‘The Real Mrs. Miniver’ by Ysenda Maxtone-Graham

Joyce AnstrutherTheRealMrsMiniver

Title: The Real Mrs. Miniver

Author: Ysenda Maxtone Graham (grandaughter of Joyce Anstruther/ Maxtone Graham/ Placzek!)

Genre: Biography

Publisher: John Murray. However my copy is an edition published by Slightly Foxed.

Publication Date: Originally 26th September 2002.

Hardback: 314

Stand alone or Series? Stand alone

Why did I choose to read this book? I subscribe to the Slightly Foxed, ‘Real Readers Quarterly’ and was instantly intrigued by the story of the woman behind Mrs Miniver. Plus the books SF produces are genuinely beautiful editions!

Where to read? An armchair with your feet up – you won’t be able to put this book down so make sure your reading nest is comfy, (this one is a slightly bizarre option).

Refreshments: Cups of tea are a no-go unfortunately. Instead I suggest either: invest in some good quality coffee or a full-bodied red, like this Malbec. For food, take a leaf out of the Queen’s book and head to Paxton & Whitfield to stock on a good selection of cheeses.

Review:

Winston Churchill once said Mrs Miniver* would do more for the Allied cause that a flotilla of battleships.

This biography reveals the woman behind the Mrs Miniver character. Written by her granddaughter the story details the life of Joyce Anstruther, later Maxtone Graham and finally Placek. From the 1930’s to her premature death at the age of 52 years old, we are taken on her journey from journalist and poet to best-selling author and wife both in the UK and America.

Before reading this biography I was dimly aware of the character Mrs. Miniver however, what I was completely ignorant of – but thankfully no longer – was the woman behind the perfect mother, housewife and all-round domestic goddess, Joyce Anstruther. Her story, as told by her granddaughter takes you on a roller coaster of emotions, not dissimilar as to how this remarkable woman lived her life.

Throughout this insightful and in-depth tale we are given the chance to get to know the woman behind the mask. A woman who lived her life in extremes, swinging from chronic depression to embracing all-consuming passions. It’s refreshing that Ysenda doesn’t shy away from detailing the darker aspects to her grandmother’s character. The comments about, how Joyce always had to ruin holidays or destroy other people’s enjoyment, paints the crueller side to this complex woman.

It was often unbelievable to learn how crazily talented Joyce was. From writing for Punch to penning much loved hymns like, ‘When a Knight Won His Spurs’ – which brought fond memories back of primary school – it is understandable that her life in the shadows of Mrs Miniver was dogged by frustrations. The pressures to become the epitome of this idealised character were keenly felt under the glare of the needs of the British war efforts resulting in a polarisation between her heart and her head. Not to mention the ‘jungles’ that hounded her in later life.

The aspect I loved most about the way the book was written was that Ysenda had included frequent extracts of Joyce’s own poetry, diary entries and witticisms. The most notable being a reference to the musician Bach and the fact ‘he’s so alright making.’ Her comments are sometimes quite acerbic but always hit the nail on the head in a unique and often amusing style. This is in direct contrast to her letters to her lover (and later husband) Adolf Placek which are full to the brim of effusive declarations of love. These inclusions both entertain and offer a greater insight into the shifting mindset of this woman.

In short this is a fascinating and beautifully written piece of work and in fact is the best biography that I have ever read.

Rating: 10 out of 10 -my first full marks!

*Mrs. Miniver was a fictional character borne from the mind of Joyce Anstruther and Peter Flemming in 1937 and appeared in a series of newspaper columns for The Times. The columns were reflections on every day life, depicting domestic scenes and a world barely affected by the coming of WWII. Later they were amalgamated into a book and adapted into a film of the same name.

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