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Blitz Writing.

Blitz Writing: Night Shift and It Was Different at the Time, by Inez Holden, edited by Kristen Bluemel, Handheld Press, 2019. 227 pp. Paperback $11.55, [pounds sterling]12.99, Kindle $3.90.

The publication of this book in May concludes the long, purgatorial neglect suffered by a writer whose talent was at one time recognized by Evelyn Waugh as well as Anthony Powell, H G Wells, George Orwell, and Cyril Connolly. Inez Holden was also a close friend of Stevie Smith and Mulk Raj Anand. From the 1930s to the mid 1950s she wrote seven novels, two story collections and a memoir, numerous uncollected stories, essays and articles in the national newspapers and magazines.

Waugh first mentions Inez in his Diaries1 as a "charming girl" he met while they were both working at the Express (9 May 1927, 284). A few weeks later, she joined him after work at the Express for a night on the town: "We sat in the Savoy for a long time then went to a cinema, then to the Gargoyle, then to the Night Light where she spent all my money on a shilling in the slot machine then back to the Gargoyle" (1 July 1927, 284-85).2 This was the same day Waugh had collected his last pay packet from the Express.

Waugh next mentions Inez several weeks later, noting a lunch at the Gargoyle Club with both Inez and Anthony Powell (8 September 1927, 289). He wrote that he paid for that lunch with the proceeds of a sale of some review copies. Powell also recalls in his memoirs that Waugh paid for Inez's lunch, which he thought was generous given that Waugh was very hard up at the time. Afterwards, Waugh accompanied Inez first to a cinema and then to "her club." This was in the period when Waugh was at work on Rossetti, an arrangement that Powell had facilitated by introducing Waugh to Duckworths, the publishers, where Powell worked at the time. Later in the month, Waugh recorded a dinner with Inez and afterwards a casual visit to her flat in William Street (apparently SW1, Knightsbridge) where he "sat for so long a time...that, for poverty, I was obliged to walk home" (n.d., September 1927, 289).

About a week later, he went back and found her "in bed eating cachets de faivre; stayed late with her; next day, she came to luncheon and my parents to dinner" (290). It is not clear whether Inez joined him at dinner with his parents. The following month, he visited her parents in their home at Bromson Hall, Warwickshire, but without Inez. This was a small estate with a stable and stud farm located less than five miles from where Waugh's friend Alastair Graham lived at Barford. When he told Mrs. Holden that he had seen Inez recently and that she was "living on cachets de faivre," Mrs. Holden replied: "I don't think I know the de Faivres" (2 October 1927, 291). Waugh mentions that he was accompanied by someone during the visit to the parents; this was probably Alastair's mother Jesse Graham with whom he was staying at Barford, as is explained by Waugh in his previous diary entry. He also says that there were lots of other people there, including Inez's unprepossessing brother ("...looking like death. He showed indecent pictures and talked of night haunts.") It may be that the Holdens were giving a party of some sort to which they had invited their neighbor, Mrs. Graham.

At about this same time, Waugh began carpentry training at art school in Holborn. This may explain the recollection of Inez to her cousin (Celia Goodman) that, when Inez was staying at the Ritz in a flat borrowed from a friend, "she had encountered [Waugh] wandering about in the corridors with a bag of tools."3 What occurred during these visits is not mentioned by Waugh but they took place at the same time he was courting Evelyn Gardner.4 After Waugh married, he records meeting Inez unexpectedly, apparently accompanied by his wife, on two occasions in late 1928 (23 November 1928, 301).

Waugh reviewed Inez's first book, a novel entitled Sweet Charlatan, published by Duckworths. His review appeared in Vogue (London), 4 September 1929. He writes that the book
...is a first novel and quite clearly the work of an author of
sophisticated sensibility [...] Sweet Charlatan is, in a sense, a
society novel; that is to say it deals with very fashionable people,
but they are not, thank heaven, set down with the gossip writer's idea
of social values [...] It is the most 'ninetyish' book I have read in
some time, but it is the 'nineties' dressed up in modern clothes. The
plot involves magic and is fundamentally inscrutable. The hero is
supremely bogus but rather attractive, and a creation of real skill.
There are also some good incidental jokes and some excellent proper
names. (5)


Another review of the book was written by Waugh as a sample for the Daily Sketch, but was not accepted. In it, he mentions that the hero "is an aesthete who, people tell me, has a marked resemblance to a well-known young man in London society" (Complete Works, supra, 199). According to Powell, who discussed the same book in his memoir of Inez, this young man was "...that flamboyant figure Evan Morgan (later Viscount Tredegar), and was "...not beyond all hope of identification. Inez was said to have talked of marrying Lord Tredegar. There was no prima facie reason for supposing that an ambition easy of attainment, though true that in the course of his career he married twice, the second venture annulled. This doubtful aspect may not have been entirely a disrecommendation in a husband."6

About a year later, after his divorce, Waugh records another meeting with Inez (Diaries, 28 June 1930, 318). This would have been after his success with his first two novels:
Inez lunched with me. I said 'How bad-tempered Harold [Acton] was last
night' to make things easier. Inez said, 'He was sweet to me. But then
I know him so well he wouldn't think of being anything else.' Inez has
taken to kissing me lately...


