Struther, Jan 1901-1953
STRUTHER, Jan 1901-1953
Female. Original name Joyce Anstruther; born June 6, 1901, in England; died of cancer, 1953, in New York, NY; daughter of Harry (Henry) Torrens (a British civil servant) and Eva (a philanthropist; maiden name, Sudeley) Anstruther; married Anthony Maxtone Graham (an insurance broker), 1923, (divorced 1947); married second husband, Adolf Kurtz Placzek (an architectural historian and librarian), 1948; children: (first marriage) James, Robert, Janet. Education: Attended Miss Ironside's private school. Religion: Agnostic.
Poet, essayist, hymnwriter, and humorist.
Betsinda Dances, and Other Poems, Oxford University Press (London, England), 1931.
The Modern Struwwelpeter (juvenile poetry), 1936.
When Grandmamma Was Small (poetry; adapted from the Swedish by Ingrid Smith), Methuen (London, England), 1937.
Try Anything Twice (essays and sketches), 1938, with new introduction by Valerie Grove, Virago (London, England), 1989.
Mrs. Miniver, Chatto and Windus (London, England), 1939, Harcourt, Brace (New York, NY), 1941, with introduction by son J. A. Maxtone Graham, Lythway Press (Bath, England), with introduction by Greer Garson, Harcourt, Brace (San Diego, CA), 1990.
The Glass-Blower: And Other Poems, Harcourt, Brace (New York, NY), 1941.
(Editor) Women of Britain: Letters from England, Harcourt, Brace (New York, NY), 1941.
A Pocket Full of Pebbles (essays, lectures, and poems), decorations by Aldren Watson, Harcourt, Brace (New York, NY), 1946.
Contributor of poems, essays, and short stories to various journals, including London Mercury, Spectator, New Statesman, and the London Times.
Struther's papers are housed at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Washington, DC
Mrs. Miniver has been published in numerous translations and other editions, and distributed in Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Japan, France, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Cuba, Argentina, Italy, and Mexico. An Internet version was authorized by son Robert Maxtone Graham, to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of Struther's birth.
Mrs. Miniver was adapted as a movie of the same name by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, 1942.
Jan Struther—born Joyce Anstruther—was the younger of two children in an upper-class British family. Her father was knighted to become Sir Harry Anstruther; her mother—called the Honorable Dame Eva Anstruther because of her service to England during World War I—was also a writer, under the name Eva Struther.
Struther was a tomboy and loved words, jokes, and poems. She became an accomplished outdoorswoman, wrote light and amusing articles for Punch and the London Times, authored many poems, and—although an agnostic—wrote more than a dozen enduring hymns. Her ultimate success, however, came with the immediate best seller, Mrs. Miniver, a novel that began as a newspaper column and ended up inspiring and influencing the allied nations during World War II.
Struther's first husband, Anthony Maxtone Graham, shared her love of jokes and life. By 1936, however, their initially happy marriage was deteriorating. It was about this time that author Peter Fleming, brother to actor Ian Fleming and leader-writer for the London Times, asked her to write occasional stories about a fictional woman to liven up the Court Page of the paper. According to David Reynolds, writing for the London Review of Books, Struther asked what kind of woman, and Fleming replied, "Oh, I don't know—just an ordinary sort of woman, who leads an ordinary sort of life. Rather like yourself." Struther created Mrs. Miniver, and called her first installment "Mrs. Miniver Comes Home," signing it simply "From a correspondent." The theme centered around the life of an independent upper-middle-class woman, happily married with three children, living comfortably in London, spending weekends in Kent, and summers in Scotland. "This life was composed of small pleasures and small discomforts, precisely depicted," wrote Reynolds. "Mrs. Miniver and the New Car" was published two weeks later, at which time publishers were already bidding for a book.
The popular series appeared regularly for two years, during which time the sensible, outspoken, down-to-earth Mrs. Miniver talked about the joys of Christmas morning, the ups and downs of parenting, of paying bills, of a happy marriage. "The character took on a life of her own," commented Reynolds, and Struther "was soon receiving a substantial mailbag addressed to 'Dear Mrs. Miniver'. She felt, she said, 'rather like a ventriloquist whose doll has suddenly struck up an independent conversation with the audience'."
