Access to Publisher's - John Murray, London

The Real
Mrs Miniver
 
Jan Struther’s Story
by Ysenda Maxtone Graham
Prologue to Ysenda Maxtone Graham's book ...
(reproduced with the kind permisson of the author and publishers).
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
 
'This was the programme at Radio City Music Hall in New York on the evening of 4th June 1942 ...
1. Music Hall Grand Organ
 
2. The Music Hall Symphony Orchestra
3. 'At Ease!'
'Bless 'Em All'
'That's Sabotage'
'Ladies in the Dark'
'Two of a Kind'
'You Can't Say No to a Soldier'
'Finale' (danced by the entire company)
4. ‘Mrs Miniver'
Directed by William Wyler.
Produced by Sidney Franklin.
Starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Based on the novel by Jan Struther. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Picture.
The high-decibel music and high-kicking dancing were standard splendid fare at the 'Showplace of the Nation'. But the film which held its première after the floor-show caused an unusual sensation. It was normal for audiences to emerge from the theatre blowing their noses: MGM were experts at activating the tear-ducts. But these tears were different. They were shed not just for the Minivers, whose wartime family tragedy the audience had just witnessed. They were shed, also, for the whole of homely civilization -- village life, families, whistling milkmen, kindly old station-masters -- that was being destroyed, at that very moment, by Hitler's war in Europe.
 
Mrs Miniver, more than any film which had yet been made during the Second World War, brought the meaning of 'a people's war' into the minds of Americans, millions of whom had been opposed to joining the war until forced to do so by the Japanese and the Germans in December 1941. Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, as Mr and Mrs Miniver, helped them to see what they were fighting for. No film had ever run for more than six weeks at Radio City Music Hall: Mrs Miniver ran for ten, breaking box-office records. (It had to be taken off to make way for Bambi.) Across the United States, across Canada, in Britain, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India, the story was the same. People queued round the block.
 
'Propaganda Bureaus Are Struck Dumb With Envy' ran a headline in the Toronto Globe. Propagandists had been striving for years to make the war effort understood by the populations of the United States and Canada: and here, in a little family movie whose central plot was nothing more bellicose than a rose competition at a village flower show, that aim was achieved with little apparent effort. Winston Churchill (an uninhibited weeper during the sad bits of films) is said to have predicted that Mrs Miniver's contribution to defeating the Axis powers would be more powerful than a flotilla of battleships. President Roosevelt was so stirred by the film's closing sermon that he requested it to be dropped across Europe in leaflet form and broadcast to the world on Voice of America. Even the Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, who loathed the film's hero and heroine, admitted that it was an exemplary piece of propaganda, which the German industry should emulate.
 
Mrs Miniver became synonymous in the public mind with all that was saintly and self-sacrificing in wartime womanhood. Chicago launched a 'Name Chicago's Mrs Miniver’ contest. The winner, smilingly photographed on the centre pages of the Chicago Times, was Mrs Leonard Youmans, of 5109 Kimbark, 'who, in her patriotic accomplishments, typifies thousands of other stout-hearted local women in this war year of 1942! She has two sons, Donald and Clifford, in the Navy Air Force. Clifford was wounded on Atlantic duty and is convalescing in hospital. Mrs Youmans has a record of over 1,000 hours of service at the Chicago Servicemen's Center. She is a Travellers' Aid for troops in transit. She is chairman of the Home Hospitality committee of the Navy Mothers' Club of Chicago. And she does all her own housework besides!'
 
The original Mrs Miniver was a pre-war creation who first appeared on the Court Page of The Times on 6 October 1937. Once a fortnight for two years, a 'Mrs Miniver' piece was published: 'Mrs Miniver and the New Car', 'Mrs Miniver and the New Engagement Book', 'The Minivers on Hampstead Heath'. The articles were anonymous, signed 'From a correspondent'. But there seemed no doubt that they must have been written by a contented, well-balanced, happily-married woman who longed to share her joy in life, and her peace of mind, with Times readers. The articles were all about the gentle pleasures of a modern upper-middle-class marriage. Their position at the top of the Court Page was reassuring: if His Majesty The King was holding a luncheon at Holyrood in the left-hand corner, and Mr and Mrs Miniver were attending the Highland Games in the right-hand corner, then surely civilization (in spite of the horrors going on in Spain and the threatening noises from Germany) must be safe.
 
