'If I'd been clever or had a less sketchy education, or perhaps more time on my hands, I'd have loved to write.'
–Nella Last - The diaries of Nella Last - c.2012 (1940)
This collection brings together into a single volume the best of Nella Last’s prolific outpourings, including a great deal of new, unpublished material from the war years. Capturing the everyday trials and horrors of wartime Britain and the nation’s transition into peacetime and beyond, Nella’s touching and often humorous narrative provides an invaluable historical portrait of what daily life was like for ordinary people in the 1940s and 1950s. (blurb from Goodreads)
A few weeks ago while flicking through stations on the telly I came across Housewife, 49, based on the diaries of Nella Last during WWII it tells of life on the homefront, and one woman’s story. I really enjoyed the film. It is one of those small films, telling a small story, but an important one. So I decided to read some of Nella Last’s diaries. This collection, edited by Patricia & Robert Malcolmson, collects Last’s diaries during and after the second World War.
Last began writing her diaries for Britain’s Mass-Observation project, which was designed to reveal just what British people thought and did. It was a social project specialising in everyday life and “ordinary” people. You can read more on their website – http://www.massobs.org.uk/. Nella Last wrote her diaries right through the war and through the fifties and sixties. This collection has selections from the 1940s to the 1950s.
And if you are all interested in social history, or ordinary life then you should give it a read. Because it really is a fascinating look at Britain during and after the war. But it also the story of one woman and the battles she fought and struggled with during her life. In many ways it felt like reading a proto-blog. These are Last’s day to day thoughts, not only about the war but also about her own family, friends and neighbours. And those parts are, to me, the most interesting. Nella is very much of her time. She has those biases and prejudices, but she sometimes sees them for what they are and tries to overcome them.
It is also the story of a marriage. Nella’s husband Will suffers a lot from “his nerves”. An anxious man he never wants to go out and socialise, or even have people over, whereas Nella yearns for company. She spends a lot of her time protecting him from anything too exciting, she even makes sure to pick books that don’t feature murder when she collects some library books for him.
Nella very much identifies as a wife and mother, I wonder what she would have been capable of if given the education and freedom of today’s world?