The Summer Before the War - Helen Simonson

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The Summer Before the War - Helen Simonson
The Summer Before the War - Helen Simonson

They call Helen Simonson “the modern day Jane Austen”. And there is a reason. With its rich language, English humor and witty dialogue, it continues the tradition of its great predecessor.

About the author


Helen Simonson was born in England. She graduated from the London College of Economics and worked as a tourist advertising specialist. He subsequently moved to America.

She lives with her husband and their two sons in the Washington area.

Thanks to her family, Helen Simonson was able to fulfill her big dream - to become a writer. The road is long, but the result is definitely worth it.

About the book


East Sussex, 1914, the end of another balmy English summer. Medical student Hugh visits his beloved Aunt Agatha in the coastal town of Rye. They are joined by his cousin Daniel, who studies at Oxford and dreams of the bohemian life of a poet.

Agatha has just risked her reputation by effecting the appointment of a woman as a Latin teacher at the local school. This unheard of innovation was met with overwhelming skepticism by conservative provincial society.

After meeting the new teacher, Agatha is also filled with doubts. Beatrice is far more free-spirited and attractive than a teacher should be. She believes in the power of education and wants to remain free from the shackles of marriage. However, Daniel's charm and Hugh's wonderful character make her reconsider her decision.

Idyllic life in the English countryside is coming to an end. The inhabitants of Paradise are drawn into the whirlwind of the First World War, which puts fragile progress and ossified traditions to the test.

Beatrice and Hugh find their way to each other, and the world around them takes a breath and jokingly takes a step towards the abyss…


The Summer Before the War will appeal to fans of Downton Manor.

Washington Post

A book about dignity and courage… Excellently written and morally sustainable.

Circus Review

This novel will be welcomed by fans of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, but also by any reader who is interested in the history of the Island and enjoys specific English humor.



After breakfast, Beatrice followed Hugh, and the two nimbly descended a muddy path into town, and then climbed the cobbled streets as steep as a Swiss village. On the main street, Beatrice fell silent, trying not to breathe too heavily, and leaned against a convenient street pole for a brief rest. She had followed Hugh's course with equal equanimity, but as she was to meet Agatha Kent at her new landlady's house, she was obliged to put on her high-heeled shoes, and had tightened her corset more tightly than was appropriate for such exertions. Her face flushed, and despite the light cotton dress, she could clearly feel the thin trickle of sweat running down her spine.

– Are you ok? Hugh asked. – You look a little tired.

– I'm perfectly fine, thank you.

– Maybe it wasn't very gentlemanly of me to take your words about pace literally?

– It is only my clothing to blame that I could not be a fully fledged companion to you. Beatrice reached into her pocket for one of her father's ordinary large handkerchiefs and swaddled herself with it as she looked around her.– If I may just have a moment to look around?

The high street looked a pleasant eclectic of Tudor and Georgian shop fronts with bright awnings. Multitudes of shoppers, overdressed for an ordinary day, in the manner typical of provincial guilds everywhere in the world, were going in and out of the shops. A cart passed them, spraying cool water on the heated cobblestone street. A large car dragged impatiently behind her and coughed up its mechanical money, the pungent smell of which mingled with the musty smell of horses, baskets of flowers, and meat pies cooling in the open window of some shop.

When Beatrice had recovered, they continued up the narrow streets around the churchyard, past the old Elizabethan houses of black wood with small leaded panes, collapsed roofs, and bricks worn down by centuries of incessant English rain; then they found themselves on a broad green lawn surrounding an ancient stone tower that rose high above the flat plain below them.

“It looks like a picture,” said Beatrice, as the two of them took in the stacked roofs on the steep hill and the marshes stretching out in all their splendor to the English Channel shining in the distance. – It looks like the sea is right below us.

The breeze offered to dry their damp foreheads and she took off her straw hat to smooth her hair back.

“It was like that centuries ago,” Hugh said. - Now we are stranded in the swamps, and the boats struggle a lot and get stuck in the mud.

To their left, a single huge sail floated as if among a field of sheep, and the boat to which it was attached was invisible behind the grassy dike.

– This is the Royal Military Canal built for defense by Napoleon, Hugh added.

– I find it hard to imagine that such a narrow waterway could protect us from attack. How far does it go?

“It's twenty-eight miles long from Hastings to Folkestone,” Hugh explained, pleased that the teacher seemed to have no objection to what Lucy Ramsay had gently quipped as his manly need to burden all pleasant sights with tedious facts.– Defense against the French has been a national pastime for centuries. This castle in the distance is a contribution of Henry VIII.

