Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck

Reviewed by Julie Barham

bewildering-caresThis is an actual book! Thank you to the nice people at Furrowed Middlebrow/ Dean Street Press who listened to my plea that as a 21st century Vicar’s wife I would really enjoy this book about a Vicar’s wife in 1940. I now have a a new favourite book!

If you have ever found a book that you wanted to last longer, and that you really didn’t want to read too fast, this was it for me. I appreciate that it may not be to everyone’s taste, but anyone who has enjoyed The Diary of a Provincial Lady will recognise and enjoy this style of writing.

Camilla Lacely is married to Arthur, Vicar and Philosopher, as the Second World War is beginning. Their only son, Dick, is in the Army already, but safe so far. They live in a fairly grim parish just outside Manchester, and the book is an account by Camilla of a week in the life, in which she copes with a campaign against a curate’s sermon (which she has slept through), romance, an Archdeacon, a Clergy Wives Quiet Day, innumerable committee meetings, and a charity Bazaar. There are the phone calls that she deals with (always at the wrong moment…how do they know?), the appeals for help from the strangest of sources, the pile of Stuff that appears at every sale, the complaints that no one can sort out, those people who need careful handling….

Also there are the people who want little, but who are a delight to meet, like the older lady who slips towards her end dreaming of her youth in the countryside, the clergy wife who drops cakes in the road which need retrieving or hiding in the pouring rain, the family crisis solved against the odds. The style is discursive, and the story diverts into Camilla’s thoughts as she tries to cope with being late, being insufficiently holy, a cook/maid who has an individual approach to work, and a fire that will not light. She fights the battle of a husband who does not stop to eat, a small income on which to run a large house, as well as maintaining a calm unruffled face in all circumstances. Of course, there is the looming threat of war, as she fears for her son, and indeed the country, in the face of possible invasion. Sickness in a family is a a financial worry for everyone, as well as pre-penicillin dangers.There is hope, and even love, as some couples eventually plan to marry, and as much as possible there is a happy ending. I was also really interested in the references to other books that she is reading, notably Demon in the House and Wild Strawberries, both by my favourite author Angela Thirkell. It is fascinating (for me at least) to think of these books actually being important in their own time, which I enjoy today. Indeed, she claims that she has read the latter thirty times, and will probably read it thirty times more, as a reliably happy book.

This book is a long way from A Chelsea Concerto and does not cover the bombing, the problems of refugees, and in some senses the harsh reality of war. I can say that I recognised some of the pressures, some of the constraints, that can affect clergy families today. I realise that it is a privilege in some ways, but hard work in others! This is a good book of its type, and I certainly plan to read it again, though not perhaps thirty times…

holly

Julie blogs at Northern Reader

Winifred Peck, Bewildering Cares (Furrowed Middlebrow, 2016). 978-1911413875, 206 pp., paperback.

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