Waugh seems to have lost touch with her after this last entry. Powell, on the other hand, continued to have contact with Inez, and it was through her that he became acquainted with George Orwell during the war. Inez was then working with Orwell at the BBC as well as pursuing several other jobs such as a first aid volunteer, fire watcher and factory worker.

The two short books included in this reprint are both set in and published during World War II, probably Holden's most productive period. As well as these two books--Night Shift (1941) and It Was Different at the Time (1943)--she produced another novel, There's No Story There (1944), and a collection of stories, To the Boating (1945). She managed to get them published despite wartime book production restraints and her multiple jobs.

Night Shift takes place during the height of the Blitz over one week in the Spring of 1941. Each chapter is named for the work-day it describes. Indeed, the last chapter, "Saturday," can be precisely identified with the date 19 April 1941 because that is the day, together with the preceding Wednesday (16 April), on which there occurred the strongest London bombardments of the Blitz up to that point. This is explained in the editor Kristin Bluemel's notes. The bombardments came thereafter to be referred to by Londoners simply as "the Wednesday" and "the Saturday" (188, 194).

The novel has a first-person narrator who has recently come to work in a North London factory (the nearest transport junction is Tottenham) called Braille that makes reconnaissance cameras for aircraft. There is probably some irony implied in the name. The first-person narrator takes little part in the action until the final day but is rather the observer of others who work there. The novel is described as concerning itself with the "working class," and most of the characters fall into that category. We learn something of their lives and more about their concerns with factory pay and work conditions through their conversations on the factory floor and in the canteen. Since the narrator has only recently come to work there, she knows little of their lives outside the factory, with two exceptions noted below.

There is nothing one could call a plot, but the concerns of the workers evolve into a sort of story. They believe that they are being underpaid by not receiving the proper level of compensation for overtime and piece-work bonuses. Moreover, the female workers are all classified as "unskilled," and this is a recurrent grievance since they are expected in many cases to perform the same tasks as the men. Due to their "unskilled" status, they are paid less for equivalent work and are not allowed to organize into a union. In the short time covered by the story, these issues are not resolved, but one gains a sufficient understanding of them to see the workers' point of view.

There are two instances where a "story" is told that extends outside the workplace. One involves a character known as Mabs who is married to one of the other workers. Mabs is a chatterbox and reveals details of her courtship and subsequent marital strife that are recounted by the narrator: "Her talk was like a pump which worked the life up from a well of consciousness through the deep mud of despair" (42). She has a casual attitude toward the truth, speaking in "a half-dead tone [...] as she ploughed back over the arable of lies" (47). This tale of a stressful marriage, however, does not reach any conclusion.

The other "story" relates to a young girl known as "Feather" who has recently started work. She is described as "not working class" and is treated with some deference by the others. She gets along well with them but has insights into their problems that give her a different understanding. For example, when the others discuss organizing a protest against short pay, she sees that this is unlikely to succeed due to certain working-class habits. Instead of uniting and calling out together for changes, she expects that they will behave like "isolated Lilliputians, potting on haphazard with pea-shooters from somewhere well out of range of the fortress" (35). She realizes that, although she too had been poor, "her way of being without money had been different to [that of the workers]. Feather had had a bad time on not much credit, and they had had a bad time on no cash. It was the difference between restlessness and fatigue" (56).

It soon becomes apparent that Feather's background is quite like that of Inez Holden. At one point Feather's childhood is recalled (61-63), where she looks out of her nursery over a "line of trees" to a distant highway. She enjoys playing with her visiting cousins on her parents' inherited estate, though her mother and father constantly quarrel. This closely matches Holden's own childhood as described by Celia Goodman in her memoir. The country house sounds like that visited by Waugh when he met her parents, Bromson Hall in Warwickshire.

