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Literature / The Summer Before the War

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The Summer Before the War is a 2016 novel by Helen Simonson.

It focuses on the life of a highly respected young woman, Beatrice Nash, who earns a living by tutoring unruly boys and later teaching at a school, with support from Agatha and her nephews Hugh Grange and Daniel Bookman. However, matters become complicated as World War I draws near.

The Summer Before the War provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Agatha really fears for Daniel's safety when he enlists in the army. Turns to reality when Daniel is mortally wounded in combat. It is later hinted that he may be her son.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Invoked Trope. After learning that Mr Poot may replace Beatrice as the Latin teacher, Hugh and Daniel invite him to get drunk so that he'll do poorly at the interview. He is not pleased when he later realizes what they did.
  • Ambiguously Gay: It's implied that Daniel and Craigmore are more than just close friends.
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  • Anyone Can Die: Several notable characters die, which isn't surprising during wartime.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord North really dislikes Daniel and makes Craigmore join the Royal Flying Corps. When Craigmore is killed in a plane crash, Lord North lays the blame on Daniel and does everything possible to get him discharged. And when Snout lashes out and punches Daniel, North orders him to be court-martialed and face possible execution.
  • * Asshole Victim: Lord North.
  • Blatant Lies: After Beatrice and Hugh save Celeste from killing herself, she says she just wanted to dispose of her dirty linens in the river. Beatrice immediately calls her out by asking about the gun she was holding.
  • Court-Martialed: Snout is court-martialed for punching Daniel while defending his dog.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: A platonic version. Lord North strongly dislikes the friendship between his son Craigmore and Daniel. It's hinted that the two may be gay, in which case it would not be platonic after all.
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  • Deus ex Machina: Snout is about to be executed by firing squad when the Germans attack, disrupting the execution.
  • Driven to Suicide: Celeste tries to kill herself due to the shame of being pregnant out of wedlock. Luckily, she is saved before she could do so.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep":
    • Agatha's cook is simply called Cook.
    • Professor Fontaine is only referred to as the Professor.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The book focuses on what takes place before World War I.
  • Expy: Word of God says that Mr Tillingham is based on writer Henry James.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Daniel, who is gravely wounded, is thankful for the life he lived.
  • Genius Slob: Snout may be a messy street urchin, but he has great taste in literature, and knows The Aeneid better than anyone else.
  • Heroic BSoD: Daniel suffers one after Craigmore's death.
  • Honorable Marriage Proposal: Daniel proposes to Celeste after she became pregnant from a rape. Having a child out of wedlock was extremely shameful in the time period.
  • It's All About Me: Mr Tillingham has shades of this.
  • Jerkass: Lord North is determined to make an example of Snout, even though it is totally unnecessary and the other officers are adamantly against it.
  • Last-Name Basis: The first names of Mr Tillingham and the Professor are never mentioned.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Everyone is having a great time at the ball, and then Daniel gets word that his good friend Craigmore has died in a plane crash.
    • Snout is thrilled to be united with his lost dog Wolfie, and then Brigadier General North orders the dog killed. Made worse when Snout lashes out at Daniel, earning him a court martial and possible execution as striking a superior officer was a capital crime at the time.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: The protagonists try to hide Celeste's pregnancy, but Mrs. Turber eventually finds out and wants her out of the house.
  • Parental Abandonment: Happens to both Beatrice and Celeste.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Celeste's father is originally reluctant to let Daniel marry her but eventually acquiesces.
  • The Power of Legacy:
    • Even though Lord North was a Jerkass, Daniel reports that he pulled a Heroic Sacrifice to save Snout.
    • Snout is found guilty of assaulting Daniel and sentenced to die via firing squad, but an enemy shell hits nearby and interrupts the execution. Harry then tells the others that Snout was acquitted because Lord North (the only person pushing for the execution to go forward) died in the attack.
  • The Scapegoat: Lord North really doesn't like Daniel and makes him the scapegoat when Craigmore is killed in a plane crash.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Daniel and Celeste hastily marry after it becomes known that Celeste is pregnant.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Lots, but mostly between Hugh and Daniel.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Celeste, after being raped by a German soldier.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Cousins Hugh and Daniel.
  • War Is Hell: A few chapters describe the horrifying sights that Hugh experiences.
  • War Refugees: There are many, but the story focuses on the Professor and his daughter Celeste.
  • Warrior Poet: Daniel. He continues to work on his poems on the battlefield after enlisting in the armed forces.


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