Friday, 28 November 2014

'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' by Winifred Watson (1938)

Synopsis: Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is a frumpy, middle-aged governess. Miss Pettigrew has never been able to hold on to a position for very long and she's deeply afraid that she'll end up in a workhouse. Desperate for a new position, Miss Pettigrew goes to an employment agency. However, there's a mix-up and the woman at the agency sends Miss Pettigrew to the wrong address. Miss Pettigrew then finds herself meeting a beautiful and glamorous nightclub singer called Delysia LaFosse. Miss Pettigrew quickly discovers that Delysia is torn between three romantic suitors: Nick Calderelli, a wealthy and powerful nightclub owner who pays Delysia's rent; Phil Goldman, a West End producer who could give Delysia a leading role in a musical; and finally Michael Pardue, a self-made man who has been recently released from prison. Over the next 24 hours, Miss Pettigrew and Delysia become fast friends and their lives are changed forever. Miss Pettigrew is able to use her common sense and unique perspective to sort out Delysia's complicated love life and has the time of her life doing so. She gets dressed up, makes new friends, drinks cocktails, gets taken into the glitzy and glamorous world of London high society, and even gets a romance of her own.


Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is set within a 24 hour timeframe on a damp November day and I managed to read the book and see the film adaptation within the space of 24 hours during a damp November! :D That probably sounds pretty impressive but it's not really because, at just over 200 pages, the book is actually pretty short.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is both a comedy of manners and an update on the Cinderella fairytale. Before I go on to extol the book's virtues I should mention that there were a couple of things in it that didn't sit well with me. Sadly some casual racism crops up in the book: characters that are in all other ways very likeable make some derogatory comments that are directed towards Jews and Italians. I try to make allowances for historical/cultural attitudes in fiction but racism always upsets me. I remember getting very wound up by all of the anti-semitism in Oliver Twist when I read that book earlier in the year! I was also a little bit unsettled by a comment that Michael made about Delysia. Michael is obviously the best choice out of Delysia's three suitors but his comment that Delysia might be in need of some "physical correction" from time to time still made me a little uncomfortable. Because of these unfortunate drawbacks I actually preferred the 2008 film adaptation. The comments that I had a problem with in the book aren't in the film and Michael (played by the gorgeous Lee Pace!) is dashing and passionate and lovely. But I do have to counteract the things that I've said about the book so far. In all other respects this book was an absolute delight and I loved it! It's witty, fun, fast-paced, romantic, and extremely heart-warming. I also loved the fact that the book featured Mary Thompson's original illustrations for the story! The illustrations are adorable and really add to the charm of the book. I wish that more books featured illustrations!



Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is a hugely likeable character. At the beginning of the story she's lonely, insecure and full of fear but over the course of a single day her life is magically transformed. She discovers new skills that she didn't know she had and she gradually becomes more self-confident. She gets to meet people who admire and like her. Miss Pettigrew doesn't entirely approve of her new friends' morals but, since these people treat her with far more respect and consideration than the genteel and respectable people that she's previously worked for, she treats them with indulgence. Miss Pettigrew gets a new job and she even manages to catch the eye of a wealthy and charming businessman called Joe. I loved Miss Pettigrew. On the other hand I found Delysia's flighty, indecisive, gold-digging ways annoying but I'd warmed to her by the end of the story. Her final scene with Miss Pettigrew is really quite touching and sweet.

