Love and War in London
A Woman’s Diary 1939-1942
Paper 224 pp.
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Olivia Cockett was twenty-six years old in the summer of 1939 when she responded to an invitation from Mass Observation to “ordinary” individuals to keep a diary of their everyday lives, attitudes, feelings, and social relations. This book is an annotated, unabridged edition of her candid and evocative diary.
Love and War in London: A Woman’s Diary 1939-1942 is rooted in the extraordinary milieu of wartime London. Vibrant and engaging, Olivia’s diary reveals her frustrations, fears, pleasures, and self-doubts. She records her mood swings and tries to understand them, and speaks of her lover (a married man) and the intense relationship they have. As she and her friends and family in New Scotland Yard are swept up by the momentous events of another European war, she vividly reports on what she sees and hears in her daily life.
Hers is a diary that brings together the personal and the public. It permits us to understand how one intelligent, imaginative woman struggled to make sense of her life, as the city in which she lived was drawn into the turmoil of a catastrophic war.
Robert Malcolmson taught in the History Department at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, between 1969 and 2004. Author of several books, he now lives in Coburg, Ontario, and works part-time as a personal counsellor.
“Olivia was a remarkable young woman, feisty, articulate, intelligent and emancipated, a lover of books and classical music....Her exemplary editor, Robert Malcolmson...retrieved the original manuscript from M-O’s [Mass Observation’s] files at Sussex University. Quite why no one before him saw its potential is a mystery, but he and his university press deserve our thanks for polishing and publishing a classic.”
— Michael Barber, The Tablet
“Olivia Cockett’s detailed three-year diary written between August 1939 and October 1942 is unusual in its length, its literary quality, and its level of detail and openness.... [Her] writing is vibrant and engaging... She writes, as Malcolmson points out, not only of the facts, but of the feelings of wartime, revealing how public and private experiences were closely entangled.”
— Amy Bell, University of Toronto Quarterly, Letters in Canada 2005
“A rich medley of voices skilfully blended in an absolutely compelling story, both personal and historic. Olivia Cockett writes with lively and critical intelligence as a contributor to Mass-Observations inquiries into the lives and opinions of ordinary people, and with humour and passion in her own private diaries about her secret love affair with a married man, her family life, her friends, and her keen desire for children. Malcolmson’s deft editing blends Cockett’s voice with others from the period to create a vivid sense of Londoners preparing for war, coping with gas masks, blackouts, shortages, cold, and then the blitz, Cockett all the while hating violence but refusing to hate Germans, loving music and flowers and friends, finding that the Blitz tears away the good from life—and makes the good all the more important.”
— Susanna Egan, University of British Columbia, co-editor, Tracing the Autobiographical (WLU Press, 2005)