Monday, March 5, 2012
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
by Winifred Watson
This book is just utterly charming. A frazzled governess responds to a job posting only to find herself thrown into a world of glitz and glamour. She’s quickly caught up in the beautiful, but irresponsible Delysia LaFosse’s crazy life. Multiple suitors, beautiful gowns, and drinks at all hours of the day leave Miss Pettigrew in a happy haze. She’s overwhelmed at first, but the decides to savor every moment; each drink, every bite of ice cream and the feel of her luxurious borrowed velvet dress. After a life of ordinary years, she's embracing this extraordinary day.
The thing that made this book work so well for me is Miss Pettigrew herself. She is so sweet and sincere, but she’s also completely baffled be the situation she’s stumbled upon. She's completely out of place in this foreign social scene but she's also delighted by it. Even though she's only known Miss LaFosse for a few hours, she's becomes a loyal and protective friend.
Her innocence also allows her to be more upfront than others are. She answers questions with a stark honesty that’s both startling and refreshing to her new friends. I love that she discovers she has an unexpected streak of spunk and she’s a bit saucy.
The supporting characters, especially Joe, were all so much fun. Michael, Nick, Phil, Miss Dubarry and Tony, we meet them all over the course of one day in Miss Pettigrew’s life. My lovely Persephone edition has small illustrations that made the book even more enjoyable. It’s a quick read and felt like the literary equivalent of drinking champagne, all bubbling bliss.
There are a few incredibly racist lines (aka don’t marry him, he looks a bit Jewish and you should stick to your own kind), but for a novel published on the 1930s that's pretty normal. It still makes me sad every time I come across it though. What stupid prejudices we develop as a society.
The story of how the book came to be back in print is just as wonderful as the novel itself. One woman’s mother introduced her to the book at a young age. She took it with her to college, lent it to a friend and eventually recommended it to Persephone as a potential book for their new collection. She was then hired to write the introduction and while researching the author, she realized the 93-year-old woman was still alive and she had the chance to meet and interview her! What a testament to the impact a book can have on a single individual. If not for that woman’s love of the book, I may never have had the chance to read it. You never know where the journey of reading a new book will take you.
I was left wondering what other literary gems have fallen by the wayside over the years. I'm grateful for publishers like Persephone for trying to bring some great ones back into circulation.
“‘Then you don’t believe the wedding-bells should sound like closing-time?’ asked Michael with rising spirits.
‘Though an outside observer, I’ve been on the inside of many marriages. This old-fashioned idea of settling down on marriages,’ lectured Miss Pettigrew carefully, ‘is quite right in its way, as long as the right couple settles down together. But if the right couple don’t wish to settle down, they do not cease to be right.’”
“Miss Pettigrew felt the most glorious, exhilarating sensation of excitement she had ever experienced, ‘This,’ thought Miss Pettigrew, ‘is Life. I have never lived before.”