Going through a stack of vintage books the other day, I was drawn to a thin book by James Hilton. Hilton was the author of *Lost Horizon* and *Goodbye Mr. Chips*. I thought I’d at least read a few pages to see if it was worth my time. I began reading around 4:00pm Friday and was soon wrapped up in the story.
The setting is in the rather unremarkable factory town, Browdley, England. The opening sentence gives the date as September 1, 1921. The main character is Councillor George Boswell. He runs a print shop and newspaper called “The Guardian”. The opening sequence has Boswell readying himself for a speech to be made during the groundbreaking ceremony of a new housing scheme. He will be accompanied by Lord Winslow. This gives the reader a character sketch of Boswell as being an idealistic newspaperman and town council member.
Bosley had been married to Olivia Channing whose father had been the mill owner who had swindled the town. The crime had left the town of Browdley to deteriorate to slum like conditions. The industrialist did serve his prison time. The result being that the Channing family became deeply hated by the townspeople of Browdley.
The central part of the book relates the relationship between Olivia or “Livia” and George. By the next part of the book, Livia has divorced George to start her life over in Switzerland. She ends up marrying Jeffrey Winslow, the son of Lord Winslow. There is another scandal called the Kemalpan affair. Jeffrey is the British attache’ to a small sultanate. A civil disturbance arises but Jeffrey does nothing to prevent the rebels from taking the lives of five people. It is revealed that Livia had intercepted a communique’ from London advising her husband to tell the Sultan to wait for British aid before doing anything rash. The incident caused Jeffrey’s loss of face and his career.
Meantime Jeffrey and Livia’s son Charles had been severely injured after being shot down during a World War II bombing raid over Germany. Boswell, now the mayor of Browdley, meets Charles as the son is recovering in the hospital from his broken bones and disfigurement. Charles and mayor Boswell become close friends. Eventually Charles is told that Boswell is his mother’s ex-husband.
The circle is complete and loose ends of the book’s plot are tied up ending in a truce of sorts between Boswell and Livia. Although the book reads somewhat like a romance novel, it has more depth than that. It is also a good capsule of everyday life between the world wars and into the second war from the standpoint of a small English town.
There are some tantalizing bits of political commentary in the book. This exchange between Mayor Boswell and his friend Father Wendover is almost prophetic: “…’You’ve forgotten the Standard Oil Comany. That makes three.’
‘Let’s say then, forces that can command not only obedience but willing sacrifice.’ ‘Which lets in Hitler. He could command all that at first. But in the end he was defeated by free men.’
‘Only when they themselves learned to organize, obey and sacrifice. And as soon as they forget that lesson there’ll be other Hitlers.’ ‘
Aye, and as soon as we forget we’re free we’ll have Hitlers in our own ranks.’…”
The book ends as World War II is beginning to draw to a close. *So Well Remembered* by James Hilton is an Atlantic Monthly Press Book published by Little, Brown and Company of Boston in 1945. If you can find a copy, I think you’ll enjoy a good, light story that is a fast read.
The Blue Jay of Happiness says the movie doesn’t do justice to the book.