D. E. Stevenson’s popular historical fiction novel, The English Air, provides a fascinating insight into the interwar years. However, written in 1940 during WWII, it was initially rejected from serialisation by popular British magazines due to fears of its political content. Convinced that many readers would object to the sympathetic and charming German protagonist, editors were not willing to risk its publication.
D. E. Stevenson addresses these issues in correspondences with her agent, Curtis Brown – a snippet of which has kindly been shared for publication on our blog by her granddaughter:
The character of Franz is taken – in a way – from real life. There was a young German girl who came over here and stayed with some friends of mine – to teach their children German – and she experienced the same change of views as Franz. She was a red-hot Nazi when she came in 1938, but she changed completely in March 1939. When Franz says ”What is that man doing to my poor country”, he is repeating the very words said to me by that girl. She was here for a little while after that and then went home. Then she disappeared and nothing has been heard of [her] since. The people with whom she stayed were very fond of her and are very much distressed about her but they can do nothing. She would not recognise herself as Franz, of course, but the character is actually based on her, and I obtained a great deal of my information about Germany from her – about The Wandervogel Outings etc. I have been obliged to water it down a good deal, because it was too dramatic and bloodcurdling and altogether beastly to suit my purpose! The story of Herr Oetzen is true (only that was not his name) and in the true story he died in the prison camp.– DES, 1940
Thankfully The English Air found a home with Collins, who were happy to publish it in 1940 despite the growing unease of how it may be received. And we feel especially honoured to have republished it in digital format this month.
Get your copy of The English Air HERE!