The Real Mrs. Miniver: A Biography of Jan Struther

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Topics: Spiritual Exploration & Practice. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “The Real Mrs. Miniver: A Biography of Jan Struther

  1. Review

    Struther was the author of Mrs. Miniver, which was turned into an immensely popular film (quite unlike the book) by Hollywood during WWII. She was also a hymn writer. Some of her hymns remain popular on both sides of the Atlantic, most noticeably ‘Lord of all hopefulness’, which is in the Episcopal hymnbook, and several others.

    She was not a Christian. Percy Dearmer, who grew out of orthodoxy into a much more liberal, progressive understanding of faith in the 1920s and 30s, was fully aware of this when he asked her to write some hymns for his ‘Songs of Praise’, which was the classic liberal hymnbook, much used in schools in the UK in the 1930’s. He sensed that she might touch sensibilities that more aggressive Christian assertions wouldn’t. And it is certainly the case that ‘Lord of all hopefulness’ is treasured by many who are not formally religious.

    Much of the book is about Jan’s personal life. A marriage that failed. A love affair – she was clearly a very sensual woman – for which she travelled the world, and which brought her great happiness and eventually a tragically short second marriage.

    I found the book moving in many ways. Several of her poems are in the biography and, although its not great poetry, it has real insight. The poem below, quoted in the book, shows that though she claimed ‘not to be a believer-in-God, .. her sense of enchantment was so strong that it was akin to spirituality. She had moments of sudden religious vision’.

    Intimations of Immortality in Early Middle-Age

    On the first of spring,walking along the Embankment, Light-footed, light-headed, eager in mind and heart, I found my spirit keyed to a new pitch, I felt a strange serenity and a strange excitement.

    I saw a boy running, and felt the wind Stream past his cheeks, his heart in ribs pounding; I saw a nurse knitting, and my own fingers Knew the coldness of the needles, warmth of the wool.

    I saw, over the barges, gulls flying: It was my own wings that tilted and soared, With bone-deep skill gauging to a line’s breadth The unmapped hills of air, its unplumbed hollows.

    I saw four men striking in magnificent canon With long-hafted hammers on an iron spike: And I, swinging with them, made no fifth But was one with each, wielding a fourfold weapon.

    I saw a woman with child: a second heart Beat below mine. I saw two lovers kissing, And felt her body dissolve, his harden Under the irrational chemistry of desire.

    And I, who had always said, in idle, friendly, Fireside thrashings-out of enormous themes, That anybody who liked could have my share Of impersonal after-life, fusion with the infinite, Suddenly thought–

    Here, perhaps, is a glimpse Of the sages’ vision, delight by me unimagined: To feel without doing, to enjoy without possessing; To bear no longer the burden of a separate self; To live through others’ senses; to be air, to be ether, Soundlessly quivering with the music of a million lives.

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