Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day – Winifred Watson (1938)

This is a book I have been aware of but have never read.  I also haven’t seen the film version (but I will soon be putting that right) which was made some 70 years after publication and which starred Frances McDormand and Amy Adams.

Winifred Watson is one of Christopher Fowler’s Forgotten Authors and because I am working through his book rediscovering writers I would have got round to her eventually but was urged to bump her up the list by my friend Louise, whose recommendations are so often spot-on. 

This is a charming little tale of a dowdy middle-aged spinster sent for a job interview for a governess post and who finds herself being brought into a whole set of circumstances involving a sparkling night-club-visiting theatrical social set who accept her totally. It is fast-paced with lots of dialogue, a lively wit and an optimistic kindness which runs throughout and which is very endearing.  Apparently, Winifred Watson, a Newcastle resident who had written a couple of Northern sagas which may or may not have been an influence on Catherine Cookson whose writing mined a similar area, knew nothing about the type of people she was writing about here, the smart theatrical London set, and never in her 95 year life-span went anywhere near a nightclub which provides one of the significant locations in her book.  She made it all up and it does actually have the naïve charm of 9 year old author Daisy Ashford’s “The Young Visiters” another author who because of her youth wrote from sheer imagination and not experience.  The wit is slightly Wodehousian and also reminiscent of E F Benson’s “Mapp and Lucia” novels but you feel that these two characters would have made mincemeat of Miss Pettigrew and however much that is a joy in their novels in this one it would have been to its detriment.  This book illustrates that just occasionally being in the right place at the right time can cause some very special things to happen.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day was first published in 1938 by Methuen.  I read the 2001 Persephone edition.

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