Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

Saplings is the story of a family living in England just before or at the start of World War II. From all outward appearances the family is successful and generally happy. The children are lively and the parents love each other. There is a nanny and a governess to look after the children. When we meet the four children they are enjoying a vacation on the beach. Saplings focuses primarily on the effects of war on children and domestic middle-class life.

The story is billed as a look at the psychological effects that war time can have on a family, particularly on children. I was surprised though that the story didn’t particularly seem to be about the war, sure there were some inconveniences which I suppose that during this time were devastating such as managing rations, nervously anticipating air raids, families being separated from their fathers, and parents choosing to send their children out of London. But what I found to have the most profound effect on the children was their home life separate of the war. Early in the book it is obvious that the children are a bit distanced from their mother, causing some anxiety especially among the youngest girl. At the threat of war the children are sent to live with grandparents in the country or with various relatives. They are often away from each other and from their mother. I could never figure out the exact reason they should not always be with her. Their mother did not fit into the expected social role of a mother. She preferred to enjoy nights out and to lavish her husband with affection. At times it seemed that she viewed the children as little dolls that she could use to entertain herself and then put back after she tired. So, it did not seem that the war was so much to blame for the children’s experiences, the war and accompanying effects just seemed to irritate the unstable mother. I suppose I will never know but I sometimes thought that the children would not have had to suffer as much had their mother chosen to compromise her desires some so that her children could spend time with her and with each other. I also felt that the tone of the book when describing the mother’s decisions was a bit judgmental. This could also be why I struggled with my thoughts on her lackadaisical parenting. I’m still pondering.

I read this a few weeks ago and it has been tumbling around in my thoughts. I enjoyed it, but I found it a bit difficult to write about. It makes me want to read more about domestic life during war. We always study dates, important military men, and battle outcomes but we seldom look at the everyday minutia that occurred at home.

    He wanted to be a family man, bless him. The children were darlings, but she was not a family woman, she was utterly wife, and, if it came to that, a mistress too, and she meant to go on being just those things. It didn’t matter giving in to him occasionally, letting him be all father. When they were alone she would brush that away and have him where she wanted him.

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2 responses to “Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

  • Mrs.B

    I agree that this was a difficult book to write about. I found most of the adults in the book annoying especially the mother and the aunts. I really sympathized with the children. And yes, though it’s not my favorite Persephone, I do notice that it’s certainly a book you do think about way after you’ve finished it.

  • Aarti

    I heard about this one on another blog and added it to my wishlist. It sounds really interesting. I agree about the way we learn about war. It’s always so remote. I am reading a non-fiction book about America’s Civil War now and it’s just bringing home the immediacy of the crisis. It sounds silly, but I never really thought about all the things leading up to the war and how terrifying it would be to have your country falling apart around you when I was learning about it in school.

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