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.