Original date of publication: 1946
My edition: 2011 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Persephone shop, September 2011
Doreen is set during WWII and focuses on an issue that many parents living in cities at the time faced. Mrs. Rawlings is a cleaner in a London office who worries about what to do with her nine-year-old daughter during the Blitz. Through Helen Osbourne, a secretary at the office, Mrs. Rawlings finds a place for Doreen at home of Helen’s brother Geoffrey, a solicitor, and his wife, Francie. The Osbournes are a kind, loving couple, and Mrs. Osbourne begins to see a little bit of herself in Doreen. The relationship between Doreen and the Osbournes grows—maybe too much so, from the point of view of the eminently sensible Helen Osbourne.
Barbara Noble writes with an insightful eye. She demonstrates without explicitly saying so the dilemma that many parents of the time faced: should London parents keep their children with them, and possibly put them at greater risk; or send them out to the countryside to safety, where they might be living with strangers? Added on top of this is the all-too-timely reappearance of Doreen’s father, who has his own ideas about what should be done with the child.
The novel is told from the viewpoint of the girl; but though the reader isn’t explicitly told the details, we can still read between the lines infer the truth (at the beginning of the novel, for example, Doreen’s father is euphemistically referred to as “dead”). The book is unintentionally a suspense novel, too; there’s the scene in London in the Underground and at the Rawlings’ home in Dakers Place which is particularly gripping.
Doreen was extremely lucky about the couple she stayed with; many children who were in a similar predicament were not so lucky. Written just after the war years, this novel must have been a timely and striking commentary about the plight of the thousands of children who had to live away from home during the war.
This is Persephone No. 60.