The War as a marker of age

not so quiet cover

I’m getting things together for my talk on Evadne Price (Helen Zenna Smith) at the Marginalised Mainstream conference this weekend, and I’ve been struck by something.
In 1930, Price’s publisher Albert E. Marriott (alias Netley Lucas,  swindler and con-man) had asked her to write a spoof war book, All Quaint on the Western Front (under the pen-name of by Erica Remark).
She agreed, but when she had read Remarque’s All Quiet (which she didn’t previously know) she decided that ‘Anyone who wants a skit on this book wants their brains dusted.. She told Marriott so, and said that he should find an experienced author to write the woman’s story of the trenches.
He replied that she could do it: ‘You were in the war, weren’t you?’
Evadne Price answered that she wasn’t old enough (though if you do the sums she definitely was, whether you accept the ODNB calculation of her birth date, 1896, rather than the Wikipedia one, 1888 – nothing is simple when it comes to Evadne Price’s biography).
Despite taking mild offence at this, she accepted the assignment, and went off to look for a woman with war experience.
She remembered someone she had seen wearing a uniform years before, and found her.
‘Just the person I wanted to see!’
‘You were in the WAAC, weren’t you?’
‘I beg your pardon. If I’d been in the WAAC, I’d be about thirty-five or forty by now.’
It turns out that the woman had been in costume for The Temporary Gentleman (That’s the play by H. F. Maltby that Richard Aldington disliked so much,) One mollified, she led Evadne Price to Winifred Young. Price borrowed Young’s diary, got inspired, and had written 20,000 words of her novel to show her publisher on Monday morning.
What struck me was that in 1930, war service must have been a very strong marker of the generations. For someone like Evadne Price, who liked to keep her date of birth variable (sometimes she brought it forward as far as 1901) it must have been something of a danger – display too much knowledge of the War years, and people might guess your true age.
So did she actually know more about the War than she pretended? To have written Not So Quiet solely from a reading of Remarque and a skim through Winifred Young’s diaries would be astonishing. Could there possibly have been some war experience of her own that she preferred to keep quiet, for tactical reasons? You never know with Evadne.

One Comment

  1. Lucy Griffin
    Posted November 26, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Yes, and of course as explained by Vera Brittain, it became very unfashionable to discuss the war almost immediately after the Armistice, by those younger women who had not participated in it.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] George Simmers at Great War Fiction has been sleuthing about to solve some mysteries about Evadne Price and Not So Quiet: Stepdaughters of War, which was written by Price under the pseudonym Helen Zenna Smith. You can read his findings here, here, here and here. […]

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