Posts Tagged ‘Winifred Peck’

Review e-book sent by the publishers

Bewildering Cares has been on my kindle for quite a long time – which I do have a conscience about because it was a review copy sent by the publishers, which I simply forgot all about. Oops.

“I quite see that the bewildering cares of a clergyman with a family on an inadequate income must distract the mind at times from God.”

Bewildering Cares is the story of a week in the life of a vicar’s wife during the early days of World War Two. First published in 1940 it depicts a busy, harassed woman who has too many calls upon her time and only one servant. The vicar’s wife in question is Camilla Lacely, and the story is told through her daily diary, which she seems set on sending to her cousin Lucy to prove just how relentlessly busy her life is in the small Northern manufacturing town of Stampfield. Here Camilla Lacely rubs shoulders with all classes of people, some of whom are easier to deal with than others.

I rather loved hearing about Camilla’s favourite books from time to time – and her treatment for a tired husband here seems spot on.

“Arthur came in looking so exhausted that I went to the book-shelf and took out Mr. Mulliner Speaks. I propped this against the water-jug for him, and Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell, which I have read thirty times already and will probably read thirty more, against the loaf for myself. There is nothing so good for worried people as to read at their meals, and funny books if possible; for laughter grows so rusty in war time.” 

Camilla’s diary is witty and charming but much less cosy than novels like The Diary of a Provincial Lady or Mrs Tim of the Regiment – which I was initially reminded of. There is something a little more serious about this novel – possibly because of when it was written – no one could possibly know how things would turn out – and Winifred Peck wouldn’t have wanted her novel to seem frivolous and yet she clearly did want to raise a wry smile. I think she gets the balance just about right.

Camilla begins by assuring us that her husband Arthur is nothing like the bumbling, stereotypical vicars one encounters in fiction. He is, a tall, dark, clever man who got a first in Greats before the First World War. He comes across as a gentle, weary man with a very good heart. The Lacelys have one son Dick, who has enlisted – and Camilla has that vague fear of so many mothers at this time who don’t quite know where their sons are. As she goes about her day to day life – with little time to ever stop and think – Dick is really never far from her thoughts. Camilla remembering little things he has said and done as a child – adds a bit of poignancy to her narrative.

Camilla’s days are divided between working parties, visiting the poor, a parish quiet day, far too many committee meetings – and running her too large, chilly home with the loyal support of the trusty Kate. Phone calls always come at inconvenient moments and have to be taken a long way from the comfort of the fire side. Meals are already becoming harder to cater for. In the midst of this Camilla must wrestle often with matters of faith – and there is a degree of introspection here as she does so. I have to admit that I found these religious aspects of Bewildering Cares rather tedious – it isn’t to my taste at all I’m afraid. However, I enjoyed Peck’s writing, as I did with the other novel by her I read – and I will certainly go in search of more.

“I see myself then, in my search for true Faith, as someone groping his way through a huge dark, shuttered house, in this black-out of our lives. At last I see a crack of light, and enter one room where there is an open, undarkened window at last, though the window indeed is small and high up in the wall. That there is a great and glorious view from it, if I could reach up to it, is certain; but that view, the vista of the whole truth of God’s scheme for the universe, I must leave to faith.”

 Overall, I enjoyed the book, though I did rather yearn for E M Delafield’s sharp, laugh out loud humour and irreverent outlook on life. There are lighter moments – even the suggestion of a little romance for a couple of parishioners – and another young man rather closer to home is soon to have his own romantic announcement to make.

There is one main story strand throughout the novel – which concerns Arthur Lacely’s curate Mr Strang. On a Sunday when Arthur is away from the parish – Mr Strang preaches pacifism – which really sets the cat among the pigeons. Unfortunately, Camilla – who was in the congregation that morning – was having something that can only really be described as a nap – and is therefore unable to discuss the sermon with everyone clamouring to discuss it at length in the days after. Arthur and his harried wife certainly wish that their curate had chosen his words more carefully – but they also wish to support the man who has everyone up in arms. The Lacelys are eager to calm everyone down – but feelings are running high – with some suggesting that Mr Strang is no longer a suitable curate.

This is another enjoyable novel from the Furrowed Middlebrow series from Dean Street – and for those readers who love to read books about WW2 written at the time, this is another for the list.

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arrest the bishop

I have been fortunate enough to receive a few Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press for review. A couple of those I still have unread, but Arrest the Bishop? is the first I have gone off and bought for myself having read a persuasive review of it.

