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The Real Mrs Miniver (No. 21)
Slightly Foxed Edition, Ysenda Maxtone Graham, The Real Mrs Miniver
Slightly Foxed Edition, Ysenda Maxtone Graham, The Real Mrs Miniver
  • ISBN: 978-1-906562-47-2
  • Pages: 320
  • Dimensions: 170 x 110mm
  • Publication date: March 2013
  • Producer: Smith Settle
  • Genre: Biography
  • Binding: Cloth hardback
  • Trimmings: Coloured endpapers; silk ribbon, head- & tailband; gold blocking to spine; blind blocking to front
  • NB: Hand-numbered limited edition of 2,000
  • Preface by: Allison Pearson
  • Number in SFE series: 21
Made in Britain

The Real Mrs Miniver (No. 21)

Ysenda Maxtone Graham

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The exemplary middle-class housewife Mrs Miniver, created by Jan Struther, was said by Winston Churchill to have done more for the Allied cause in the Second World War than a flotilla of battleships. Everyone assumed that Mrs Miniver was a portrait of Jan herself but, as this vivid biography reveals, the reality was very different.

It was in 1937 that Joyce Anstruther, a well-connected and sharply observant young woman who already wrote poems, hymns and comic sketches for Punch, was asked by Peter Fleming to help cheer up the Court pages of The Times with occasional pieces about a fictional character – ‘just an ordinary sort of woman who leads an ordinary sort of life. Rather like yourself.’

The Mrs Miniver pieces appeared every fortnight for two years and were collected in book form in October 1939. Soon Mrs Miniver became an important figure in wartime propaganda – the perfect British wife and mother, cheerful, stoical, happily married, longing to share her tranquil enjoyment of life with thousands of anxious readers. Joyce – or Jan Struther, as she called herself – toured America, flying the flag for ‘plucky little Britain’. In the public’s eyes she and Mrs Miniver – soon to be the heroine of a famous wartime film – were one. In fact Joyce’s once happy marriage to golf-loving Tony had run out of steam and she had begun an affair with a penniless Viennese Jewish poet and refugee called Dolf Placzek. While she was touring the US, giving uplifting speeches to rapt crowds of Americans, she and Dolf were having passionate secret meetings.

Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Joyce’s granddaughter, draws a deeply understanding but unsentimental portrait of this contradictory woman, whose own creation ultimately forced her to lead a painful double life. It’s a poignant story, laced with sharp humour and unforgettably told.

‘A crystalline work of art... a compelling story, tragic, but at the same time mysteriously joyful.’ A. N. Wilson

‘The most moving book I have read this year.’ Alistair Horne, Financial Times

‘A touching, delicate, yet totally unsentimental portrait.’ Rupert Christiansen, Spectator Books of the Year

‘The Real Mrs Miniver is a perfect biography, an utterly marvellous book.’ Valerie Grove

‘A joy to read, to look at and handle’ . . .

'When I got my last polite subscription reminder from you before Christmas . . . not only did I renew but I ordered two of your beautiful limited editions – 84, Charing Cross Road and The Real Mrs...

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‘May I say how delighted I am . . .’

‘I have just received the three volumes that I ordered, Mr Tibbits’s Catholic School, Terms & Conditions and The Real Mrs Miniver. May I say how delighted I am with both the production and the...

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She began life as the fictional heroine of a small newspaper column and went on, via American bestsellerdom and a celebrated wartime Hollywood movie, to have the kind of impact on world affairs that...

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Comments & Reviews

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  1. Valerie Grove says:

    This is a perfect biography, an utterly marvellous book.

  2. A. N. Wilson says:

    The Real Mrs Miniver is a crystalline work of art … a compelling story, tragic but at the same time mysteriously joyful.

  3. Selina Hastings, The Daily Mail says:

    The moving story of The Real Mrs Miniver is told here by her grand-daughter, and rarely can a biographer have been so perfectly attuned to her subject. Ysenda Maxtone Graham is a writer of remarkable accomplishment, and her portrait – subtle, sympathetic and ruthlessly perceptive is brilliantly built up through a magpie instinct for tiny, telling detail.

  4. Alistair Horne, FT says:

    Maxtone Graham tells this other story simply and un-demonstratively. Her style is as clear-eyed, elegant and humorous as that of the grandmother she never knew. The Real Mrs Miniver is the most moving book I have read this year.

  5. Kathryn Hughes, The Daily Telegraph says:

    In this outstandingly accomplished biography, Ysenda Maxtone Graham peels away the layers of confused myth-making to reveal the small, sharp woman who stands at the heart of Mrs Miniver … [she] does far more than simply recover the forgotten history of a minor writer. She musters all the wit, charm and emotional curiosity of the grandmother she never met to create a fascinating study of middle-class female experience during the last century’s most difficult decades.

  6. Miranda Seymour, TLS says:

    Ysenda Maxtone Graham writes with a sympathy which never becomes over-indulgent about a woman whose most surprising achievement [among many] was to compose one of the merriest hymns in Canon Dearmer’s Songs of Praise: “Lord of all hopefulness, lord of all joy”. Its considerable charm is increased by the knowledge that Joyce Maxtone Graham was a resolute agnostic.

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