Original date of publication: 1931
My edition: 2011 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, September 2011
“But over all lay a spirit of joyful, unrestrained freedom. There were no servants—no masters: no clerks—no managers—just men and women whose common profession was Holidaymaker.”
Every September the Stevenses—a working-class family from the outskirts of London—take a fortnight holiday to Bognor, a town by the sea. On the surface this is a typical tale of holidaying—but there is so much more to this novel than there appears.
There is a feeling, however, that this holiday will be their last as a family—the two oldest, Dick and Mary, have left school and may easily have made plans to vacation with friends instead; and Mrs. Stevens doesn’t particularly care for Bognor. As such there is a feeling of nostalgia about this novel; it seems as though the Stevenses are trying to capture the essence of a time gone by while still grappling with the reality of their lives. The holiday takes place in September, a slightly-off season for holidaying, so there’s a feeling of deflation and sadness after the summer weather. The only member of the family who seems innocent to this is the youngest member of the family, Ernie, aged 10. Meanwhile, the two eldest are struggling with becoming adults. So there’s an undertone of depression to the book, which also captures the “normalcy” of an annual family holiday.
Because the trip to Bognor is an event, it’s treated as such; the Stevenses even have a Going Away Eve, along with all the little rituals that attend to preparing for a holiday. There is always the feeling of expectancy the day before or the day tht you take a break from the routine of life, and this novel captured that feeling perfectly. The author got the idea for the book while he was on vacation in Bognor. While people-watching, Sherriff decided to take one of the families he saw and imagine what their lives might be like. In the excerpt of the author’s autobiography, reprinted the Persephone edition, Sherriff wrote, “I wanted to write about simple, uncomplicated people doing normal things.” It’s for that reason that the book is so good.
This is Persephone no. 67.