I first became familiar with Winifred Peck through Persephone books and her 1942 novel House-Bound – which I thoroughly enjoyed. Since then, I can’t say I had thought any more about this writer – who wrote twenty-six books, more than twenty of them novels. I wonder now, where all those other titles went to – and why they dropped out of print? Her other mystery novel The Warrielaw Jewel is also re-issued by Dean Street Press – and I am keen to read it too, and I also have another of her novels Bewildering Cares on my kindle to look forward to.

In his introduction to this new Furrowed Middlebrow edition, crime fiction expert Martin Edwards acknowledges how her two mystery novels show real accomplishment, but she was overshadowed by her talented family – namely her brother Ronald Knox a leading light of the ‘Golden Age of Murder.’ Peck’s two mystery novels were published a decade apart and don’t share a detective or form part of a series, and so has been discounted as a mystery writer since. A writer who began publishing before the First World War, Winifred Peck came from a fascinating family; who included  writers, a bishop, and the editor of Punch among them. Winifred (later Lady) Peck was also the aunt of author Penelope Fitzgerald.

Arrest the Bishop? – first published in 1949 is set in 1920 – the unlikely scene of a murder a bishop’s palace. Winifred Peck; the daughter of a bishop – no doubt had great fun playing around with this idea. Set around Christmas it is another book to add to the list of Christmas books we all like to compile in December – however the season is very much a backdrop – and there is nothing remotely Christmassy about this particular story.

Dr Broome; Bishop of Evelake and his family are preparing for an important house party just before Christmas, an ordination weekend for a small group of young men starting out on their clerical careers. The Bishop and his wife and their youngest daughter Sue are expecting a large party. Chancellor Chailly, Canon Wye, and the young clerics themselves of course as well as two other young parsons already known to the family; Robert Boarder (known as Bobs) – who works as the Bishop’s secretary – as he recovers from injuries obtained in the Great War, and Dick Marlin, who was in military intelligence during the war.

Snow is falling heavily (of course it is, it only ever snows at Christmas in books) the palace is enormous and there is a shortage of coal. Servants have also been difficult to get, Moira who has worked faithfully for the family for many years is laid up in bed, waiting transfer to the hospital for an urgent cancer operation. Mrs Broome has therefore been recently obliged to employ Soames as butler, who listens at doors, and is generally sly and inefficient.

As the house party start to gather in time for the ordination celebrations there are two more unexpected guests. Judith is the first – the Bishops elder daughter – she is a frivolous beauty – who blithely lives a life at odds with that of a bishop’s palace. She has separated from her husband, and desperate for a divorce is already involved with another man. Judith has recently telephoned her mother hinting at great trouble – trouble she thinks nothing of bringing to her father’s door when he least needs it. The Bishop is a former school headmaster, where he was seen as rather weak, lacking discipline and authority, and as Bishop he rather fears a scandal. Soon after Judith’s arrival – another far less welcome gate crasher arrives. The Rev Ulder, a local parish priest, a man universally loathed. There have been previous stories of drunkenness and embezzlement, but now the rotten priest is adding blackmail to his portfolio of wrong doings. Ulder has a knowledge of certain things various members of the house party would rather keep quiet, and he is determined to use this knowledge to his advantage. Ulder arrives the worse for drink, and having issued his threats collapses in front of the Bishop and his guests.

“He caught the back of a chair, staggered and groaned. There was a heavy crash and fall, and the parson lay motionless and livid, while lilies from a vase fell, like a wreath, across his chest.”

Put to bed in the Bishop’s palace, a doctor is called, who leaves six morphia tablets with Mrs Broome with strict instructions of administration. He further stipulates that Ulder should be given no strong drink, and left as quietly as possible, until an ambulance can come and collect him and Moira (the faithful servant) and take them to hospital. Despite these instructions several people tiptoe into Ulder’s room, to check on him. The following morning – Ulder is dead – of morphia poisoning, one of his bags is missing – and there is a whole host of suspects – many of them clergy, one of them a bishop.

“‘To give light to them which sit in darkness’ were the words which echoed oddly in Dick’s mind as he entered the shadowy study. It was an absurd and topsy-turvy idea for a humble candidate for the priesthood to entertain of his fathers in God, but under the low hand lamp by the dismal fire the Bishop, more like a death mask of St. Joseph than ever, the saturnine stillness of Canon Wye and the obvious perturbation in Chancellor Chailly’s rubicund face, suggested a huddled party of alarmed pilgrims in the Valley of the Shadow of disgrace. If only Dick were a Greatheart instead of his very everyday self!
“We have sent for you, Dick because we feel the need of advice, and you have been in our dealings with Ulder from the first.”

