Harriet Rutland (1901-1962)
by Carol Westron
humour and a mischievous skill for subtly subverting the conventions of the genre. Harriet Rutland was the pseudonym of Olive Shimwell, who was born Olive Maude Seers, the daughter of a prosperous Birmingham builder. Olive became a schoolteacher and, in 1926, married John Shimwell, a microbiologist who had a degree in biochemistry from the University of Birmingham. In 1931 the couple moved to Cork, in Ireland, where John Shimwell became the Head Brewer for Beamish and Crawford. They lived outside the city of Cork in a small community at St Ann’s Hill.
Blue Murder is a darkly comic novel with a shocking conclusion. It is set in the Second World War and contains ironic social commentary regarding attitudes to the War, such as the stupidity of people like the Hardstaffes who insist on wearing evening dress for dinner: ‘you could not deal effectively with incendiary bombs, or stand by with a First Aid Party, in a gown which swirled around your ankles.’ Rutland is caustic when describing the treatment of evacuees and of Jewish refugees, and her account of the cruelty of the Hardstaffe family to Frieda Braun, the Jewish Austrian maid, is bitterly chilling. After the reader’s first encounter with Frieda, Mrs Hardstaffe makes an unforgivable comment: ‘“I must say that this is the first time I’ve felt any sympathy for ‘That Man’,” remarked Mrs Hardstaffe, “but if all Jews are like her, I don’t wonder he cleared them out of the country, do you?”’ It is interesting that, despite this crass remark, later on in the novel Frieda observes that Mrs Hardstaffe had been far kinder to her than Mr Hardstaffe or Leda.
The Fragility of Poppies