Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winnifred Watson

Winifred Watson’s 1938 novel Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has just been made into a movie, and—for once!—we’re totally grateful. We’re usually the first in line to complain about film adaptations, but if it wasn’t for the fine people at Focus Features we might never have heard of this charmingly optimistic romantic comedy.

When Miss Guinevere Pettigrew’s employment agency sends her to the wrong address, the dowdy, diffident, middle-aged governess finds herself swept up into the life of glamorous Delysia LaFosse. Charming but helpless, Miss LaFosse is juggling three male admirers, and she seems strangely convinced that Miss Pettigrew will sort things out. But while Miss Pettigrew untangles Miss LaFosse’s affairs, Miss LaFosse decides that her new friend needs a little glamour and romance of her own... and by the end of the day, both of their lives have changed completely.

Miss Pettigrew occasionally shows its age, particularly when the novel's heroine makes slighting references to Italians, Jews, and the nouveau riche. (There’s also a little eyebrow-raising 1930s cocaine humor.) On the other hand, Watson's novel is generous, nonjudgmental, and unabashedly fun. It’s impossible not to enjoy an exchange like this one, which features Miss LaFosse sharing her darkest secret:

"'My own name,' she confided, 'is Sarah Grubb. There! I’ve told you and I wouldn’t confess it to another living soul, but I think a lot of you. You’ve saved my reputation today. When I went on the stage I took another name. I called myself Delysia LaFosse. I made up the LaFosse myself. I thought it was very good.'

'You look,' said Miss Pettigrew, 'much more like a Delysia.'

'Thank you,' said Miss LaFosse; 'I kind of thought I did.'

'What’s in a name,' quoted Miss Pettigrew dreamily.

'The hell of a lot,' said Miss LaFosse simply; 'A damned, snooping little newspaper man with a spite against me dug up my real name once and I daren’t tell you what I had to do to make him keep it out of his wretched little gossip column.'

Miss Pettigrew didn’t dare think.

'Ruined I’d have been,' continued Miss LaFosse. 'Can’t you see it? Sarah Grubb. Enough to damn anyone. Who could get enthusiastic over a Sarah Grubb! But the fates were kind. He got drunk as usual one night and got run over by a lorry so that was one worry the less for me.'"
In her introduction to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Henrietta Twycross-Martin mentions a similar Watson novel: 1939’s Hop, Step and Jump, described as “another variant on the Cinderella theme which combines an initial setting of urban squalor with the optimism and humor of Miss Pettigrew”. We don’t see any mention of this title on the Winifred Watson page at Persephone Books, but if Hop, Step and Jump is half as entertaining as Miss Pettigrew, hopefully it won’t take another movie adaptation to make it available to today’s readers.
Posted by: Julianka


12 Mar, 2008 05:44 PM @ version 0

Henrietta Twycross-Martin is the most British name in the history of British names. It looks like it comes from a Wodehouse novel.

12 Mar, 2008 10:04 PM @ version 0

I am super excited about seeing this movie... then again anything that is not related to my classes is exciting.

15 Mar, 2008 08:40 AM @ version 0

That's just the BN.com version, and they're totally wrong. You can get it through Amazon.

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