Duff Cooper’s Operation Heartbreak
Persephone No. 51 (1950)

When it comes to articulating how I choose the Persephones that I read, I tend to think that it’s simultaneously an exhaustive and amorphous plan: I want to read all-things-Persephone, s-o-m-e-d-a-y.

But, in fact, I do have an unspoken ranking system and this is one of the group of Persephones to which I would get towards the end, if I were locked in a room with only Persephones and forced to stay there and read my way through them.

::insert time for happy daydreaming about this situation::

But even though some of the other Persephones I’ve chosen for this week came more immediately to mind, I’m glad to have read Willie Maryngton’s story. And even gladder because now, having read the Afterword by Max Arthur, I realize that the novel is based on a true event.

So it feels like the perfect choice, nestled amongst the non-fiction and short stories that I’ve chosen for Persephone Reading Week.

It’s a slim novel and you don’t really get to know Willie Maryngton very well, but you know from the beginning that, more than anything, he wants to fight in the war. He laments his missed opportunity to enter the Great War and Horry tries to console him: “Now, if a man’s got a vocation he always makes good. Somehow, sometime, his opportunity comes, and because it’s the one thing he’s been waiting for all his life, he’s ready when it comes and he takes it. Your chance will come all right — and you’ll take it — don’t worry.”

The remainder of the novel is preoccupied with Willie’s watch for this opportunity and the events that transpire while he waits. The other characters are tangential and the events, even what would be major events in other novels, are also “beside the point”. Across a greater number of pages, this might not have sustained my interest, but over a couple of hours reading it was enough.

It was a fitting conclusion to Persephone week:
Vere Hodgson’s Few Eggs and No Oranges: 1940-45 Persephone No. 9 (1999);
Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg’s On the Other Side: Letters to My Children: From Germany 1940-1946 Persephone No. 75 (2007);
Mollie Panter-Downes’ Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories Persephone No. 8 (1999);
Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life: 1941-1943 Persephone No. 4 (1999); and
Duff Cooper’s Operation Heartbreak Persephone No. 51 (1950).

Thanks so very much, once again, to Verity and Claire for hosting!

PS For those who recall that part of the reason for my focussing on Wartime Britain was this set of films, I’ll add that I did finish watching both “The Heat of the Day” (which was faithful to what I remember of the novel, but it’s been about five years since I read it) and the series “Island at War”.

I found the latter especially interesting because I didn’t realize/recall that the Nazis had occupied the Channel Islands. I would have learned this from my Persephone reading this week anyhow, as in this December 5, 1943 entry from Vere Hodgson’s diaries:

“Kit had news from the Channel Islands brought by those who had escaped in August. Germans are polite to the Islanders, but they have brought unfortunate Russians, Poles and Dutch there, whom they treat abominably. Many die and no one bothers. Bread there is awful.”

In all, adding a visual element to Persephone Week was a grand success in my books. Although I can’t imagine what the sister site would be for Buried in Print, Blinded by Scenes?