Skip to main content

Review: Few Eggs and No Oranges: the Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45

Pages: 590

Original date of publication: 1976

My edition: 2010 (Persephone)

Why I decided to read: read this for Persephone Reading Weekend

How I acquired my copy: Persephone mail-order, January 2011

Few Eggs and No Oranges is the diary that Vere Hodgson kept during the war years. The diary reprinted here covers the “official” start of the war on June 25, 1940, and takes us up through VE Day, May 1945.

The subtitle is “A diary showing how unimportant people in London and Birmingham lived through the war years 1940-45, written in the Notting Hill area of London,” and that’s a pretty good summary of what this book is about. Vere Hodgson lets very little of her own personal feelings in (aside from her obvious hero-worship of Churchill), but she gives detailed updates about what’s going on politically. We get very little sense of the people she spends her days with, and very little about Vere’s personality, either. And yet, this book is a fascinating read, mostly because it follows her every day doings, even as extraordinary things were going on around her. And what I also liked was that Vere Hodgson is so unfailingly honest. And she’s always so positive, even in the darkest days of the Blitz.

As I read, however, I found Vere Hodgson to be a contradictory person. At times, she’s delightfully childish about fruit, one of the hardest things to acquire during wartime in London (and all the more dear when they did become available). On the other hand, she’s remarkably astute about the goings-on in the world and at home. This is a paragraph that really struck me as poignant as I read:

[Sunday 11th May 1941] Just heard the terrible news that Westminster Hall was hit last night. Also the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. They saved the roof to a large extent. In the Abbey it was the Lantern. At first they thought Big Ben had crashed! One cannot comment on such things. I feel we must have sinned grievously as a nation to have such sacrifices demanded of us. Indeed future generations will say we have not taken care of what was handed down to us. We should have been more careful to defend it. We must pay the price now; but it is terrible to think of the wasted years, when, sunk in enjoyment, we did not realize that the days of all we looked on s precious were numbered—that our rulers and ourselves had lost their way in a mist of false high thinking, and common sense had gone.

I think it’s amazing how people during the war adapted so quickly, making do with what was available. But on the other hand, it seems as though Londoners were, in an odd way, better off than many! I think it’s interesting about the bombing aspect; because London was so large, you could only see or hear the bombs that were falling in your area!

This is Persephone No. 9. Endpaper below.


Karen K. said…
One of the many Persephones still sitting on my TBR shelf! (I'm not allowed to buy any new ones until I've finished the unread pile). It looks so interesting but I'm a little daunted by the length -- I will probably read it alongside another book to help break it up. And I love the endpaper.
Susan said…
I've had this book on my to-buy list for a couple of years now. I tried to buy it at Christmas from Persephone and they were reprinting it. Luckily, my birthday is approaching....

I really liked your review, especially as how you put that the author doesn't put much of herself into the book, it's mostly about going through the war, and yet it's still fascinating reading. This is much like some of the people I have met in Britain, like a need to record what they see as if the world is important, but not them - they are just ordinary people and so their personal thoughts aren't 'important' to record. I do really look forward to reading this book!
aparatchick said…
I really enjoyed this book. I believe that she wrote it as a sort of testament to what she and her neighbors and coworkers were going through. And it does reveal their quiet courage even when frightened by their daunting situation. She has a nice eye for the telling detail which brings her story to life.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…