Feather is the most interesting individual character by quite a long chalk, and one is grateful to have a character who can be described beyond the surface of only a few days' acquaintanceship, as is the case with the others. Feather shows more than a casual interest in one or two of the boys her own age who have recently arrived from a government training center, and one of the supervisors shows more than routine interest in explaining work-shop matters to her. One suspects a storyline could have developed out of these situations if the book had continued. Indeed, upon reflection, Feather may easily be a Waugh character who escaped from Put Out More Flags to take up war work (Poppet Green or one of her friends).

The novel ends rather abruptly in the "Saturday" chapter that takes place on the narrator's night off. She describes details of the "Saturday" raid on 19 April 1941 that began after her tour as fire watcher when she had returned to her flat. (7) When the narrator awakes the next afternoon and surveys the damage, she realizes as she approaches the Braille factory that it has been hit and is still burning. She doesn't discover what happens to any of the employees, except for Mabs, who is also approaching the factory for the next shift and explains that she and her husband have survived.

It is somewhat disappointing to have the story thus abbreviated, but it was probably a good literary move. Even though the stories about the workers' job grievances and love lives may have piqued the reader's interest in seeing how they would play out, having them end suddenly by bombardment was very much the way things happened at the time. Holden strives to make the workers sympathetic, and she clearly agrees with them on their job grievances, but they are not as fully fledged as Feather. Waugh, on the other hand, made little effort to sympathize with the lower-middle and working-class characters he created for his war novels. They are in many cases quite well-drawn and memorable--Hooper, the Connolly children, Ludovic, Major Hound, Apthorpe--but they are used for satirical purposes.

There is not a lot of humor or satire in Holden's novel, but occasionally some comes through. She describes one of her fellow women workers as so thin that "the Government overall [she was wearing] looked awkward as if, in putting it on, she had wrapped herself up into a parcel and then lost interest on the way to the post office" (3). A foreman wonders about Feather's "posh life" before the war, imagining "well-lit restaurants with food at five times its true value, clothes of good material, carpets so soft that you might be walking on kittens, and an endless expensive noise of bands, clattering knives and forks and useless conversation" (7).

The second book, It Was Different at the Time, is based on Holden's wartime diaries and dates back to 1938. As explained in the introduction, the original plan was to publish her diary together with that of George Orwell, kept during this same period. As it turned out, Orwell's diaries referred more to news reports and his related opinions than to his personal life, and hers were the other way about. When Orwell was reluctant to allow her to edit his diaries, she proceeded with plans to publish hers separately. Orwell's were published after his death.

Holden begins by describing normal life before Munich, then explains how the Munich Agreement changed things by making it evident that war was likely. In anticipation of war, Holden entered training for work in first aid shelters. Too much time is spent on this training and then her experience on the job at shelters and hospitals during the phony war. This is the sort of "lady-work" the narrator and other characters in Night Shift think would be more suitable for the likes of Feather. Frankly, the early entries make rather tedious reading. It makes a point, perhaps, that nothing of note was happening during the "phoney war," but Waugh did a much better job of this in Put Out More Flags.

Once the war begins, however, things pick up considerably. Holden was living in a flat on Albany Street near Regents Park. She discusses the neighborhood and the friends she made there. Among them were an eccentric colonial musician, who turns out to be a conscientious objector, and a lady music teacher in the flat below her. She also describes meeting some Free French servicemen after Dunkirk (which is otherwise not discussed) and is surprised to learn (as was I) that most of them planned to return to France (as in fact, according to the notes, most did).

In her diary entries for September 1940, Holden explains that most of the bombing had shifted to the nighttime. This is consistent with the winding down of the Battle of Britain, as the Germans were unwilling to continue to bear the loss of aircraft and crewmen in daylight combat. The "battle of Britain" (July-September 1940) is mentioned as such only once (72) and does not seem to have been recognized at the time as a victory for the British. In October 1940, in quite vivid detail, she describes the night when her building in Albany Street suffered a direct hit. She had gone down to the flat below occupied by the music teacher:
When I had been about 5 minutes in this room it seemed to me that [...]
objects were suddenly made to move around as in a Rene Clair film.
Almost immediately afterwards the lights went out, the walls broke up
and fell inwards. Some of the ceiling came down, and the door freed
itself from its hinges and was hurled into the centre of the room. The
shutters and window frames went on splintering up for some time. The
floor, which was probably unaffected, seemed to be moving most of all.
(155)


She does not explain what would have become of her if she had remained in her own flat on the floor above. She seems to be most concerned to have been able to retrieve her bicycle from the wreckage. She was unable to reoccupy her room and explains that, when she was having breakfast with some friends the next morning in Regents Park, she encountered H. G. Wells in his dressing-gown; he had been temporarily evacuated from his house on nearby Hanover Terrace by a time bomb that had to be defused. With no further explanation, she writes that she was invited by Wells to move into the mews flat behind his house. It is not clear whether she knew him before this chance encounter. They developed a friendly relationship, and he congratulated her on the publication of Night Shift the following year, leaving her a note: "Your book is first rate...Bravo Feather...I admit you can write...HG" (xviii-xix).

