Back Home (novel)

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Back Home
Author Michelle Magorian
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Children's historical novel
Publisher Harper & Row
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 384 pp (first edition)
ISBN 978-0-06-024103-2
OCLC 10998796
LC Class PZ7.M275 Bac 1984

Back Home is a children's historical novel by Michelle Magorian, first published in 1984. The novel was adapted into a TV drama, Back Home (1990), starring Hayley Mills and Haley Carr, and again in 2001 starring Sarah Lancashire, Stephanie Cole and Jessica Fox.

Plot summary[edit]

Twelve-year-old Virginia Dickinson is affectionately called Rusty because of her auburn-colored hair. She left for America due to the war as a “timid” seven-year-old. Her foster family helped build her confidence, so she is described as “an independent, free-spirited young girl”. She begins the story by arriving in Devon in 1945. On the docks, she is quickly noticed by her mother, Margaret “Peggie” Dickinson, who plans to divest Rusty of her newfound maturity and American ideals by sending her away to school. Rusty’s three-year-old brother, Charlie, who she never met, usually glances at her and then runs off to play with his friend. Rusty, Peggie, and Charlie stay at a cottage owned by The Honorable Beattie Langley, who shows to be Rusty’s only friend, alongside a local girl, thirteen-year-old Elizabeth “Beth” Hatherley, and her three siblings.
Rusty longs to go back to America. She has difficulty adjusting to the English lifestyle (rationing, as well as rules that she didn’t know existed in the first place disturb her). Later, she, along with her mother and Charlie, have to go back to their real home in Guildford, Surrey, because World War II has ended. There, Rusty, alongside Peggie and Charlie, becomes even more unhappy. They face familial challenges: Rusty’s grandmother doesn’t approve of the self-reliant Peggie, believes that Charlie should act like a grown-up, and views Rusty with contempt and anger simply for being American.
Rusty is sent away to a boarding high school, Benwood House, where she struggles to adjust: she is constantly harassed, mocked and insulted by other students, so she is lonely. This is where she meets another American named Lance. The pair meet at midnight and help each other, until Lance assimilates. After finding out that her school will close the scaffolding, she later tries to run away to America via trains to Devon and Plymouth. After remembering that her foster father never allowed her to call him “Dad”, she realizes that she loves her mother and Charlie, which is when she returns to Benwood House with Beth’s mother. Peggie’s discovery of the nighttime house and Rusty’s confessions of meeting Lance leads to an angry confrontation between Peggie and the headmistress, who has Rusty expelled. Rusty’s grandmother and father want her to be sent off to a strict convent school. Peggie rejects this idea.
The book ends on a happy, positive note with Rusty, Peggie, and Charlie moving to Devon and Rusty being enrolled in Beth’s school.


Virginia 'Rusty' Dickinson Evacuated from Britain at age 7 as a timid and shy child, 12-year-old Rusty returns as a confident and very American teenager. During her evacuation she stayed in Connecticut with the lively Omsk family, who encouraged her talents and belief in herself, drawing her out of her shell. Rusty loves bright colours, arts and music- she has especially talent at woodwork and stencil crafts which she was taught by 'Aunt' Hannah Omsk. Initially unhappy on her return to England, Rusty finds friends in Beth & Beattie Langley and refuses to alter her character to fit in with the hidebound English girls. Rusty can be considered brave, outspoken, creative and passionate.

Peggy Dickinson Forced to evacuate her little daughter during the war, Peggy joined the WVS and become a stronger woman through it with a talent for vehicle mechanics. Before her marriage Peggy lived with her parents and after her marriage she lived with her husband and mother in law. Peggy is a good example of how British women's roles changed during the war, moving into jobs traditionally held by men and often the sole breadwinner for their family because of being widowed or husbands being away fighting.

Charlie Dickinson Born while his father was away fighting, Charlie is in the sole care of his mother in Devon until the family move back to London. Much like Virginia, Charlie has red hair and likes music although he initially doesn't like his sister as he is not used to sharing his mother. He had a father figure in his mother's American GI friend Uncle Harvey, whom he adored, and carries his teddy bear with his everywhere.

Roger Dickinson A traditional upper middle class Englishman, Roger has spent the past few years away fighting and returns to discover his wife is self-sufficient, his daughter very Americanised and his son 'namby-pamby and tied to his mother's apron strings', although failing to see that he is also tied to his own mother. Roger is not deliberately unkind or unfeeling, but has trouble adjusting to the changes in his family and to the altered England he returns to.

Grandmother A domineering and hidebound woman, Grandmother is the opposite of Beattie Langley, who has become a mother figure to Peggy. Refusing to contribute to the war effort, she has preserved her house entirely as it was before the war and is displeased with her grandchildren and daughter in law. Rusty often clashes with her, saying that "you are always bitching about someone or other in your sugary voice". Has a bad habit of taking the phone off the hook.

The Honourable Beatie Langley The Devon landlady of Peggy and Charlie, Beatie is a warm and welcome presence in the story. Kind, perceptive and generous, Beatie gave away all of her curtains and many possessions to help the war effort – material was in short supply – and happily shared her rambling and leaky-roofed house with several women who were in the forces. Beatie, while never openly saying so, clearly knows about Peggy's home situation and after her death she leaves Peggy her house on condition that Peggy can't sell for 17 years nor can the house be held in a man's name, thus giving Peggy a way to escape her marriage if she wants to. Beatie shows how some people adjusted well with proper British spirit to the trials of war. She dies of her "ruddy indigestion" which may either have been an ulcer or stomach cancer.

Lance A fellow sea evacuee of Rusty's, Lance attends the boys' school near Rusty's and is also ostracised for his American accent and behaviour. He provides Rusty with a friend as he sneaks out to meet her in their Cabin in the woods, admires her talent with handicrafts and they help each other with their schoolwork. Lance's parents are getting divorced and to escape the house he goes for long runs in the holidays which leads to him joining the school rugby team and being accepted by other students.

Minor characters[edit]

Beth a local Devon girl who becomes friends with Rusty

Ivy The other resident in Beattie's house, Ivy has a little girl of Charlie's age and her husband is Missing Believed Killed. Ivy marries an American GI who was a friend of Uncle Harvey but during the novel her husband is found in a POW camp, making this marriage void, despite Ivy being heavily pregnant with her new husband's child. This was a situation that did happen quite often during the war, when one partner was presumed dead and their spouse moved on, only to discover that they were alive years later and that their new union wasn't lawful.

Uncle Harvey Never seen as he has returned to America, Harvey was a good friend to Peggy and father figure to Charlie who continues to mention him through the book. Married with his wife back home in the USA, Harvey and Peggy enjoyed spending time together although Peggy denies, as does Beattie, that there was anything wrong with their relationship and that they were not lovers.

Aunt Hannah and Uncle Bruno Omsk The host family of Rusty, the Omsk's took on their roles as parents to her but always made sure she never called them Mummy or Daddy. Encouraging, kind and reasonable, the Omsks were creative and practical people who continue to send Rusty letters and presents and also correspond with Peggy to help Rusty adjust back to family life in Britain.


In 1990 the novel was adapted to a television film, directed by Piers Haggard and produced by TVS Television Network and the Walt Disney Company starring, Hayley Mills as Mrs. Peggy Dickinson, Hayley Carr as Virginia "Rusty" Dickinson, Adam Stevenson as Charles "Charlie" Dickinson, Brenda Bruce as The Honourable Lady Beatrice "Beatie" Langley, Jean Anderson as Grandmother Dickinson and Rupert Frazer as Mr. Roger Dickinson.[1]

In 2001, a feature film was also made.


External links[edit]