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Reader’s Den, Biblio File

August in the Reader's Den: Maisie Dobbs, Week 2


Welcome to week two of the Maisie Dobbs book discussion. Have you introduced yourself to Maisie yet? She is a singular character — somewhat aloof — but I think that is because she is shy. The process of moving from in-between maid to Cambridge student meant she was constantly going between two worlds without fitting into either one. Gender and class issues were involved. A woman aspiring to a university education was still unusual at that time.

This debut novel for Jacqueline Winspear was published in 2003. Winspear dedicated this book to two of her grandparents. Her paternal grandfather was wounded in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and worked as a costermonger in London, as Maisie Dobb's father, Frankie Dobbs, does in the novel. The second dedication is to her maternal grandmother who was a munitions worker during the First World War, as Dobbs's friend Enid is in the novel. Winspear's  grandmother was partially blinded in an explosion that killed several girls working in the same section, similar to the explosion in the novel.

In the Penguin edition of Maisie Dobbs, there is an interview with Winspear where she talks about discovering her family's experiences in World War I. Winspear didn't know her grandmother had been partially blinded in WWI until long after her death because nobody talked about it. This silence is consistent with the behavior of veterans of WWII and the Vietnam War.

Dobbs's first case is directly linked to the plight of WWI veterans and how society treated them. World War I was where the term "shell shock" was first used by medical officer Charles Myers. It was a new condition that afflicted over 80,000 British troops, and neither the veterans nor their families and friends at home knew how to handle it. Public reaction was often to brand the sufferers as cowards or weaklings. The term "post-traumatic stress disorder" did not come into use until after the Vietnam War.     

Here are a couple of discussion questions to start:

  • How do you think going back and forth between her working class roots and family and her upper class education and new friends affected Dobbs's personality? What actions or mannerisms reflect that?
  • What changes have occurred in how veterans are treated since WWI? What similarities do you see between how veterans from WWI were treated and how WWII, Vietnam War, or Gulf War veterans were treated?

Get a copy of Maisie Dobbs and start reading! Next week more discussion questions will be posted, but feel free to begin commenting!


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