[London]: [1938 - 1946]. Over 300 letters, both handwritten and typescript, most with original envelopes. In individual archival sleeves, organized chronologically in two three-ring binders. With assorted ephemera (greeting cards, newspaper clippings, drawings, etc.). Very good or better overall. Very good +. Item #23392
Remarkable and extraordinarily readable collection of over five years of letters from two increasingly estranged parents to their young son and daughter, sent from London to friends in Baltimore in the early days of World War II for safety from German bombing and the feared seaborne invasion of England. Each parent writes separately to the children and to their American guardians (the wife’s sister and her husband), offering parallel accounts of the War and of their dissolving marriage, which come to a simultaneous end. The correspondence offers a near-seamless narrative of the war years -- inevitably, letters were lost in the transatlantic post, but remarkably few gaps appear.
The majority of the archive dates from 1940-45. The two parents, Jack and Audrey, have incompatible philosophies of life and child-rearing, and their strained relationship shows. Audrey - often ill, always worried - fears for Jack's mental stability: "He is really terribly unbalanced. I almost wonder if he is entirely sane. I do hope he writes suitable letters to you and the children."
Jack, the kind of man who would and did capitalize the phrase "Dark Forces of Evil," had his own ideas about suitable letter-writing; but the qualities that made him a trial to his family make him a gift to historians: to his 11-year-old daughter, he explains his enthusiasm for R.J. Scrutton's fascist-adjacent United Christian Petition Movement and Cardinal Hinsley's Sword of the Spirit. "I have been busy," he writes, "getting to know some new friends and helping them with their work. They are the people behind a new movement called 'Parliament Christian,' and which is determined to turn this country of ours into the beginning of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. They know, as I know, that that is the only hope we have of beating Hitler." Later: "I am quoting from this January's issue of the Imperial Policy Group's monthly "Memorandum of Information," which has very important inside sources of information all over the world, and which I receive regularly." Jack would also turn his eye to the Social Credit movement, the 1941 Committee, the Common Wealth Party, and faith healing via the "Cosmic Force, the Power of God."
Meanwhile, Audrey's letters are full of the physical and emotional realities of daily life on the home front. On the subject of war, she censors herself rigorously for her children: "When we go to the Shelter now...[w]e just sit outside and knit, or sew, or read, or talk while the children play in the sand. It's really quite pleasant...If things ever should get bad now, even if we had gas, we would be pretty safe inside with our masks on...You know we are all right whatever your newspapers say."
But to her friends, she confesses: " As I write the planes are droning overhead, the anti-aircraft guns are booming and from Southampton - some 20 miles distant - come sounds of hell. The sky in that direction is red from the fires caused by bombs. Even now & then my bed shakes with the far away bombs. This is not for the children's ears."
As the war continues, divorce and custody struggles come to the forefront: Audrey contemplates allowing the children to remain in Baltimore indefinitely, in a stable home. To her husband: "You do not take into account the mess marriage made of my professional life." To her friend: "I have not ever been able to tell you how things are...I have not wanted to say unkind things about Jack. Without doing so I could not give you a true picture." Jack, feeling no such restraint, sends his daughter copies of private letters written to him in confidence by their mother. The archive includes just one piece written by the Baltimore guardians: a forceful and exasperated draft letter, demanding that the two behave responsibly.
As the archive draws to a close in 1945-46, Audrey's outlook is grim: "As far as conditions in London are concerned, they are worse than during the war...Unless you fetch your bread early in the morning, there's none left....The plight of Europe is too terrible to contemplate." But "I, Jack, am out for adventure and a new life - almost certainly as English instructor to the Chinese Navy."
A unique and precious archive, as captivating as an epistolary novel, with two narrators competing for credibility against the backdrop of a world-changing war.