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Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes

by Mollie Panter-Downes
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7 8 9

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ISBN 9780953478071

Good Evening, Mrs Craven reprints twenty-one short stories by Mollie Panter-Downes that were first published in The New Yorker between 1939 and 1945 and (with two exceptions) have never been reprinted - until now. They are stories of the highest quality which in our view should be set beside those by Elizabeth Bowen, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Elizabeth Taylor. In each and every story, Mollie Panter-Downes uses language with an insight and a poetic sensibility that is the mark of a great writer. 'All over London,' she wrote in 'Fin de Siecle' (12 July 1941), 'telephone bells were ringing angrily through empty rooms over which the fine brick dust, seeping in at shuttered windows, was beginning to settle.'

Ruth Gorb in the Ham & High contrasted the humour of some of the stories with the desolation of others: ‘The mistress, unlike the wife, has to worry and mourn in secret for her man; a middle-aged spinster finds herself alone again when the camaraderie of the air-raids is over…'

In these stories Mollie Panter-Downes explores almost every aspect of English domestic life during the war: boredom, separation, sewing parties, fear, evacuees sent to the country and to America, obsession with food, the camraderie of the Blitz, and above all the social revolutions of wartime. Thus in 'Year of Decision' (29 April 1944) the husband expostulates, 'For heaven's sake... It doesn't matter to me or Hitler whether I pick up my pyjamas off a chair or the floor' while his wife persists in her orderly smoothing of the eiderdown 'as though the action were yet another moral shot fired at the slowly advancing enemy.' 

Also available as a Persephone Classic, a Persephone e-book and a Persephone Audiobook.


‘Coupons’, 1941, shows women’s clothes against a repeat of '66', the number of clothes coupons allowed a year during the war, with the number needed per item.

Picture Caption

Lithograph by Frank Newbould 1942

Read What Readers Say

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, ‘Independent’

Boldly published, beautifully designed, dazzlingly written… Mollie Panter-Downes is as profound as Katherine Mansfield, restrained as Jane Austen, sharp as Dorothy Parker.

Vipula Gupta via Instagram

‘Good Evening, Mrs Craven’ is a mix of the comical and the tragic, of the optimistic and the hopeless. These short, sharp stories give us a window into what would have been the condition of hundreds of civilians as the Second World War swept by. The stories are arranged in chronological order, with each story being darker than the ones before. And all the stories are very, very English. There is not a touch of histrionics to be found anywhere; an entire nation is facing Armageddon, but the stiff upper lip only just quivers. The beauty of the writing is in the subtlety, in the thoughts between the lines and the haunting presence of war. Stories like these form an important part of the tradition of passing down history through generations. To understand, empathise and learn, we need to look at our past.

From First Page to Last

Mollie Panter-Downes was noted for her wit, perception and incisiveness thanks to her reflections on English domestic life during the war years. ‘Good Evening, Mrs Craven’ explores the common themes of the day, discussing fear, separation, evacuations and the wartime obsession with food. This is a lovely set of stories that whilst each entertain in their own right, together give the impression of a complete and cohesive look at the progression of the war. Each story is a little vignette into the lives of those left behind. There are sewing circles and committees to sit on, there are tales of evacuees, not so much how they themselves reacted to being moved across the country but the hidden views of those who took them in. The great thing about short stories is that you can dip in and out of them when you have a few spare minutes. There’s a wonderful layering to them. Each one adds its own colourful element to give the reader an idea of what life may have been like at the time. This is a fascinating collection. It is no doubt one I shall return to in the future.

Categories: Ireland London Short Stories Social Comedy Woman and Home WWII

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