1955 The Summer When… recalls the thrill and apprehension of a student invited, on the first long vacation, to stay with her professor in Paris. Travelling across a continent recovering from six years of war, she gets into scrapes through her naively optimistic attitude, dented by actual experience of people and life in general.
As she embarks on this journey into adulthood, she meets Parisian intellectuals, Russian refugees, a Spanish bullfighter, Italian mafiosi, an SS recruit and other students on individual quests for diversion, consolation and love. In 1955 travel was by steam train, there was no mass tourism, no contraceptive pill, television was in its infancy, the age of consent was twenty-one and the internet didn’t exist!
“…an engagingly honest account of her roller-coaster adventures across Europe by a Fifties girl before the feminist movement began.”
Susan Cockcroft, University and Adult Education Tutor
“A trailblazer book about the Fifties that will intrigue, amaze and amuse everyone who has enjoyed the TV series Call The Midwife.”
John Trelease, cultural commentator and book reviewer
Valerie Thornhill discusses 1955 The Summer When… at Femail First
To buy this, or any of Valerie Thornhill’s books, please go to the Pergola Press website.
And you can buy it at Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions
You can follow Valerie’s blog “Creating a Novel”
1955, The Summer When… Review
The book is an engaging mix of lighthearted summer fun and Valerie’s thoughts on post-WWII Europe as well as her perceptions of the cultural differences that unfold as her trip proceeds. Even though my life experiences at that age were much different than hers, I remember that feeling of wanting to learn and experience everything but having a sort of mixed reaction to the results. I really identified with this young woman, so it was easy to get drawn into her story.
In the summer of 1955, Cambridge student Valerie Thornhill, set out for a trip across Europe. She was nineteen, eager to record her thoughts and feelings and to experience as much of life as she could. Her parents were suffering financial hardship at the time and she was determined not to worry them, so, although she had little in the way of funds, she had made arrangements to stay with people she knew, teach English to a young Spanish girl, and to make her way as independently as possible through France, Spain, Italy and Germany.
Her parents had always moved home frequently and her sister was also in Europe that summer, but still, despite her relative independence, 1955 was a totally different era from +today. It was difficult to keep in touch with friends and family and it was soon obvious that, despite her resentment at adult intrusion, many did view her as a young girl who needed to be protected. In some ways they were correct, as Valerie does suffer from the unwanted attentions of men throughout her travels – often shockingly so. However, this is a fascinating account of both a personal trip and also a portrait of another era – when Europe was “shaking off the war years.”
During her European travels, she stays with a professor of hers in Paris, a Spanish family in Andalucía, a friend in Genoa and visits the war scarred city of Hamburg. Along the way she meets Simone de Beauvoir, attends a bullfight, is forced to question what happened in the war – a subject her parents have largely protected her from – acts as a chaperone and advisor, takes a temporary job as a childminder and heads back to Cambridge with a summer (and a lifetime) full of memories. I found this a delightful read and am grateful the author shared her memories with us.
Reading 1955 The Summer When…
Valerie Thornhill’s candid book recounts the six-week holiday of a nineteen-year old Cambridge student, travelling alone through France, Spain and Italy, determined to make her trip a memorable one. Set out to write a novel, we follow as the protagonist throws herself at every given opportunity and experience. Her fearlessness is astonishing in this era where young, female, solo travellers were highly uncommon.
As a twenty-year-old female student who is just about to set off on my year abroad myself, I found the book compelling but also relevant. The account describes thoughts and reactions which are sometimes entirely familiar, such as Valerie’s attention to her figure (nothing much has changed on that front since 1955 apparently!). At other times her reactions are astonishing, such as her unshaken, life-goes-on attitude when she experiences unwanted kinds of adult attention- attention which could certainly have serious consequences in today’s society.
In many ways, her refusal to feel vulnerable makes her invulnerable; Valerie’s striking attitude shapes her experiences of the trip rather than the other way around. I would highly recommend this book to anybody about to go out and travel, who would like their own trip to be just as memorable!
Morganne Graves – Oxford University undergraduate
Memories of another era
The Summer When… immediately takes the reader back to a simpler, more innocent time. In the 1950s, without mobile phones or facebook to keep us in touch with home, travelling was far more of an adventure than today. Valerie Thornhill beautifully captures the thoughts of a young woman abroad in the fifties and keeps a nice balance between humour and tension. She was far braver than I was at her age – the most I managed was a school exchange visit to Germany. A highly recommended read.
Rosemary Allen – musician and novelist
It is July 1955 and a young Cambridge undergraduate is crossing the channel to spend the summer months improving her languages on the Continent. She is clever, attractive and intrepid, and has contact addresses in her bag – what could possibly go wrong?
Valerie Thornhill relates the story of her travels and misadventures with disarming candour. Eager to absorb culture and languages, she encounters Parisian intellectuals, the Spanish middle class and Italian poor, and as a feminist finds herself at odds with the mores of these foreign cultures (making a scene at a bullfight by cheering on the bull, wearing a bikini on an Italian beach, urging women to go to university). Meanwhile the local menfolk are fascinated by her independence and frequently make approaches, sometimes alarmingly. She falls in with other travellers, ditches them when they become a burden, and falls prey to a conman who robs her of everything. This is a really good read and a reminder of how much has changed since the fifties.
Highly recommended. Penny P – reader and reviewer