Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson


My Interest

If you have not yet discovered London’s Persephone Books, you are in for many, many delightful reads.  Their aim is to rescue and keep in print books of the 20th Century from women authors. Blogger Dwell in Possibility makes reading these even a little more fun by having readathons, or in the case of last weekend, a mini-readathon. During readathons, you, obviously, READ books from this publisher’s list and share your reading on social media using the hashtag #PersephoneReadathon. There is even a new Twitter account: @ReadPersephone. Today I’m reviewing my mini-readathon book. I didn’t finish it all in one weekend, though I certainly could have.


The Story

“She began to tremble, trying to push away the small, clear voice. She wanted to go where they were going tonight, with a pathetic, passionate eagerness. She wanted to visit a night club, to partake of its activities…Simply and honestly she faced and confessed her abandonment of all the principles that had guided her through life. In one short day, at the first wink of temptation, she had not just fallen, but positively tumbled, from grace. Her long years of virtue counted for nothing. She had never been tempted before. The fleshpots called: the music bewitched: dens of iniquity charmed….. She could not deny that this way of sin, condemned by parents and principles, was a great deal more pleasant than the lonely path of virtue, and her morals had not withstood the test” (p. 135).


Guenivere Pettigrew, a spinster of 40 living in 1930’s London, has been accustomed to earning her way as a nursery maid or ladies maid or similar. Currently without a position, but thinking of the amazingly-still-open-Workhouse looming, she goes to one of the two job interviews the Agency has left. Supposedly a position for a nursemaid, the door is answered by the 1930’s version of a Bright Young Thing, albeit one who has climbed up to her position via her voice and the theatre. Miss Pettigrew does not even get to properly introduce herself before she is sucked into the vortex of her potential employer’s amazing social life.


Image: Persephone Books

“Nonsense, if you can look good once, you can look good always” (p. 166).

My Thoughts

My first thought was more people need an epiphany like that of Miss Pettigrew:

“What would her dear dead mother say if life came back to her body? What did Miss Pettigrew care? Nothing. Freely, frankly, joyously, she acknowledged the fact. She was out for a wild night. She was out to paint the town red….She was out to enjoy herself as she had never enjoyed herself before, and all the sermons in the world wouldn’t change her course.” (p. 167)



“She wore daringly a gown of sheer white.”  (p. 180)

I loved this line–that little nuance turns the phrase just slightly to the left.

My second thought was so many people hold on to “What would X think/say?” or “But Father X/Pastor X said...” and let that be an excuse to hide from the world–hide from fun and enjoyment. Miss Pettigrew never once compromised her true beliefs–she just learned to loosen up and enjoy the day.

This was such a fun book! It was a super-fast, but compelling read. Conversations are not burdened with things such as quotation marks or attribution of speakers. The reader is just swept up into that same vortex that caught Miss Pettigrew herself. The original illustrations are clever and so appropriate to both the era of the and to its characters.  I liked, too, that most of the characters are self-made, not aristocrats. They were much freer to make friends and romantic attachments.  “Delightful” was the word I’ve read everywhere on this gem of a book and delightful is my verdict.

4 Stars


Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson

9 thoughts on “Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

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