience contained within this short time frame.

Categories: Education History Love Story Men (books by) WWI

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