Good Evening, Mrs. Craven is another excellent short story in The Persephone Book of Short Stories. If Good Evening, Mrs. Craven sounds familiar to you, it is probably because Persephone Book #8 is also named the same! Persephone Book #8 is a collection of war stories by Mollie Panter-Downes written between 1939 and 1944. Judging by Good Evening, Mrs. Craven, I am sure Persephone Book #8 is a gem of a book! Only if I had money to buy all the Persephone books that have ever been published! *sigh*
… ‘Good evening, Mrs. Craven. Mr. Craven’s waiting at your table. I’ll bring along your sherries right away.’
She would go over to their table, sit down, and slide her hand palm upwards along the sofa seat until his hand closed round it.
‘Good evening, Mrs. Craven,’ he would say, and they would both laugh.
They always enjoyed the joke that the waiter supposed they were married.
“Mrs. Craven” is the mistress of Mr. Craven, a married man with three children. They have been having this affair for years, and on every Thursday they have dinner at Porter’s restaurant at the same table, so the employees at the restaurant have come to think of this nice couple as husband and wife.
I usually don’t find the mistresses in stories I read likable, but for “Mrs. Craven”, I felt nothing but warmth. Mr. Craven had made it clear to her a long ago that he will never break his family apart and marry her, and “Mrs. Craven” has come to accept it. It couldn’t have been easy for her to listen to Mr. Craven go on about his family life and kids when she knows she will never be a mother, at least not with him. But it is evident she loves him deeply and cares for him. Even when they go out, she makes sure to dress in a way “that no one would cast an interested remembering glance” so she won’t put Mr. Craven in trouble.
Matters only worsen for the poor girl when the war comes, and Mr. Craven gets sent to Libya. Even though she puts a brave face on before Mr. Craven, she is heartbroken because she knows it is not to her they would convey the message to if anything bad happens to him. Who would contact her, the unknown mistress to give news about him? She has to worry about him in hiding, and unlike the real Mrs. Craven, she can not share her pain with the world.
Good Evening, Mrs. Craven is such a tragic story. It is written beautifully, and that gave me a nudge to find out more about Mollie Panter-Downes’ books. According to the author biography, Mollie Panter-Downes was a columnist for The New Yorker, who considered herself a journalist more than a novelist, so not a lot of her books are in print now. Thankfully, Persephone has published two more books of hers other than Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories and they are Minnie’s Room: The Peacetime Stories (Persephone Book #34) and London War Notes (Persephone Book #111), and I look forward to reading all three of them! 😀