It's no secret that I have a love affair with the First World War. Though many view it with sorrow and horror—an image fostered by the poetry of Wilfred Owen and programmes like Blackadder Goes Forth—I find it a time of hope and courage, and yes, even romance. Margeaux Otis captures this in in her book 1919: After the War, which is actually set in post-WWI America and not Britain. This was an interesting and welcome change for me, since WWI is America's “forgotten war,” overshadowed as it is by the Civil War, WWII, and Vietnam in our modern memories.
1919 features multiple romantic strands—the eros of Rosalind and Matthew; the philia of Matthew and George; the storge of the main characters and their families—which gives dimension to the plot. Adding further depth to 1919 is its fascinating portrait of America's diversity (Matthew is Jewish). It is rare to find a U.S.-set historical that embraces the various ethnic groups that stitched together the fabric of American heritage and doesn't shy away from the conflicts these differences could create.
As for the romance, it is an intriguing slow-burn, with the independent Rosalind and the haunted Matthew drawn to one another even as they fear a loss of self and the difficulties a relationship will make of their futures.
Rosalind washed her hands once more and poured herself lemonade, using a glass into which Matthew had already shaved ice for her. “You needed to sit down before you fell down,” she said, more sharply than she’d intended.
Matthew scowled. “You came home looking like someone stabbed you. Anyone would’ve been scared to see that.”
“A little blood on my cuffs doesn’t look anything like a stab wound.”
“All right, all right,” Matthew said. “But I—the blood—hell.”
“I can’t help getting blood on me, not even for your sake,” Rosalind snapped.
“I was just worried!”
“Well, don’t worry about me!” she shouted. She felt as if her hair lifted from her scalp with the force of her rage.
Matthew’s expression turned blacker. “The hell I won’t worry. Why can’t you let anyone care about you without—without—?”
“I can take care of myself!”
“Oh, I’m sure you can,” Matthew said, with his voice oozing sarcasm. “That’s why you’re shouting. That’s why you came crawling into my bed after a bad dream.”
“At least I knew who the hell you were that night!”
“Well—well—you said—I said I was sorry about that—”
Rosalind couldn’t summon a cutting response in the face of abject confusion. She wasn’t even precisely sure why she’d been shouting at him. She was right and he was wrong, but she wanted…wanted…she needed something from him, nevertheless. She needed him to understand her, but he also needed him to leave her alone.
Despite the sparks between Rosalind and Matthew, 1919 is a mostly quiet, introspective novel, where each exquisite word begs to be savored instead of gobbled down. I've also grown curious about American soldiers and nurses in WWI! If you're searching for an historical romance to read at your leisure on a lazy weekend, 1919 amply fits the bill.
Evangeline Holland is a writer of historical romances, an amateur milliner, and a really great cook. When not writing or reading, you can find her blogging about the Edwardian era on her website, the aptly titled Edwardian Promenade.