Holden notes the increased intensity of the raids as they began to occur nightly. In early 1941, she records taking a technical course at a government training center, which apparently led to the job at the North London camera factory she fictionalized in Night Shift later in the year. She was still living in Wells' mews flat in April 1941 when she recorded the major bombardments in the middle of that month. Again, some of this material made its way into her description of the same raids in Night Shift.

It was in this period that she was actively seeking work at the BBC. Despite persistent efforts, she was unable to secure any regular position, although she did occasionally receive free-lance commission work. The editor explains that, unknown to Holden herself, because of her outspoken left-wing political views expressed in her proposed scripts, much of her work rejected by the BBC was probably due to political censorship, and this may also have contributed to her failure to secure a permanent position.

On several occasions, she travels outside London or meets with people who have just come into London from remote locations. She is surprised at how little they know about the difficulty of living there. By the time of her final entries in summer 1941, she is no longer mentioning bombardments, perhaps failing to realize that the Blitz, as such, had effectively ended in May, in advance of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Intermittent bombing would continue but nothing on the same scale.

Waugh shows no sign of having read these books. During most of the period when the two books now reprinted were published, he was on active duty in the Army and was not doing much reviewing. His own books and diaries reflect only indirect experience with the Blitz. This is probably because he largely missed it due to being out of range of London during most of the period it covered. In October 1940, on the way back from the aborted raid in West Africa, he writes: "All letters from home were about air raids. Bobbie Longdon blown up at Wellington. Henry Yorke no doubt fighting fires day and night" (Diaries, 484). While on leave at Pixton, after his return in November, he mentions "Talk is all of air raids" (485). He travels up to London in an effort to secure transfer to the Commandoes but is more concerned in finding somewhere to sleep than with the bombardment. During his visit on 9 November, he writes that "Pam Chichester has been heavily bombed and wounded" and stays with his parents, noting "Highgate has been heavily bombed. My father fears nothing but my mother was rather more disturbed. There was considerable firing during the night but no bombs near us." On the next day, he notes "Much firing at night but no bombs near us," and the day after, "Air raid warnings all day. [...] The talk was mainly of bombs." The Ministry of Information was hit, and this was described by Harold Nicolson as more flash than bang (486). (8) The day after that, Waugh left London to rejoin his unit in Scotland. His next entry from London is in December 1941 by which time the Blitz had ended. During the interim, he was with the Commandoes training in Scotland, participating in the Battle of Crete and returning to Britain via Cape Town and the Caribbean.

The closest Waugh comes in his novels to a description of the Blitz is the direct hit on Turtle's Club across the street from Bellamy's (more a farce than a disaster) in the opening scene of Officers and Gentlemen. This occurs just after Guy's Marine unit has returned from Africa: "'Most exhilarating,' said Guy." Ian Kilbannock responds: "'Ah, you're new to it. The bore is that is goes on night after night. It can be pretty dangerous too with those fire-engines and ambulances driving all over the place [...].' On the pavement opposite Turtle's a group of progressive novelists were squirting a little jet of water into the morning room" (1-2). The timing of that scene could coincide with Waugh's own trip to London in November 1940 during the Blitz, as recorded in his Diaries, but it seems unlikely that he witnessed anything of the sort since he wrote that he was never near any actual bombing.

The V-1 and V-2 flying bombs were yet to come. Waugh was in Yugoslavia during most of that campaign (V-1/V-2: 13 June/6 September 1944 - 29/27 March 1945) but includes a diary reference to the very beginning of the V-1 attacks on 19-20 June 1944, which he witnessed while in London: "I heard one flying near and low and for the first and last time in my life was frightened" (Diaries, 568). In a letter to his wife written about the same time from his military post in Scotland, he explained:
The danger is negligible but the annoyance grave and almost incessant.
The bombs make a noise like a motor-car and then stop & fall with a
pop. One gets into the habit of listening to motor-cars & wondering if
they are bombs, which distracts one from rational pleasure during the
day and keeps one awake at night. (9)


He left for Yugoslavia on 4 July.

