INTRODUCTORY NOTE: THIS REVIEW IS ABOUT THE 1938 NOVEL...NOT THE 2008 MOVIE. TPK 05/03/2013
English writer Winifred Watson (1906 - 2002) published six novels between 1935 and 1943. MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (1938) was her third and an instant publishing success.
The titles of the novel's sixteen chapters are nothing beyond the mere times of parts of a work day and the following night of partying during which certain characters meet and interact, e.g.,
I 9.15 a.m. -- 11.11 a.m.
XI 8.28 p.m. -- 12.16 a.m.
XVI 3.47 a.m. -- ?
The novel's first words are:
9.15 a.m. -- 11.11 a.m.
MISS PETTIGREW pushed open the door of the employment agency and went in as the clock struck a quarter past nine. She had, as usual, very little hope, but today the Principal greeted her with a more cheerful smile.
'Ah! Miss Pettigrew. I think we have something for you to-day. Two came in when I had left last night. Now let me see. Ah yes! Mrs Hilary, maid. Miss LaFosse, nursery governess. Hmn! You'd have thought it was the other way round. But there! I expect she's an aunt with an adopted orphan niece, or something.'"
Miss Pettigrew's Christian name is Guinevere as she soon explains to her young, gorgeous new best friend but not employer Miss Delysia LaFosse, born Sarah Glubb. Guinevere as soon as she walks into Delysia's flat for a job interview (which never takes place) is enlisted to hustle Elysia's lover number one, theater backer Phil out of bed and out of flat. For jealous lover number two, Nick, is back in London one day early after three weeks on the road for business. He pays Delysia's rent and hypnotizes her as a snake does a rabbit. Delysia knows he is bad and is determined to end her affair, but Nick's passionate kisses always make her change her mind. Miss Pettigrew succeeds in getting number two out of the house at least for today to give Miss LaFosse time to make up her mind to ditch Nick.
Then Delysia tells Guinevere about lover number three, Michael. He wants to marry her, the cad! Instantly, Miss Pettigrew hates Michael. For he would no doubt tame her new beautiful friend and Delysia is definitely not one to be hemmed in. And Delysia does not want to marry anyone. It came as a shock to unsophisticated clergyman's daughter Guinevere that women might not yearn to be wed. She had thought "that only the men dreaded the altar...'I've not appreciated how my own sex has advanced'" (Ch. 2).
Suddenly Miss Pettigrew is loved, treated as a friend and equal by a glamorous, romantic singer/actress. Delysia LaFosse is kind to Guinevere (gives her drinks, lunch and invites her out) for the first time in her life. "'This,' thought Miss Pettigrew, 'is life. I have never lived before'" (Ch. 1).
Drawing on insights from her weekly visits to the cinema and memories of tyrannical, bossy women for whom she has worked as governess, the former mouse can suddenly, quite naturally stare down and intimidate alpha males like a lion tamer.
She helps not only Delysia but the latter's well-off hair salon owner Miss Edythe Dubarry. Her two new women friends teach her the elements of style and makeup and take Guinevere with them to two important social events. For her part Miss Pettigrew advises Delysia and Edythe on elementary conventional adult sexual morality and steers them toward suitable marriage partners.
Miss Pettigrew's reward is to be noticed and admired by a rich, world-weary man in his fifties who plans to call on her at Delysia's flat the next day.
Author Winifred Watson tells us what the new Guinevere is saying and doing while the old Miss Pettigrew wrestles in silence with her conscience on how to interact with a glittering world of sinful, erring worldlings who are nonetheless kind to her, lean on her for sensible advice and who treat her as a friend. This book is a grand literary treat.
The 1938 novel also inspired the 2008 feature film MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY, elsewhere reviewed on Lunch.com. I rate the oversimplified film as better than average, say 3.5 stars, while the novel behind the film is 4.8 stars or better. The novel's characters have more depth and are worth getting to know.
What did you think of this review?