The English summer of 1914 was one of the most beautiful that people could remember.  By the end of that year everything had changed.  The First World War was raging in France,  Belgium had been overrun by German forces, and thousands of British soldiers had died or suffered life-threatening injuries.  Helen Simonson sets her second novel, “The Summer Before the War” in the coastal town of Rye, East Sussex,  during that glorious summer.

Her story revolves around Beatrice Nash a well-educated woman in her early twenties, who has recently been hired to teach Latin in the local school.  Beatrice is on her own.  She had devoted herself to her father, a professor and writer.  He had recently died and Beatrice, although not destitute, must find a way to earn an income.



Beatrice is an oddity in the town, an unmarried woman on her own.  She must be very careful to “obey” all the rules of local society.  Any hint of gossip or associations with undesirables will cause her to lose her job and standing in the community.

As the war approaches, Beatrice forms friendships with two cousins, Hugh Grange and Daniel Bookham and their Aunt Agatha.  The lives of these four people are bound up with the events of that summer as they experience love and great loss.

“The Summer Before the War” is a novel of the manners and morals of England in 1914.  There are strict conventions that must be followed if one is going to be accepted into society.  Simonson has captured the time period and how one young woman strives to keep her reputation and still be true to herself.


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