October is a great month to curl up with a good book. Here is a list of things the home front housewife and her family might have been reading during WWII. You won’t find any sweet or romantic books on this list, though–only books appropriate for a dark October night.
1. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886
This classic gothic horror story was made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner in 1941, surely making the book freshly appealing to a whole new generation of readers. For more on scary movies during the war years, check out this post.
2. Dracula, Bram Stoker, 1897
This is another classic gothic horror story with a favorite character that found his way into Universal Studios’ horror films of the 1930s and 1940s.
3. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley, 1818
This novel, first published anonymously when she was just 20, also found its way into Universal Studios’ popular monster movies in the 1930s and 1940s.
4. The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler, 1943
This detective novel featuring private investigator Philip Marlowe was written shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and included mentions of the war. It would be made into a movie with Robert Montgomery in 1947.
5. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1901
From 1939-1946, Basil Rathbone starred as Sherlock Holmes in a series of films and a radio program based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing. The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the world’s best-loved detective stories.
6. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett, 1930
This is another classic detective novel that was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart in 1941.
7. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie, 1939
This traditional mystery novel was made into a movie in 1945. It is the best selling mystery of all time.
8. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, 1938
This best selling gothic novel was very popular, even inspiring the Academy Award winning film directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940. One edition of the book was used by Germans during WWII as the key to a code, bringing this novel especially close to the events of the early 1940s. A current adaptation starring Lily James and Armie Hammer was released in theaters on October 16, 2020 and digitally on October 21, 2020.
9. The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James, M.R. James, 1931
Many of the stories in this collection were written to be read aloud to James’ friends and family on Christmas Eve, a centuries-old tradition in England that has since faded. James’ ghost stories are well-known and there are other volumes of his work to explore if you are a fan of his style.
10. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain, 1934
This crime novel has been adapted many times as a play, an opera, radio dramas, and at least 7 films. The book was made into a WWII Armed Services Edition.
If you are interested in the occult, Dennis Wheatley’s 1941 Strange Conflict is the only war-years book of a series that stretched from 1933 to 1970. If you are a fan of science fiction, don’t forget about Buck Rogers, John Carter of Mars, and Flash Gordon–all started as novellas, serials, and/or comic strips, and were popular during the war years. Our neighborhood home front housewife’s son would have been familiar with these characters.