Not so quiet
As Barbara Hardy is keen to point out in the introduction, this is not a ‘rediscovered feminist masterpiece of style and structure’ but rather ‘a genuine popular novel’. I really liked it – for the most part it raced along and I was completely absorbed by the Helen character. Some of the praise must go to Winifred Young no doubt as it is based on her diaries. For example, the shilling they were docked for the unusable piano, ‘caused more indignation in the convoy than the invasion of Belgium caused the Belgians’ p 53, has such a ring of truth to it that I guess it must be true. It is Price/Smith herself, however, who, in response to her mother’s ‘war to end war’ responds ‘Never. In twenty years it will repeat itself’ p 90. Was such prophetic perception common in the inter-war years? I found it surprising.
The cast of characters is pretty formulaic, and I think the awful commandant stands in for the top brass generally – her petty rules and persecutions making life even worse for the girls than the Germans. Against this background is the almost unbelievably blind patriotism of the family at home, who still buy in to the ‘war is glory myth’, and whom Helen is unable to disabuse.
The story surrounding this book is as interesting as the novel itself and I was so pleased for the information in my VMC copy. I can’t remember the structure details of the Remarque book, which is probably just as well as On Beauty suffered from my trying to tie it in to Howards End. But without that guiding structure, Price seems to have floundered when she wrote various sequels on the back of Not So Quiet’s success.
If you can, do go to the current exhibition at the Imperial War Museum – free and open until end of August I think. It features their collection of paintings by women war artists from WW1 to present. Did you know we had official women war artists then? Nor did I, but the pictures concerning this period really bring this story to life for me and the explanatory text is fascinating about how women artists see things differently.