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Standing in the Shadows

Style: Average

Attitude: Unobjectionable

In Brief: A conventional period story, unoriginal but inoffensive. Horror and uselessness of War. Challenge to traditional work patterns. Family strength even in disagreement. Old story about an illegitimate child.

Cover of Standing in the Shadows

Author: Jennie Walters

Series: Swallowcliffe Hall

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Published in: 2006

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: Early 20th C

Setting: Rural Kent

Genres:  FamilyHistorical


Characters:

  • Grace is a 15-year-old serving training as a kitchenmaid while yearning to work with her father as a groom
  • Her mother, Polly is dedicated to Swallowcliffe Hall where they work, and dislikes her other children taking less conventional jobs.
  • Philip is the son of Mrs Hathaway, formerly Miss Harriett Vye.

Synopsis:

Grace, more tomboy than girl, is finding it hard to work as a kitchenmaid, especially when the male staff are leaving to join the army in France and her father needs help in the stables. She also finds herself attracted to Philip, nephew to the present Lord Vye, and is angry when her mother warns her against pursuing the match.

Notes:

A straightforward followup to the earlier story in the series. The author neatly jumps 25 years and mostly leaves the reader to work out who's who. The story stands alone and turns on the effect of the Great War on the economy and attitudes of people, and especially on the breakdown of the familiar upstairs-downstairs attitudes.

In keeping with modern sensibilities (cf Private Peaceful), Grace's brother Tom is to be court-martialed for laying down his weapon and helping a German. In a poignant moment, a soldier who goes out of his way to tell Grace's parents tells how at the famous Christmas ceasefire he had talked to his German counterparts and found them ordinary men like himself, unwilling pawns in an international fight.

Although the book could be read by a pre-teen, the attitudes might not be so easily understood, and there is mention of Iris' pregnancy from the previous story.

Themes:

  • The point or pointlessness of war
  • The relationship between people and jobs.

Spring crept up on us, and it seemed to me that Swallowcliffe had never looked so lovely. Our rose garden might have been turned over to growing vegetables, but the woods were full of bluebells and daffodils tossed their bright yellow heads in the wind. Silvery waves on the lake sparkled and danced in the sunshine, and the trees were bursting with blossom. Men might have been busy killing each other all over the world (for the war was being fought in countries like Russia and Turkey now, too), but the world kept on turning, and there was still beauty to be found in it. So we dragged some of the beds outside on to the terrace for the men to enjoy the fresh air, and those would could walk were encouraged to explore the grounds. It must have helped heal them, breathing in the peace of those quiet woods and fields.

Saturday 29th July 2006