1952 – a regally good year for fiction?

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Everybody’s doing it — looking back seventy years to the time of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne. But was 1952 a good year for books? Are we still reading any of those titles, seventy years on?

Some enduring classics first appeared in 1952: Men at Arms, for instance, the first in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, still widely read today; and Lieutenant Hornblower by C S Forester, the third novel in his Hornblower sequence.  Doris Lessing began her Children of Violence series with Martha Quest, semi-autobiographical and set against the troubled background of Southern Rhodesia.

Is the name Winston Grime familiar? Better known as Winston Graham, he was the creator of the Poldark series of historical novels set in Cornwall, but in 1952 he published a thriller, Fortune is a woman. A film based on the book was released in 1957, starring Jack Hawkins and Arlene Dahl, but it’s the Poldark series for which Winston Graham is remembered today.

No round-up of novels published in 1952 would be complete without Agatha Christie. Mrs McGinty’s Dead features Hercules Poirot and Ariadne Oliver, and is the first in which Ariadne makes more than a fleeting appearance.

How about 1952’s children’s books? The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was the third of C S Lewis’s much-loved Narnia stories, with memorable characters such as Reepicheep and the Dufflepuds. A decade after its publication, our junior school teacher read it to us, a chapter at a time, and oh! the agony of having to wait for the next instalment!

Another children’s classic appeared in 1952 — The Borrowers by Mary Norton. These tiny people, allegedly living unseen in some old houses, have fascinated generations of readers (young and old) as they make use of things we discard: cotton reels make excellent tables. The presence of Borrowers is the only explanation for the way small items disappear even after we’ve put them away somewhere safe. A Borrower has found a use for them, and we won’t get them back.

The prolific Enid Blyton was at the height of her fame in 1952, when Five have a wonderful time appeared, the eleventh in her Famous Five series. In and out of (critical) favour many times over the last seventy years, she’s still a writer beloved by many.

Let’s hope we all have a wonderful time reading and writing in this Jubilee Year!

© Nikki Copleston May 2022

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