I find the story of how Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day came to be rediscovered just as heart-warming as the book itself so I thought I'd mention it. The book was originally published in 1938 and it was a pretty big bestseller in Britain, America and Australia. It was also translated into French and German. There were even plans for a movie musical adaptation of the book with Billie Burke (Glinda from The Wizard of Oz) in the title role but this was stopped by Pearl Harbor and the film went into development hell. After that the book fell into obscurity. However, a woman called Henrietta Twycross-Martin was introduced to the book at a young age because it was her mother's favourite. Twycross-Martin read the book for herself when she was a teenager and it became a huge favourite of her own. When Twycross-Martin found out that Persephone Classics were looking for more titles to publish she decided to recommend the book to them. Persephone Classics is a publishing company which is dedicated to finding and re-publishing obscure classic novels. Twycross-Martin gave her battered family copy to PC and they loved it. They even asked Twycross-Martin to write the preface for the book. But the story gets even better! When Twycross-Martin researched the book she discovered that Winifred Watson was still alive - aged 93 - and she even got to interview her! Watson lived to see her book republished in the year 2000. I love this story so much! Had it not been for this one person thousands of people would have never got to read this book. It shows the impact that a single person can have and it really makes you wonder how many other wonderful forgotten novels are out there. I'm definitely going to seek out some other Persephone Classic titles.

Rating: 4.5/5

10 comments:

Hamlette said...

I've heard of the movie, but didn't realize it was a book. I think I'll opt for trying the movie first, if I can find it. Both do sound worth a try!

Hannah said...

Both the book and the movie are wonderful so you can't really go wrong with whatever you pick first! I do prefer the movie though. Mostly because of the things that I talk about in the review but also because they chose to set the story a year later than the book so they could incorporate WWII into it. I really liked that. It gives the story a little bit more substance. I think you'd probably love the movie. Also, it's got Ciaran Hinds in it ;)

Hamlette said...

Whattayaknow? My library actually has both the book and the movie! Putting them on my lists of things to get sometime. Because, yeah, Ciaran! Also, I do like Amy Adams a lot sometimes. Really liked her in Julie and Julia.

Hannah said...

YAY!

Ciaran is very lovely in this film but I'm a big Lee Pace fangirl so his character was the big swoonworthy one for me :D

I haven't seen J&J but I loved AA in this movie and in Enchanted. She's great in American Hustle too although I didn't really care for that one. Hey, did you know that Amy Adams was in an episode of Buffy? She played Tara's cousin! :)

Hamlette said...

I would like to see Lee Pace in more things because all I've really seen him in are the Hobbit movies. So never know, I might become a fan when I see this!

And yeah, it always trips me out that AA was in Buffy. Like realizing that Josh Holloway is in the Angel pilot.

Hannah said...

Well, I know you saw Guardians of the Galaxy and he played Ronan the Accuser in that. He was in The Fall which is one of my favourites. It's a stunning movie. He was also in Pushing Daisies which was a really sweet and heartwarming TV show. And he played a lovely ISFJ character in that :)

I'd forgotten that Josh Holloway was in Angel! *goes off to find out if there are any other really famous people who starred in Buffy/Angel that she's forgotten about* Ooh, Jeremy Renner was in an episode of Angel too!

Hamlette said...

Oh yeah! Honestly, GOTG just kind of went in my head and on back out again. But I do remember him being in that now.

Yeah, Jeremy Renner is in "Somnambulist," one of the better season 1 eps, I thought. He's one of Angelus' proteges. Josh Holloway is only in the very beginning of the series premier, but he plays the cutest vamp with a southern accent and a devilish charm. Gets dusted right off, doesn't even have a name, but oh well, it still tickles me.

Lianne @ caffeinatedlife.net said...

Great review Hannah! Again I'm very glad you enjoyed this book (despite of the racism of the time cropping up occasionally) :)

Hannah said...

Thank you! That really means a lot coming from you! :) Yes, I really did love this one apart from that unfortunate problematic element. It made me top 10 of the year!

Hamlette said...

Here I am, 2 1/2 years later, to tell you that I have finally seen this movie!!! I watched it this weekend, and I LOOOOOOOOVED it. I really identify with Miss Pettigrew a lot, down to both being preacher's daughters who don't smoke or cuss, and I just... loved it, I tell you. I'm so glad I finally watched it. The library system had it, and then when I tried to get it, they discovered it was missing and they never replaced it, but then I found it this winter at the used bookstore, so I bought it, and yay!

The library does still (reportedly) have the book, so I'm going to see if I can't get that once I've finished up some of the six books I have out of the library already...