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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

"The greatest First World War novel you've never heard of" (New Yorker)

The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is a book that is so close to our heart that we find it quite hard to write about without being ridiculously partisan and over-emotional. We had not read it until recently, when we simply turned the pages in awe and sat like a statue when it was finished (and it’s extremely long, another 600 pager like The Oppermanns). Of course we thought we had read it. Being such huge fans of Dorothy Canfield Fisher, we assumed we had read everything – obviously the inimitable and perfect The Home-Maker, but also The Brimming Cup, Her Son’s Wife, Seasoned Timber, the Montessori manuals. But The Deepening Stream has a rather slow start and, although we are ashamed to admit it, we wonder if on first reading we simply gave up.

The book begins by describing Matey Gilbert's childhood in France, growing up in a curiously dysfunctional family. In the second part, she makes a miraculously happy marriage. But it is the third part which tips this book into greatness: it is absolutely extraordinary about life on the home front in France during World War One. In 1915 Matey 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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Based on 4 reviews

Categories: America Childhood WWI

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