The letters are, as one of their editors notes, close to 'an uninhibited and unstoppable stream of consciousness . . . written from air-raid shelters, and office desks, on buses and station platforms, in hotel foyers and under hair-dryers'. The 1,400 letters were uncovered by chance in an eBay auction by their future editor and transcriber, David McGowan ... Eileen is an ambitious, kind and achingly funny observer ... It is touching to read the happiness she felt one evening in treating herself to an egg rather than a powdered proxy, and also her euphoria at Allied victories in the Mediterranean ... Eileen was a sharp but fair observer ... It is easy to see Love in the Blitz being adapted for the screen; Eileen will be a gift to the actress cast in the role. She emerges from these letters as a force of nature, and her voice is one of the real joys in these remarkable letters. She was clever and caustic, without being cruel; intellectually brilliant and revelling in that fact, she laces her letters with references to Rossetti, Shakespeare, Donne and the Book of Job ... It’s a memoir of hope and resilience, as much as of love.
A perceptive foreword by Oswyn Murray, for whose father Alexander worked in the Air Ministry during the war, describes the letters as 'an immense literary discovery', but what they are above all is superbly entertaining ... on almost every page there is a gleaming little starburst of life ... She is immensely clever – set fair for a career in academe, until the war diverts her into the civil service – and her literary judgements are delicious ... Yet she is also unsophisticated, as open as a child. Her writing is a diary-like outpouring, a stream of consciousness in which she relives her days in the glorifying imagined gaze of her recipient; it is a mass of aperçus, jokes, observations and confessions, offered up in a style whose default position is that of a preternaturally brilliant schoolgirl, one who scatters Komic Kapitals with the abandon seen in the novels of Patrick Hamilton, but without the ironic intent ... But the point – the joy – of these letters is the highly particular story they tell. It is one that, for all its absorption in the details of daily life, seems frequently dissociated from the events that were directing the course of that life. The bombs fall on London, and do not go unmentioned; yet the real force of Alexander’s attention is on the personal ... We never forget, however, that these are love letters, in which the war’s most important role is to create the separation that brings them into existence.
As the course of [Alexander's] life shifted abruptly and against her will that year, like the lives of so many at the onset of World War II, Alexander responded with unflappable humor and irrepressible intellect, both of which shine through in Love in the Blitz ... That Alexander’s sense of humor remained so resolutely intact throughout only serves to highlight the occasional glimpse of sadness or weariness, and you admire her all the more for it ... Alexander’s unassailable wit makes her an accessible narrator, someone in whom we see pieces of our friends, our sisters and, we hope, ourselves ... For a book of war correspondence, it’s peculiar to note that it’s a laugh-out-loud sort of work, but Alexander’s candor makes her wartime experience real to us. When she shows up for work only to find her workplace bombed, we feel the impact of that moment as though we’re standing next to her. When she stops in her tracks in one letter to wonder if she will ever forget the things she has seen, we pause with her ... After reading Love in the Blitz, events on the 20th-century world stage no longer seem so removed from our own age. We can only hope to conduct ourselves as Alexander did: with tenacity, optimism, tenderness and a perfect zinger for everything.
Once in a while, just at the right moment, a truly gorgeous real-life love story appears out of the blue, or in this case...the wonderful (and superlatively edited) seat-of-the-pants romance of Eileen Alexander and fellow Cambridge student Gershon Ellenbogen ... Never far from quoting her favorite poets, among them Donne, Wordsworth and Shakespeare, Eileen has an insatiable eye for funny stories amid the strange circumstances of war. There are echoes of intimate, Mitfordian shorthand—‘mollicking’ stands for kissing, ‘wantonness’ for copulation and ‘wild oats’ describes those who are rather too free with their favors—and a touch of the self-deprecating, self-doubting Bridget Jones about her. Putting her foot in it with her out-spoken grittiness, an Emma Woodhouse is also at work here as Eileen relishes, encourages and prudishly disapproves of romances that acquire a peculiar concentration during wartime lockdown ... during the earthquake of war and at other moments of national catastrophe when loneliness, fear and uncertainty can bring despair, flares of hope and Eileen’s discovery of the ‘core of warm serenity’ found in letters, in reciprocated love and within inspirational people can reverse the mood. These are such letters, theirs was such a love and Eileen Alexander such a delicious inspiration.
[The letters] run the gamut of chatty (sometimes catty), ruminative, plaintive, and frank, and readers will appreciate Alexander’s breadth of literary knowledge ... Alexander’s style of expression is uniquely her own with terms like 'mollocking' (to cavort, especially sexually) and naming the bathroom 'Duncan.' Nothing is too great or too trivial to include in her letters: interminable air raids, praise for C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, and squabbles with her father and brothers. Front matter provided by the editors helps give context, and a 'who’s who' at the end helps readers keep the vast cast of characters straight.
Alexander’s adoration for Gershon shines through in every letter, and so do her observations on the opinions and foibles of the people around her. You’ll laugh out loud at unbuttoned descriptions of friends, family, and coworkers while learning more than you’d expect about life in London leading up and during to World War II ... This treasure trove of love letters, cultural history, and memoir should make a wonderful addition to all World War II collections.
It makes for a fascinating subjective account of an individual life over these years, unfiltered by any ambitions of literary posterity or knowingness. The frankness and guilelessness of these letters grant them an astonishing authenticity ... This book can rank with Joan Wyndham’s wonderful youthful journals of the blitz, Love Lessons, as an account of those terrible weeks and months of 1940 and 41 that sweeps away the accumulated myths and nationalistic hogwash that fond, retro-fitted hindsight has bestowed. This is the news from the domestic frontline: personal, unique, unexpurgated, without propaganda, as it unfolded and was experienced ... The letters are witty, clever, subversive, candid.
This collection of letters written by literary translator Alexander...to her future husband, Gershon Ellenbogen, between July 1939 and March 1946 proves a remarkable aggregate of public and personal history ... Any reader with an interest in cultural history or a love of romance will find this a book to savor.