Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck

Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck was first published in 1940, but  Dean Street Press reprinted it in 2016.

The setting is Stampfield which is a market town in the English Midlands and it’s a week in Lent.  Camilla Lacely is married to a vicar, and it’s the busiest time of the year for them. The book is Camilla’s diary of that week, there’s a lot to write about and she does it in an often witty style.

Camilla gets herself into a fankle (tangle) with the parishioners as when the curate preached what they regard as a pacifist sermon, she slept through it all, so she has no idea what they are up in arms about! They are all for running him and his family out of town, and she can’t admit that she was having a nap behind a pillar.

The country has been at war for about six months, it’s the period generally referred to as ‘the phoney war’ as not a lot had changed, rationing wasn’t that bad yet and ‘blitzkrieg’ was yet to happen.

Naturally Camilla is worried about her son Dick as he is at a training camp and presumably will be in the thick of it soonish.  Memories of World War 1 are coming back to her and she writes: Already I recognize the syptoms of the last War, when it grew more impossible to pick upthe newspaper, so that I often discover Dick learnt more about  the years 1914-18 at school than I did by living through them.

But this isn’t a grim read, there’s a lot of humour and although the vicar and the work that he does is very much appreciated by his wife, it’s evident that Camilla is the one with the heaviest burden dealing with the locals, all unpaid of course. This situation was very true to life right up to the 1970s for women who had chosen to marry a minister/vicar, like my sister-in-law, but nowadays I think that most spouses have their own careers to keep them busy. So making cheese rolls for tramps at the manse door probably doesn’t happen now!

There’s an introduction to this book by social historian Elizabeth Crawford, and Penelope Fitzgerald described (her aunt) Winifred Peck as being ‘A romantic who was as sharp as a needle.’

The book cover is a detail from Village Street  (1936) by Eric Ravilious.  I love his art, he became a salaried war artist during WW2 and sadly died when the RAF aeroplane he was in disappeared without trace in 1942.

Bags-I the Georgian house in the middle of the cover!


House-Bound by Winifred Peck

House-Bound was first published in 1942 but it has been reprinted by Persephone.

It’s that World War 2 setting again, but this one is also set in Edinburgh which Winifred Peck decided to rename Castleburgh for some reason. It begins at a registry office for servants, but there are no servants to be found as they’ve all given up domestic drudgery in favour of earning more money, independence and ‘doing their bit’ for the war effort, and who could blame them!

The middle class ladies of Edinburgh blame them, that’s for sure, but when Mrs Fairlaw (Rose) is told that millions of women do their own housework she decides that that is just what she will do. Rose has been born into quite a grand family and married Stuart Fairlaw who had inherited the family pile, Laws House, originally an ancient tower house but much enlarged over the years and very inconvenient and difficult to keep clean.

Rose is completely clueless about housework and cooking and even wonders if you have to use soap to clean the potatoes! Stuart can see that his wife is exhausted by all her domestic duties but as a man it never occurs to him to lend a hand, and Rose doesn’t expect him to. Their children are grown up and off in various military services.

This book is funny in parts but also sad too as the war takes a toll on family members. Rose is a strange mother/step mother with obvious favouritism towards one child and this has had an unfortunate effect on the rest of the family.

Eventually a Mrs Childe comes to help Rose with the housework a few hours each day and she attempts to teach Rose the mysteries of domesticity, there’s so much of it going on that I felt quite exhausted. Did you know that you are supposed to clean your cornicing regularly, I didn’t – and don’t!

It’s an enjoyable read and Rose is a really likeable character, there’s also some input from the US army in the shape of Major Hosmer, who tries to help Rose with her problems. One thing which did amuse me was the constant references to Rose and her friend Linda as being old and basically past it, so it’s a bit of a shock to realise that they’re only in their early 50s.

I do believe myself that the 50s is the new 30s!!