Today I took at look at Love on Leave (1919), which I had seen referred to as a novel by the much-maligned Jessie Pope, and it turned out not to be a novel after all.
It is a book of short stories, and all the ones I read were love stories. (I could only manage so many at a sitting; the reading experience was rather like working through a very sickly box of chocs). Although the collection was published in 1919, I’d guess that they were in the magazines during the War. Since the publisher is Pearson, Pearson’s Magazine might be the place to find their original appearance.
The heroines are all feisty young English girls, and the heroes are soldiers, many of them wounded. These girls fall for a man’s dark brown eyes, and they don’t care whether or not he’s got a wooden leg.
What I liked about the stories was that the heroines were so energetic. One races her crocked lover off in a stolen wheelchair, away from her disapproving parents, so that they can get married. Another socks the hero on the jaw when she thinks he’s a spy (but he isn’t and they get paired off nicely in the end). Jessie the poetess , of course, is famous for bossing about the wimpy men of England:
Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played,
The red crashing game of a fight?
Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid?
And who thinks he’d rather sit tight?
Who’ll toe the line for the signal to ‘Go!’?
Who’ll give his country a hand?
Who wants a turn to himself in the show?
And who wants a seat in the stand?
Who knows it won’t be a picnic – not much-
Yet eagerly shoulders a gun?
Who would much rather come back with a crutch
Than lie low and be out of the fun?
Come along, lads –
But you’ll come on all right –
For there’s only one course to pursue,
Your country is up to her neck in a fight,
And she’s looking and calling for you.
What these stories show that this was not a matter of sexual stereotyping – the men to go and play the game, while the girls stood by and watched. Jessie’s presentation of her heroines show that she expected her heroines to be as feisty as the men, and to take charge of the situation. The heroine of one story rejects a man because she believes he is socially impossible, but finds out that it is a case of mistaken identity, and he is actually marriageable. As soon as he finds out, she is up and off to put things right and get her man.
These stories are a long way from serious literature, but I enjoyed them – in small doses.