Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes

Tessa Hedley in The Guardian:

WivesThe 1950s are still close enough to touch: just around the corner of our past, linked to us through living memory. The core of Virginia Nicholson’s new book, about women’s lives in the UK in that decade, is drawn from interviews she conducted with women who were young then – bolstered with material from memoirs, archives and newspapers. She’s got a good ear for their stories, and it’s in the detail that they come to life. Liz, the daughter of an accountant in Lewes in Sussex, was having fun with the Young Conservatives at the time of Churchill’s triumph in the 1951 election: hunting, playing tennis, acquiring basic secretarial skills at Mr Box’s Academy in Brighton, or hooked into her full-length taffeta ball gown, wearing rose pink lipstick, dancing at the Young Farmers’ Club. Until one night David Monnington, a local farmer and landowner, proposed to her. “I would like to marry you,” he said. “But I don’t think I could marry anyone who leads the kind of social life you lead.” Liz was so besotted with him that she “just gave up doing all the things I liked”. She joined him in his isolated farmhouse in the Pevensey Levels, and “buckled down to work”: no heating, no car, no help, David’s dinner on the table at 12 sharp – and soon, two babies. When Liz was once exasperated and said “bloody”, David turned on her. “Take your pearls off,” he said – and confiscated her treasured necklace, telling her she could have it back when she’d learned not to swear.

More here.