As World War II reached Great Britain and blackouts, bomb shelters, and gas masks became the order of the day, Struther's character switched to first-person letters, adopting the foreboding atmosphere of the war. Reynolds wrote: "During Munich week in September 1938, and again in September 1939, when three million people fled London in the first days of the war, many really did anticipate the end of civilization. 'Back to normal', Mrs. Miniver's post-Munich piece about life, cherished possessions and 'the value of dullness', spoke to millions."
By the time the book was published in 1939, Struther was anxious to be rid of the "Mrs. Miniver" persona. Also, through her work with European refugees, she had met and fallen secretly in love with Adolf Placzek, a penniless architectural historian and a refugee from Vienna, thirteen years her junior, who had already applied for a visa to the United States. She was heartbroken when he left. However, the timing was perfect: her book, just released in the States, was an immediate success and was selected as a Book of the Month Club choice; the publisher wanted her to promote it, and her husband, and his sister who lived in New York, wanted her to take her two young children away from London to the safety of America.
A third circumstance proved highly significant, not just for Struthers' decision to go to America, but for the entire world. Public sentiment in America weighed heavily toward staying out of the war. Reynolds explained that Americans felt they had been drawn into World War I "by an unholy trinity of munitions manufacturers, Wall Street bankers and British propagandists. This put a damper on overt attempts by the British Government to argue its case in the late 1930s. Isolationists also played up the negative stereotypes of Britain—antiquated, class-ridden, still clinging to an Empire from which Americans had mercifully escaped in 1776."
By the summer of 1940, however, Germany was winning the war. France fell, Nazi tanks reached the English Channel, and Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that if England fell, America was in serious trouble. Public sentiment had to change; America had to enter the war. The media was highly influential in this regard, publishing stories of British heroism on the beaches and the battlefields. U.S. sentiment indeed began to turn, and Struther's book was now on the national best seller list. To many Americans, Struther was the real Mrs. Miniver. The Ministry of Information believed that a U.S. lecture tour by Struther that promoted Mrs. Miniver and the book's wholesome values would be an excellent form of British propaganda, characterizing, as it would, England as an innocent child.
It worked. In November 1940, Struther sold film rights to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the movie version of the book, while deviating drastically from Struther's original story, became an immediate success, winning five Oscars. Miranda Seymour, in the Times Literary Supplement, noted that the film's "director, William Wyler, freely admitted that he had turned it into a propoganda exercise aimed at bringing America into the war." Reynolds, meanwhile, in reference to the book, remarked that "The impact of Mrs. Miniver was both a cause and an effect of the sea-change in American opinion during the summer of 1940." In fact—according to Reynolds, Maxtone Graham, and others—during Struther's stay at the White House in 1943, President Roosevelt told her that "Mrs. Miniver had considerably hastened American entry into the war."
Struther returned to England in 1945 with her children. She and her husband, who had been in an Italian prisoner-of-war camp for five years, divorced two years later. She returned to New York and married Placzek. Although she never again attained the literary success of Mrs. Miniver, she wrote several pieces and began her autobiography, which she never finished. Struther died of a brain tumor in 1953.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Maxtone Graham, Ysenda, The Real Mrs. Miniver: A Biography of Jan Struther, John Murray (London, England), 2001.
Book World, August 4, 1985, review of Mrs. Miniver, p. 12.
London Review of Books, April 25, 2002, David Reynolds, review of The Real Mrs. Miniver and Mrs. Miniver.
New York Times Book Review, August 4, 1985, review of Mrs. Miniver, p. 28.
Times (London, England), November 5, 2001, Valerie Grove, "Adultery and Mrs. Miniver," p. 24.
Times Literary Supplement, January 11, 2002, Miranda Seymour, review of The Real Mrs. Miniver and Mrs. Miniver, p. 11.
Center for Progressive Christianity Web site,http://www.tcpc.org/ (October 23, 2002), Hugh Dawes, review of The Real Mrs. Miniver: A Biography of Jan Struther.