Historical Fiction World War 1 Fiction
Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was approved by the British Government four days after the Beginning of World War 1. It allowed the government to implement a wide range of laws and powers for the purpose of advancing the cause of an allied victory. DORA allowed the officials to seize private property, control shipping and railroads, and implement measures to restrict food and beverage consumption. Any activities that might jeopardize the security of the nation were banned; flying kites , bonfires, speaking in a foreign language, and whistling among them. DORA also enabled the government to censor newspapers – and censorship and propaganda are topics explored by the characters in this novel.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another topic that is central to this novel although it was known as shell shock at the time. Related to the PTSD subject, is the different consideration given to officers (primarily upper class) vs. enlisted personnel (primarily working class) during this time.
I like to approach all historical fiction as a history lesson by doing some research on the events that occur in the story. I am not talking about anything intense – no that’s not me going over old records and volumes in some dusty attic – just some background on battles or even real people among the fictional characters. This novel inspired me to learn a wee bit about the Defense of the Realm Act and now I know something more than I did last week. Yay! In 1984, when I was 25 years old, I spent some time in England and, I will admit, I enjoyed the occasional pint, but the strange hours for opening and closing the pubs baffled me. These unfamiliar operating hours (closing 3:30p.m. – 6:00p.m. and again 11:00P.M.) were dictated in DORA to curtail alcohol consumption, and not revised until 1988.
Now to the novel (it’s about time – I know). The story is told in the epistolary form similar to THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, or LETTERS FROM SKYE by Jessica Brockmole – an exception would be the limited narrative set in 1968. In the year 1914 a core group of friends are preparing for war, but it’s a war they are sure will be over by Christmas. Thomas is the dreamer with a love for literature, Will is popular with the ladies, Evie has been schooled since birth for the genteel life of teas and charities, and Alice is the modern woman – and life is about to change in a big way for all of them. The letters begin circulating in 1914 while best friends Will and Thomas are still on English soil. The correspondence continues when the men are stationed in France (often heavily censored) with Evie writing to both Will (her brother) and Thomas (childhood friend and Will’s best buddy). Evie also writes to her close friend, Alice. The main characters in this novel are members of the privileged class with Thomas’s family owning a London Newspaper. The issues of censorship and propaganda are explored when Evie starts writing an article for the newspaper ( my two cents worth believes the pieces were inflammatory even with my 2017 sensibilities) Love and loss are amplified by the presence of war but love still manages to blossom through shared words, thoughts, and ideas. The novel also addresses the devastation caused by the Spanish flu during these years.
An emotional journey of love and loss set during the first World War.
Reporting from war zones is still a subject that creates debate. It is essential to protect the men and woman who are in vulnerable situations but is it the job of the war correspondent to promote patriotism even if it involves embellishing the truth or omitting facts?
LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb 2017 HarperCollins