In Unconditional Surrender (253-60) the deaths of Guy's wife Virginia and his Uncle Peregrine are caused by a flying bomb, and Waugh also describes how these weapons affected the work in the Survival magazine offices of Everard Spruce. He returned to London on 15 March 1945, just in time to witness the final attacks of the flying bombs during the following fortnight in London: "Rocket bombs fall two or three times a day within hearing distance; one took out the windows of our sitting room [at the Hyde Park Hotel] on Sunday morning falling at Marble Arch" (Diaries, 623).

Waugh wrote a passage in Officers and Gentlemen based on what must have been his first-hand witnessing of the air attacks on the British troops in Crete during their evacuation. In addition, his description of the crash landing of Ian Kilbannock's flight into Yugoslavia in Unconditional Surrender (274-75) has the same sort of immediacy about it as Holden's passage describing the direct hit on her flat in the Blitz. The Dakota carrying Waugh and Randolph Churchill into Yugoslavia also crash-landed. Never one to miss an opportunity for ironic humor, Waugh has Kilbannock, as he is recovering from shock on the landing field after evacuating the smoldering aircraft, think that he is still witnessing the burning of Turtle's Club a few years earlier. (10)

Both Holden and Waugh sense in their wartime books that, after the war, things will be better for the working class. Holden mentions it in Night Shift, as early as 1941, seeing a "glimmer of sunlight through a partly opened door" (32) and, at the book's conclusion: "there showed a chink of light through which I could see the start of a more hopeful life, a future in which the courage of people could also be used for their greater happiness and well being" (85). Waugh, on the other hand, looks forward to the future with considerable misgiving. He sees in 1944 when he writes Brideshead a world run by Hoopers, where the improvements for the working class will come at the expense of the way of life enjoyed by the upper classes.

Holden's books have been reset digitally from the original editions and the new edition has quite a good appearance on the page. It is also nicely bound in a handsome cover and printed on high quality paper. The book is recommended for those who enjoyed Waugh's war novels (or war novels generally). It is to be hoped that the publishers will be encouraged to undertake further reprints of Holden's work, including the Duckworth novel reviewed by Waugh as well as her other war novel and short stories.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Manley

(1) London: Weidenfeld, 1976.

(2) The Gargoyle Club was located on Dean Street, Soho. It was founded two years before Waugh joined, by David Tennant, one of the Bright Young People and the brother of another, Stephen. Waugh joined the same day he started work at the Express. The Gargoyle continued in existence until 1955, when it became a strip club.

(3) Goodman, Celia. "Inez Holden: A Memoir." London Magazine. 33.9 (December 1994/January 1995). 36. Hereafter Goodman. Her maiden name was Paget and her first married name was Kirwan. She remarried in 1954 to Arthur Goodman, a diplomat. After his untimely death in 1964, she settled in Cambridge. Obituary, Guardian 5 November 2002. Her twin sister Mamaine was the wife of novelist Arthur Koestler.

(4) Inez kept an unpublished diary, but this has not survived prior to April 1941 so she leaves no account of her side of the story behind Waugh's visits to her flat or to her parents. Kristin Bluemel, who has written the most detailed scholarly study of Inez's life and work (George Orwell and the Radical Eccentrics: Intermodernism in Literary London. New York: Palgrave, 2004), says that in her diary Inez does not make any references to Waugh. Inez's literary executor, Ariane Bankes (Celia Goodman's daughter), confirms that there are no references to Waugh in Inez's archives. The diary ends in 1960 (Idem, 168).

(5) Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh: Essays, Articles and Reviews 1922-34. Ed. Donat Gallagher. Vol. 26. Oxford: OUP, 2018. 192-93.

(6) Powell, Anthony. "Inez Holden: A Memoir." London Magazine. 14.4 (October / November 1974). 92-3.

(7) The editor argues (based on Holden's unedited diary) that the details of the raid she describes relate to the one that occurred earlier in the week.

(8) Waugh also wrote a letter to his wife about this same visit to London, providing a bit more detail about his sleeping arrangement but less about the bombs and his placement with respect to where they were landing. Letters, 140-42.

(9) Letter to Laura Waugh, dated 23 June 1944, qtd. in Stannard, Martin. Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years. New York: Norton, 1992. 111.

(10) Waugh describes the plane crash in much the same terms but with less fictional embellishment in his Diaries: "... I was conscious by my ears that were descending and circling the airfield, then we suddenly shot upwards and the next thing I knew was that I was walking in a cornfield by the light of the burning aeroplane talking to a strange British officer about the progress of the war in a detached fashion...." (16 July 1944, 573).
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Title Annotation:Inez, Evelyn, and the Blitz
Author:McGraw, Marshall
Publication:Evelyn Waugh Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2019
Words:4795
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