First published in 1935, Winifred Watson’s only city-set novel is a absolute delight, without being in any way twee or sentimental. It’s the story of a struggling governess who discovers that she has far more potential for living than she imagined, when she is mistakenly sent to work for a nightclub singer in search of a secretary. Instead of yet another job in which she tries in vain to control spoilt children, Miss Pettigrew finds herself sorting out the complicated love life of Miss Delysia DeFosse, who is essentially an outwardly sophisticated child.
It is easy to sympathise with the eponymous heroine, and Watson paints a convincing picture of her desperation at the beginning of the novel, as she realises that she has one last chance to earn a living. Thus, it is with real pleasure that I read about her growing in confidence as realises that her advice is taken seriously by Miss DeFosse and her myriad of male acquaintances. She discovers herself whilst disposing of cocaine, smoking cigars and finding that she is capable of being loved (by a short, round lingerie magnate).
There are a couple of passages that seem slightly unpleasant to modern eyes, about someone being good guy despite being Jewish etc., but having read a LOT of literature from the 1920s-40s, I have discovered that sentiments like these are by no means unusual, and whilst this does not excuse them, it makes it a little easier to ignore within the context of the book. It is all too easy to judge a book entirely on passages such as these, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily wise. We have the benefit of hindsight, and were brought up to think differently to those living in the first few decades of the Twentieth Century, and thus it seems uncharitable to judge authors when we live in a very different context. This is also applicable to people who accuse Agatha Christie of racism, although that’s a whole other post!
(Phew, sorry! Just had to get that out).
Despite my serious tone in the last bit, this is a fluffy cupcake of a book, a grown-up fairytale that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still manages to discuss things like drug-use. A perfect book for curling up with on a rainy Sunday with glass of wine and a blanket (and a cat, preferably).