Tag Archives: post-war period

Kate Hardy by DE Stevenson

When Covid ‘ended’ I thought it would be a little like VE Day, wild celebrations followed by renewed hope and planning. How wrong I was. It has never ended in the way that VE Day ended World War Two in Britain and instead has been followed by an absence of hope and planning. 

Despite those contrasts, both experiences affected every person in the population. Covid was a universal experience of fear and restriction and adjustments. I am fascinated by the post-war period, partly because of the contrasts with the aftermath of Covid, but also because I grew up in the shadow of the war. The Second World War engulfed Europe for six years, and was a time of general mobilisation, restrictions, and shared effort to win as well as fear, danger, and death. The relief when it was over was well expressed by the euphoria of VE Day. Communal effort had led to insights about how people wanted the country to be changed after the war.

This novel was first published in 1947 and is set in the immediate time following the end of the war. DE Stevenson shows some of the things that had changed and sets a romance against the backdrop of those first post-war months.

Kate Hardy

Kate Hardy is an independent young woman, a novelist, who has spent the war in a flat in London, giving shelter to her sister and niece when they were bombed out. With the war over she decides to move to the country and buys a house in the village of Old Quinings, on a whim, certainly sight unseen. 

The house is the Dower House on the estate of Richard Morven, and it became empty when his mother died. The question of housing, sharing houses, what is appropriate and proper decorum related to staying in other people’s houses, and so forth, runs through this novel. Kate has the money to attend to the defects in the house, but there are rules about the use of materials, employment and so forth that continued after the war and made life complicated.

Kate Hardy is from the class that expects to have servants and people to fix things for her. She brings loyal Martha Body from London, and employs Mrs Stack, from the village, to help with the heavy work. A man to sort out the garden presents himself, but Mr Seagar, who runs the carpentry business, finds it hard to provide the service he would like, and furthermore he is obliged to take back men who served in the war which causes staffing issues. 

Richard, the lord of the manor, is quite taken with Kate because she is independent and speaks her mind. The reader believes they might end up together. She is the author of three best-selling novels, ‘adventure stories with a difference’, and wants to work on the fourth in peace and quiet in the country. Richard has read these books and admires the hero, Stephen Slade. Although she publishes her books under a male pseudonym, Kate represents a kind of ‘new woman’, who makes her own decisions, is independent and not necessarily looking for marriage. In contrast, Kate’s sister and niece are very selfish, and expect other people to look out for them, including Kate. 

Mrs Stark’s son Walter has just returned from 7 years in the East. He has served with distinction in the army and learned how to fit in with his fellow officers, despite his modest background. Now he is back, he is much resented by the men in the carpentry firm. Back at home he finds it hard to fit in. Some war experiences changed the old relationships, and produced resentments.

And the question is – how will this assorted group of characters arrange themselves in this new post-war world. The events of the first few months of Kate’s residence in Old Quinings provide the answer, but not without some rather nasty events which link to witchcraft and Kate’s gardener and include poison pen letters.

As the story unfolds, we see many contrasts in those post-war years: town/country; tradition/modern; parenting styles in US/UK; open-/closed-mindedness and so forth. Some things are never questioned, however: class system, supported by land ownership in particular. Some episodes in the novel arise from class consciousness.

An enjoyable, but not deeply significant novel by a prolific author – I counted 50 novels in the listings. It was an easy read, with no great dilemmas or insights.

For another and more enthusiastic review, see the blog of Northern Reader in September 2023. She particularly praises the well-drawn characters.

Kate Hardy by DE Stevenson, first published in 1947. Republished by the Dean Street Press in 2022. 192pp 

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