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December 12, 2020 at 10:23 pm #24576Jonathan WenkeGuest
Wilfred and Eileen
by Jonathan Smith
- Language: english
- Genres: romance, classics
- Publisher: Persephone Books
- Format: paperback, 186 pages
- ISBN: 9781903155974 (1903155975)
- Author: Jonathan Smith
- Release date: April 24, 2014
About The Book
Wilfred and Eileen, which commemorates World War 1, is by Jonathan Smith, author of several novels (Summer in February) and non-fiction books (The Learning Game). For many years he taught English 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. Eileen continued to live at home in Kensington and Wilfred continued his medical studies at the London Hospital. The scenes before the outbreak of war are beautifully described with a Forsterian touch (reminding the reader that Forster too was at Tonbridge and Cambridge). The approach of war is evoked with great simplicity, eschewing all clichés: ‘It would not be quite true to say that the war rumours had not filtered into Wilfred’s mind but he had certainly not been infected by the mounting hysteria of late July.’
Wilfred joins up, is shot in the head, and rescued, indeed brought back to life, through the efforts of his wife and his colleagues at the hospital. The nature of his wounds meant that he could not return to the army or to medicine, so he and Eileen went to live in a cottage in Kent and started a family.
This ‘delightful novel’ (Margaret Drabble) focuses on the years 1913 — 15 — the happy love affair, the outbreak of war, the coming back from France, the brush with death, the beginning of a new life in deepest Kent. It is a charming, poignant book which manages to write about harrowing matters without being in itself harrowing. The 1976 Financial Times said that it recaptured the spirit of WW1 ‘with such curious conviction that I almost felt I had come across some lost document of the time.’
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