Friday, August 10, 2012

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

“You can’t write if you’re never alone.” –Winifred Watson

It was refreshing to read such a lightweight, frothy romance from the 1930s, which deals very little with impending war, but I think my mind would atrophy on a diet of this stuff.  Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was a delightful film I enjoyed a few years back, but even at the time seemed a little thin on plot.  The book shares the same characters and a few of the same incidents, but it is more concerned with sparkling dialogue and wit.  One identifies very much with Miss Pettigrew, even if one is not a 40-year-old spinster with no money and no prospects.  She is adorable and admirable, even if the scenes where she is “tarted up” with makeup, transforming her into Cinderella at the ball, annoy me slightly.  

The plot is simple.  Miss Pettigrew is only one job away from the workhouse, and through a series of misunderstandings, she ends up at the flat of actress Delysia LaFosse and becomes, more or less, her P.A. for the day.  Miss Pettigrew at first deplores Miss LaFosse’s flamboyant, coke-tinted lifestyle, especially her obviously intimate relations with (at least) three different men, but in a way she, too, falls in love with Delysia.  More importantly, Miss Pettigrew gets to exercise talents she never knew she had, and they aren’t necessarily purely practical ones like making breakfast.  Certainly, they aren’t intellectual ones either—they are qualities of quick-wittedness, moral rectitude, courage, and kindness.  

Winifred Watson was of the opinion that men read books for men, and women read books for women.  While I can’t agree (despite the overwhelming 50 shades of evidence to the contrary), she has written a book that lavishes attention on descriptions of clothing, makeup, figures, and kisses (!), highlighted by the absolutely charming pen and ink illustrations by Mary Thomson.  I doubt many men would enjoy it.  The period attitudes are hard to get around; ultimately one reason Delysia ends up marrying Michael is because he is English and Phil “has a bit of the Jew about him” and Nick is a “dago.”  

Nevertheless, it is a fun read, and rather amusing that Miss Pettigrew ends up with a corset salesman. 

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