When the articles were published in book form by Chatto & Windus in October 1939, the author's name was revealed: Jan Struther, the pseudonym of Joyce, née Anstruther, whose married name was Mrs Anthony Maxtone Graham, resident of Chelsea and mother of three. The book -- an ideal Christmas present in its pink and grey slip-case -- was loved by some readers and detested by others. The rightness, the relentless optimism and the exquisite sensitiveness of the heroine got on many British people's nerves. But when it was published in America in 1940, it became the Number One national bestseller. 'Mrs Miniver will place a gentle hand on your elbow,' said the New Yorker, 'and bid you stop to observe something insignificant; and lo! it is not insignificant at all. That touch -- the touch of Charles Lamb, even of Shakespeare in a minor mood -- is one of the indefinable things that English men and English women are fighting and dying for at the moment.'
 
Jan Struther was my grandmother. But this is not a book about a dear old grandmama with whom I went to have scones for tea in the 1980s. I sometimes imagine the kind of grandmother she might have turned into, if she really had been the 'Mrs Miniver' of her own creation. She would have been one of those paper-thin, white-haired Chelsea ladies who live in mansion flats off the King's Road, and who occasionally venture out in their tweeds and pearls to make the journey to Peter Jones on a number 11 or 22 bus. Her drawing room would have been a chintzy, scented haven of potpourri and lilies, with pink-and-white striped sofas and silver-framed photographs of her deceased husband in a kilt. She would have managed to keep on a loyal old retainer, who baked the scones and laid her tray for breakfast. We would have sat together by the fire (gas-flame, perhaps), and she would have talked about what the King's Road used to be like in the 1930s.
 
But Jan Struther never reached old age. She died at fifty-two, nine years before I was born. Even if she had survived till her eighties, she wouldn't have been that kind of grandmother at all. She would have lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in an untidy apartment strewn with open reference books and wood-shavings and long-playing records not put back into their sleeves. We would have sat by the air-conditioning unit drinking gin and tonic out of chipped glasses and talking about love and politics. Her venturings-out would have been to the drugstore for malted milk, or to the hardware store for carpentry tools.
 
During the height of Mrs Miniver's fame and success during the war, Jan toured America as an unofficial ambassadress for Britain, giving hundreds of lectures about Anglo-American relations to enchanted audiences. The public wanted to believe that she was the embodiment of her fictional creation, a sensible, calm, devoted wife and mother. She felt it was her wartime duty not to disappoint them. No one guessed -- no one could possibly have guessed -- that she was in fact living two parallel lives.'
'Dedication: to
an Unknown Reader'
 
Like rays shed
By a spent star
The words of a dead
Poet are,
That through bleak space
Unchecked fly on,
Though heart, hand, face
To dust are gone;
And you who read
Shall only guess
What thorn-sharp need,
What loneliness,
What love, lust, dream,
Shudder or sigh
Lit the long beam
That meets your eye:
Nor guess you never
So well, so true,
Shall comfort ever
Reach from you
To me, an old
Black shrivelled sphere,
Who has been cold
This million year.
Ysenda Maxtone Graham concludes
 
'She foresaw the unreachableness of her dead self in the poem quoted. We can never know her. But she had a remarkable capacity for writing important things down. I hope in these chapters to throw some light on the thorn-sharp need, the loneliness, the love, lust, dreams, shudders and sighs which guided her path through her short life.'
 
Poem - (left)
from Jan Struther's collection of poems,
'The Glass-Blower', 1940
 
‘This is a perfect biography, an utterly marvellous book’ -- Valerie Grove.
‘The Real Mrs Miniver is a crystalline work of art ... a compelling story, tragic but at the same time mysteriously joyful.’ -- A. N. Wilson.
 
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Her acclaimed biography was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in 2002. In 2003 she was selected as one of the three Biography category judges for the Whitbread Awards. See this link for details.New Window to Full Mrs. Miniver Site
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MAXTONE-SMITH, Ysenda May; daughter of Robert Mungo Maxtone Graham qv, of Sandwich, Kent; b. 31 December 1962 - Educ. The King's School Canterbury, Girton Coll Cambridge (MA) - m. 14 Aug 1993, Michael James Smith (who upon marriage adopted by deed poll surname of Maxtone-Smith), son of David Smith, JP, of Keyworth, Notts; Career as Ysenda Maxtone Graharn, columnist for the Express on Sunday, freelance journalist writing for Sunday Telegraph, Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Church Times, Harpers and Queen, Tatler and others; Books "The Church Hesitant" a Portrait of the Church of England Today (1993), Without a Guide (contrib., 1996).

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