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Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for the Day by Winifred Watson

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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.

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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.

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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)

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“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

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Mini-Persephone Readathon Choices: Which one to pick for the weekend?

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I happen to love the idea of readathons! I have a very bad track record, though, at following through with them. I’m HOPING I can break that curse this weekend. Here are my choices for the Mini-Persephone Books Readathon running from today until midnight Sunday/Monday at Dwell In Possibility. Persephone Books are mostly by women writers and are republished to preserve them and to get them into the hands of a new generation of readers. I love the idea, love the covers, artwork, and endpapers. In fact, their shop is on my bucket list for a future, longed-for return to London.

My Choices

Persephone covers are usually plain now, so I’m showing some older ones and some previous editions.

 

 

Peresphone Books I’ve already read

 

Links to my reviews:

The House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

I did not review How To Run Your Home Without Help

 

#PersephoneReadathon

 

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1944 Club: A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

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I’ve wanted to participate in the X-Year Club since discovering it some time ago at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. I keep forgetting! This time, for the 1944 Club I picked The Robe, one of the year’s bestsellers. But, it was HUGE. My 50-something, phone-addled brain just couldn’t do it right now. Then, today, I read this post 1944 Club–Some Previous Reads posted by Kaggsy and realized I’d unknowingly read and reviewed a great book published in 1944 earlier this year. Hence today’s re-post with this new introduction! Click the link below to read the full review of A House in the Country, by Jocelyn Playfair, published in 1944.

Hopewell's Public Library of Life

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Cressida Chance of Brede Manor–that sounds like a fairly typical country house, Lord of the Manor, sort of book heroine, right? Well, do read on.  In 1942 Cressida has a host of interesting lodgers–billeted there for the war, of course. Household help has vanished to the factories or women’s branches of the military so Cressida pretty much has to buck up and run the whole show herself–which she does, capably, and often in trousers. The previously obligatory tweed skirt, twin set and pearls being stowed in the airing cubbord for the duration owing to lack of stockings or new girdles.

Along the way, we learn of her romance and marriage and the secrets and complications thereof. Also, understandably, there is a lot of thought on the war and how or when life will return to normal.  Or if normal ever really can return. After all, they are now engaged in…

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Uncategorized

Review: A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

housecountry

Cressida Chance of Brede Manor–that sounds like a fairly typical country house, Lord of the Manor, sort of book heroine, right? Well, do read on.  In 1942 Cressida has a host of interesting lodgers–billeted there for the war, of course. Household help has vanished to the factories or women’s branches of the military so Cressida pretty much has to buck up and run the whole show herself–which she does, capably, and often in trousers. The previously obligatory tweed skirt, twin set and pearls being stowed in the airing cubbord for the duration owing to lack of stockings or new girdles.

Along the way, we learn of her romance and marriage and the secrets and complications thereof. Also, understandably, there is a lot of thought on the war and how or when life will return to normal.  Or if normal ever really can return. After all, they are now engaged in a life that requires “kitchen-friendly dining conversation” (p, 64). How well will the Port travel with that–even in its fine decanter?

More to the point, forgetting normal, was there really a point to this life? “There were times… when life seemed so depressingly pointless” (p.110). Pointless because people still envied others. Pointless becuase the right people married the wrong people. The people wanting the job had the wrong job. The interesting people were out there but not found. Yes, Cressida had to give this a lot of thought as she sunk her hands into the hot washing up bowl without the aid of Marigold gloves.

Then there is Tori, lovely [male] Tori who opines “Is Christianity strong enough” (p. 136) for all of this? They wondered a bit. I found this to be very, very prescient of today, especially as it followed a discussion of hatred and how the Germans had whipped it all up with propaganda. Again, very prescient.

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As I read it I thought the author or the not-very-good Chilbury Ladies Choir must have read this book–the good parts of that sad novel were like parts of this one. I loved how, in spite of no servants, in spite of terror from above, in spite of rationing and no loved ones around, they got on with life, found satisfaction in doing what had to be done and, for women like Cressida especially, they found some freedom. Why women like her especially? They still had local committees and charities and voluntary services, but with the men and servants gone they had time to do things that mattered and to test themselves, to see what they were truly made of. All of this put them in good stead for the even grimmer postwar years. It let them become persons in their own right. I liked that.

My rating

4 Stars

Because there’ll always be an England even if the sun would soon set on the British Empire.

 

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Joceyln Playfair, bio and photo credit

A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair, whose name sounds a bit like a Bond Girl. Re-published by the very wonderful Persephone Books.