Who is Nella Last? And why do we care? Oh my, the fun and the dangers of the ease of internet searches. I wanted to post this graphic that I had saved because I loved the quote. But when I looked at it I wondered about Nella Last and who she was. So, I searched her up and it turns out that…
She was an English housewife who lived in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire. She wrote a diary for the Mass Observation Archive from 1939 until around 1966 making it one of the most substantial diaries held by Mass Observation. Her diary, consisting of around 12 million words, is one of the longest in the English language. Her published writing describes what it was like for ordinary people to live through World War Two, reporting on the bombing of Barrow in April 1941, including her own home and offering her reflections on a wide range of issues.
So, I looked to see what was available as far as her published writing and found, Nella Last’s War on Amazon and read through the reviews. Lucy Moore says, “An extraordinary glimpse into the heart of an ‘ordinary’ woman, Nella Last’s day-to-day account of her war is spirited, poignant and utterly compelling.” The book is now purchased and on its way to me.
And guess what? The wartime diaries were dramatized for television in 2006 as Housewife, 49, which is how she headed her first entry at the age of 49. Victoria Wood played the lead role. Other notable cast members included David Threlfall, Christopher Harper as well as Stephanie Cole. I love Stephanie Cole in Waiting for God, Doc Martin, and Coronation Street. Housewife, 49 was released on DVD in 2008.
No, I didn’t buy the movie but I did check and it’s available on BritBox. Check out the listing here : Housewife, 49
But then I looked again at how she began writing and I wondered what exactly is the Mass Observation Archive? So, then I searched for information about that.
Which took me to info about the Mass Observation Archive and it turns out that: The Mass Observation Archive specializes in material about everyday life in Britain. It contains papers generated by the original Mass Observation social research organization (1937 to early 1950s), and newer material collected continuously since 1981. Thus, the Mass Observation Project.
So then I wondered if the United States has anything like the Mass Observation Project. And the closest thing that I could find was collections that are a part of the Library of Congress. There is a whole section with digitized diaries and journals that has some very interesting options, but I have to say that mostly what has been preserved are notable women and men which is wonderful but.. I couldn’t find anything that promised that “glimpse into the heart of an ‘ordinary’ woman.
Maybe it’s out there and maybe it’s not. If you know of that type of text or website, please let me know. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading Nella Last’s War and perhaps this weekend a bowl of popcorn and some time with Housewife, 49. And all because of a quote that made me wonder who the woman was behind the very profound thought that: “It’s a great blessing if one can lose all sense of time, all worries, if only for a short time, in a book.” Or perhaps an internet search.