Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson is quintessential Persephone. First published in 1938, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day was republished as a Persephone Classic in 2000. Since then, it’s been read by Maureen Lipman on radio 4 and made into a film in 2008. But back to the book.
The cover is an immediate draw for me and is typical of the Persephone style — vintage and elegant and a lovely taste of the treasure to be discovered inside. As the title suggests, this is the story of a day, albeit an extraordinary day in the life of Miss Pettigrew.
Miss Pettigrew, a down on her luck governess, about to lose her home and desperate for work, is sent by her employment agency to the home of Miss LaFosse, a glamorous night club singer with a tangled love life.
“Miss Pettigrew was conscious of her shabby clothes, her faded gentility, her courage lost through weeks of facing the workhouse”
From the moment she enters her potential employers home, she is welcomed into a world of glamour, decadence, and fun — none of which she has ever known before. This is a story of awakening and discovery as Miss Pettigrew becomes a real-life Cinderella who has been gifted 24 hours to live a life she had never before dreamed of but embraces whole heartedly.
“From this one day, dropped out of the blue into her lap, she was going to savour everything it offered her. ‘I will take’ said Mis Pettigrew, with calmness, with ease, with assurance ‘a little dry sherry if you please'”
Miss Pettigrew comes into her own as she offers her old fashioned, commonsense advice to Miss Pettigrew and her friends. Her outspoken, no nonsense outlook appeals to the frivolous “young people” she finds herself among. There was so much to like about Miss Pettigrew; she shows courage, she grasps opportunities and, to my delight, she begins to see she has something other people actually like.
At the ripe old age of 40, Miss Pettigrew considered her self an old maid, so when in her self-appointed role of guardian and protector of Miss La Fosse, she finds herself with another man of similar years — and the possibility of a little liaison occurs. Her joy knows no bounds.
“When Miss Pettigrew at last left Olympus and came back to earth, she was a changed woman. She never need hang her head again. She could now speak with authority. She was inexperienced no longer. She had been kissed soundly: with experience, with mastery, with ardour.”
There is so much joy in this book as Miss Pettigrew throws caution to the wind, abandons her sensible self, and gives herself wholly to the unexpected circumstance she has found herself in. Although Miss LaFosse is a gorgeous creature who floats around in negligees, she accepts Miss Pettigrew for who she is. She draws her into her slightly chaotic life, showing her genuine affection and generosity. There is no malice in this book — and for that, I love it.
The language may feel a little old fashioned and out of time but for me that is so much a part of its appeal. Another Persephone book I’ll recommend to one and all.
About Winifred Watson, Author
Winifred Eileen Watson (20 October 1906 – 5 August 2002) was an English writer. She is best known for her novel, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which was adapted into a film of the same name. She lived most of her life in Newcastle and began working as a typist to help support the family during the depression. Her first novel, Fell Top, was written in part as a result of a dare from her brother-in-law. After finishing Fell Top, she put the manuscript away and did not attempt to publish until years later when her sister saw an advertisement from a publisher. Her second novel, Odd Shoes was published in 1936.