Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Poppies for England


Poppies for England / Susan Scarlett
London: Dean Street Press, 2022, c1947.
208 p.

Another Susan Scarlett! The last one for a while, anyhow. This was intriguing because it's set just post-war, at a holiday camp in England. The main characters are two theatrical families who are hired to put on a variety show each night, and twice on rainy days, to entertain guests at the camp. I was really surprised by the idea of a luxury holiday camp, which had hundreds of guests all summer long, with regular entertainments and childcare activities provided. Did these kind of resorts really exist? Well, something like them must have, because Susan Scarlett was part of the theatrical world and must have experienced something like it to write about it so comprehensively. 

The storyline is a bit sharper here - no naive vicars or trusting blind men - rather there are a bunch of actors and dancers who want to succeed, and families that are struggling to get back to some sense of normalcy after the men have been away at POW camps for much of the war. Scarlett really captures the sense that there were two parallel lives going on, the men's experiences, and the women's on the home front, and that it was hard to reconcile after 5 traumatic years apart. 

The two families, the Corners and the Binns, are both theatrical couples, and they have children to bring into the act. Dulcie Corner is the eldest, an up and coming star, beautiful and blond and a lovely singer though only passable dancer. Nella Binns is the oldest of her family, and she is a beautiful dancer but doesn't have the star quality that Dulcie does. But Dulcie is also 100% focused on Dulcie only, and what she wants. That's stardom, fame, and right now it's also their new pianist, Tom Connors. But Tom only has eyes for Nella. Dulcie is the spiteful antagonist here and she does some really awful things from jealousy, things that could impact the fortunes of her whole family. She only sees her own ends. 

The young man who organizes the entertainment for the camp is a soldiering friend of both Corner and Binns men, and so he takes Dulcie in hand. And of course falls for her, despite her actions - he says he is impressed with her despite it all, and really, is a similar person himself. It's an odd anti-hero romance but it works. Nella is vague and I wasn't as taken with her romance which is supposed to be the heart of the book. I found that the strength of this story was really the family connection, and the post war setting. It was unusual to get that discussion of what war did to intimate relations between spouses and families. And the theatrical content was also fascinating! Despite Dulcie's horrible character, and the requisite melodrama, I thought this was a good one. 


  1. I learned about these camps from one of Monica Dickens' books (Flowers on the Grass). I had the same reaction you did, did these really exist and why had I never heard of them before. It reminded me of the big camps in the Adirondacks here in the US, like in the movie Dirty Dancing - but I couldn't see them in a British setting.

    1. That's exactly what I felt like! I hadn't expected this in a British book.

  2. Apparently so. Check out Butlin's Holiday Camps. I have run across them in BritLit and Brit TV.

    1. Amazing! Thanks so much for sharing this comment! How interesting to see this.


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