Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Pacifist's War - Frances Partridge

READ: OCTOBER 25, 2011 - JANUARY 13, 2012

Francis Partridge's diaries are the record of a woman who not only participated in the lives of the legendary Bloomsbury group, but was the circle’s oldest surviving member until her death in 2004. At the outset of the Second World War, Ralph and Frances Partridge were both convinced pacifists. These extracts from Frances' war diary present an intimate and vivid picture of their life at Ham Spray in Wiltshire, a house they both adored and which became a place of refuge to many of the Bloomsbury circle, and numerous other waifs and strays of war. Frances Partridge's perceptively witty and lively account is held together by the thread of the Partridges' passionate concern and interest in the course of events, coupled with their belief that War itself was ethically unjustifiable.

I never thought I'd enjoy reading someone's diary so much as I did Frances Partridge's account of her personal experiences of WWII. This was such a compelling read and I found myself sympathising more and more with her as the war developed. She's a sensitive soul, and I imagine I would have experienced similar feelings to her had I lived through WWII. Frances made many profound statements, often without realising it, about the state of masculinity in WWII, how neutralised civilians became to the atrocities being committed throughout the war, and the blood-thirstiness of those who hadn't signed up to fight. There were so many quotes that I had to read out to my fiancĂ© because they struck me as being so meaningful, both in the 1940s and in retrospect. Even if I don't end up writing about this book in my English exam I'm sure this book will stay with me for a long time, and is definitely one I'd recommend to anyone wanting a civilian account of WWII. 

We often think of civilians as those who worked as land girls or in factories during the war, and lived in great cities like London, and forget how the war affected those living away from the Blitz in the countryside, where they struggled to get out of the house due to petrol rationing and invited friends over for visits whenever they slaughtered a pig from their farm. While readers could turn their nose up at Frances moaning about how she had to do all the cleaning for herself when her hired help left to join the war effort, how many of us truly know what it's like to clean a house the size of hers, especially without modern conveniences? 

I'd be interested in reading her account of life after the war, and to see whether her and her husband's pacifism affected the way they were treated once peace was brought back to Britain. It was both fascinating and horrifying to see how adamantly against pacifism so many of their friends were, especially those who said that pacifists should effectively be exterminated. Where they not aware of the evils they claimed they were fighting against, and their hypocrisy? Anyone who is similarly anti-pacifism should definitely read this book. Unfortunately none of the three library catalogues I have access to has any more of Frances's diaries but I will definitely be keeping my eye out for them in the hope that I find them similarly moving.


  1. Wow...I'm not necessarily a pacifist but this sounds like really intriguing reading.

  2. I wasn't entirely sure where I stood on the issue of pacifism before I read this book but it's a fascinating read to anyone interested in the lives or ordinary British people during WWII, whether you're a pacifist or not. I think because Frances and her husband were so disillusioned with the concept of war they took into account a lot of factors that typical British patriots might not have noticed. It was one of those books that completely surprised me, so I'm glad that my English course brought it to my attention!