Thursday, July 12, 2007

Marriage in time of war

I’ve been struck of late how different marriage is in times of war.

Shimmer Chinodya’s war in Harvest of Thorns is the Chimurenga, the rebellion that formed modern Zimbabwe. Benjamin returns from the battlelines with a bride in tow, one he found among the ruin of her village and the killing of her family.

Walter Baxter wrote of the Second World War. I wrote some months ago about his powerful Look Down In Mercy. I recently read his other novel, The Image and the Search. More on both Baxter and Chinodya later perhaps. My point here is how characters’ marriages were affected by the intensity of war. One even gets married, having learned that single men are despatched on the most hazardous air runs.

And while doing some extra research on J. S. Haldane in the National Library of Scotland the other day, I came across this letter, written by Jack (JBS) Haldane to his mother, regarding the marriage of his young sister Naomi to Dick Mitchison (and so becoming Naomi Mitchison, the name under which she found fame as a writer). Naomi believed her brother had been her mother’s sacrifice to her imperial beliefs … though in truth, I doubt you could have kept Jack back. No more could you have kept Naomi back from her own war duty, marrying a dashing cavalry officer. She first took the train out to claim him as her own when she was sixteen.

‘Events move quickly, don’t they,’ Jack wrote to his mother in February 1916 (MS20655, f.89). ‘I knew Dick was in love, but I didn’t know how fond Nou was of him. However it is an excellent thing, for if she is in love with him & he gets killed she will be much better as a widow than otherwise, & in her case there is quite a lot to be said for early marriage anyway. Still, I can’t pretend I expected it. I think they ought to get on very well, for she, as well as the war, should pull him together. Nou seems thoroughly pleased with herself, and so would I be in her place.’


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