– What are we going to do now that we have reached such a “cordial agreement” with Paris?

– We will use them as a huge buffer against any other trouble in the rest of Europe. And we will hire French chefs for our evening parties.

– Sounds great. Although I don't think there's room in my immediate future for a French chef.

– Yes, I agree. From my personal experience, the housewives prefer mutton steaks and gooseberry pudding,” Hugh nodded.

– Have you had a landlady?

– Yes, Mrs. Rogers. A good woman, but her way of making sure that I and the other three medical students didn't starve was to wrap as much food as possible in a tallow pudding or a hard-crust pie. Only diligent exercise kept me from gaining weight.

– Are you going to be a doctor?

– Surgeon, to my parents' horror. I just finished my one year internship with Sir Alex Ramsay and he must have liked my work because he asked me to stay with him.

A note of pride crept into his tone: after all, it was no small feat to be approved by the most respected surgeon in London.

– Does your family disagree with your choice? – asked his companion. Hugh noticed that she looked at him intently, as if she herself had experienced such disapproval.

– My father enjoyed a long and distinguished career in banking. I think my parents would prefer that I uphold the honor of the family through a more gentlemanly and less bloody pursuit than medicine.

– And what did they mean? Marriage to a rich widow?

– Rich widows are in short supply, even ugly ones.

– What will you do?

– The surgeon I'm interning with has a knighthood and a practice in the most popular end of Harley Street, so in recent months my parents have started to look more favorably on my career. But they would still prefer me to be a gentleman with a less demanding daily job and more time for fun.

– And you are a man of action?

– We already build flying machines and talk to each other using copper telephone cables; medicine develops so rapidly that textbooks must be revised every two or three years. Hugh paused and smiled as if he had said more than he should again. – I can't imagine just sitting around, playing golf, going to my club and wasting my time in polite conversation at parties.

– I think this is wonderful – said Beatrice. – What do you do?

– Well, I was researching how shock affects patients after surgery. It's very curious how many patients survive brain surgery without a problem and then just die in the wards.

Fearing that the subject was too dark, he decided to change direction by adding:

– But of course, I'm on vacation in the summer. My surgeon and his daughter left for the Italian lakes.

– The progress of the new century will have to wait until we indulge in a little self-care and bathing in the sea – Beatrice nodded. - And the daughter of the famous surgeon is probably impressed by your hard work?

– Lucy? Hugh asked, instantly wishing he had referred to her as 'Miss Ramsay'. He worried that he was blushing and stammered slightly as he considered his answer. - She is young and too sensitive to perceive all the details of our work. Her father and I are doing everything we can to protect her from this matter.

– I never wanted to be treated like some delicate creature. I preferred to be side by side with my father.

– Well, Lucy helps her father a lot with his correspondence and is a wonderful housekeeper. I go to their place for tea several times a week.

“You must be very lonely when she's so far away,” Beatrice remarked. She was smiling and he knew she was teasing him on purpose.

– I have a lot of work to do this summer.

Hugh was embarrassed by his companion's friendly challenge. Lucy often teased him as well, but always maintained a tone of charming respect towards him, and he, in turn, responded leniently, considering his older age and most of his knowledge.

“Some afternoons I go around with old Dr. Lawton,” he added to change the direction of the conversation. - There are many interesting cases among poorer families.

– Surely the village doctor is suitably impressed with you? asked Beatrice.

“Not in the least,” Hugh admitted. “He's known me since I was a little boy, and he still thinks I'm the same fool I was when I scraped my knees on our forays through the orchards with my cousin. But he's forgotten more about medicine than I suppose I'll ever learn, and so I just humbly hope I can be of some help, however modest.

– If one cannot change the age of others, then perhaps it is enough to at least be useful in something – Beatrice sighed, the ironic notes in her voice giving way to sincerity. – I hope that one day I will be able to say that about myself.

– I hope that in addition to being useful, you will also be happy here. This city has always been a peaceful haven for me, but you may find it too boring after your life on the go so far.

– I accept my new profession and I am ready to be a hermit. Hugh noticed that the light in her eyes dimmed slightly. – After the past year, I only long to be allowed to do my work and rest, away from the stupid vanity of high society. I will be like Lucy Snow, Charlotte Brontë's heroine, content to look after her little school and the merchants' children.

– Well, I'm afraid there are several charity committees and several ladies' organizations in town. I doubt they'll leave you alone for long. It's the same here - my aunt threatened to put a cricket bat in the hall to keep them away.

– Thanks for the warning – Beatrice smiled. – I will instruct the landlady to say that I am not at home.

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