Chief Constable Mack decides to investigate this particular crime himself – a man deeply suspicious of the clergy he is determined there will not be any kind of church cover up here. Rev. Dick Marlin, church deacon, finds himself assisting Mack in the investigation.

This is a really good mystery, lots of suspects, twists and turns and I loved the setting of a bishop’s palace in the 1920s.

winfred peck

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I always feel as if I’m in safe hands when I pick up a Persephone book – it’s rare I’m ever disappointed and then usually only slightly. I was right; this is another of those Persephone books about a family that I generally find I love so much. On the face of it House-Bound is a novel about an upper middle- class woman who suddenly has to manage her rather unmanageable house herself, as her remaining staff leave to undertake war work. However it is of course about rather more than that.

Set in Edinburgh in 1942, the novel opens with Rose Fairlaw waiting at Mrs Loman’s Registry Office for Domestic Servants – her quest as she soon finds out is hopeless.

“It was as she stood in Mrs Loman’s Registry Office for Domestic Servants that Rose Fairlaw suddenly realised what a useless and helpless woman she was. Up till that moment she had always assumed vaguely that she was a busy and useful member of society.
Mrs Loman, who cocked an appraising eye at Rose, even as she made acid efforts to stem the volubility of the stout lady who held her ear, had no such illusions. There, sitting against the wall on hard chairs were rows of ladies the very image of Mrs Fairlaw, waiting desperately for an interview. They all wore the same type of well cut, well-worn tweeds, shoes and gloves, and beneath their well-bred self-restraint, the same hunted and hunting expression. For thirty years they had come to her office, as they wandered in the wilderness of domestic troubles, and most of them, in her eyes, deserved the troubles they had and the half-crowns they paid her.”

So much to the bemusement of Rose’s friends and family she determines to undertake the daunting task herself. She is a woman with a large and difficult house to care for, with a large basement kitchen just one of the problems she needs to wrestle with. Poor Rose really has no idea; she’s not even certain whether she need use soap to wash potatoes. Thankfully Rose does get some help and much needed instruction, first from daily Mrs Childes who undertakes to use her three hours a day at the Fairlaw house to instruct Rose in the mysteries of housework, and then (maybe more bizarrely) from an American Major and psychiatrist Percy Hosmer who takes it upon himself to teach Rose to cook.


Rose comes to describe herself as being House-Bound – by her new domestic routine, but soon recognises that she, and many other people like her are house-bound in their minds. Rose is married to Stuart – her second husband – her first husband was killed in World War I. Rose has a daughter by her first marriage, Flora with whom she has a difficult relationship Flora is unhappy, selfish and blames her mother for everything. Stuart’s first marriage produced a son Mickie, of whom Rose has had charge since he was a young baby, and on whom Rose always doted, much to Flora’s disgust. Tom is the youngest child of the family the only child of Stuart and Rose’s marriage. These three grown up children give Rose other things to worry about; Mickie and Tom in the services, Flora deeply unhappy leading a mysterious life down south.

Rose is surprised to find out that Major Hosmer knows Flora – and has talked to her, is interested in her problems. When Flora eventually does return home unexpectedly she brings chaos with her, but the Major seems to think he can help her. The Second World War provides a poignant back drop to this story of domestic disharmony – with the waste of young lives and the changing times for everyone.

There is some lovely gentle humour in this novel with Rose’s attempts to take charge of her house, collapsing exhausted in the afternoon. House-Bound is much more than a novel about house-work; it is also a novel about family, and the misunderstandings and complexities that arise when people don’t really talk about how they feel. It is also a story about people living under the threat of war – what kind of world would it be afterwards, and who would the war claim? At the time it was written the author could have had no idea how it would all turn out. Winifred Peck’s characters are wonderfully real, she satirises slightly the class that Rose comes from, in Rose ‘s best friend Linda and the hilarious Grannie don’t chah see. The American Major who is really a bit of a dab hand in the kitchen, coming up against the dour restraint of Stuart Fairlaw is really very well done.
This was a joy of a domestic novel, I loved Rose, and was fascinated by the dreadful Flora’s story.


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