Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday Book Review

American Literature was set in stone for high school juniors when I attended. There were things I hated--memorizing long passages of Thanatopsis, for example. But one day the teacher put on a recording of Alice Duer Miller's The White Cliffs--and I fell in love.

The small volume is a love story in verse--the love of a woman for a man, of that woman's love for their son, and finally, of her love for England, the country she realizes that, though American-born, she has come to cherish as her own. Written in 1940, the story has particular poignancy because in that year,  England was already engaged in fighting for her very life.

I have loved England, dearly and deeply,
Since that first morning, shining and pure,
The white cliffs of Dover, I saw rising steeply
Out of the sea that once made her secure.

On the eve of World War I, Susan Dunne visits England with her father and meets Sir John Ashwood, the man destined to be the love of her life--but only for a short time. They marry and conceive a son before he and his older brother die in France. Thus their son becomes heir to the title and land, and Susan remains in England to bring him up as his father before him. Then, as another war looms, she rebels and vows not to sacrifice her son for the good of a country that is not her own.

Words issued from my lips--"My child, my child
Why should you die for England, too?" He smiled:
"Is she not worth it, if I must?" he said.
John would have answered yes--but John was dead.

So they stay, and Susan comes to realize that everything she is, everything she cherishes about her American home, has English roots.

I am American bred.
I have seen much to hate here--much to forgive,
But in a world where England is finished and dead,
I do not wish to live.

 I must have waxed eloquent over the very brief passage played in class, because on my 16th birthday, I came to breakfast and found the slim blue book at my place. I devoured the entire story--and fell in love again. Today, almost fifty years later, the tattered little volume remains dear to my heart.

In 1944, the book became a movie, The White Cliffs of Dover, with Irene Dunne, Alan Marshall, Van Johnson, Frank Morgan, Dame May Whitty, C. Aubrey Smith, and the very young Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor. 

Alice Duer Miller (1874-1942) was an American poet and novelist. Her works, including another novel in verse, Forsaking All Others,  can be found online at this website dedicated to her memory. 

Disclaimer: Dear FTC, I've owned/loved this book for almost 50 years. Must I "disclose" that I get a huge feeling of satisfaction when I pass on info about a well-loved book to others? 

1 comment:

nlindabrit said...

One of the many generous gifts you have made to me during the course of our friendship and one I shall always cherish. It says everything I feel about my beloved England.