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Wilfred and Eileen

by Jonathan Smith
Persephone book no:

106 107 108

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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

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

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