Miss Pettigrew approaches middle age as a failed governess, position after position has ended in failure and she goes to the employment agency in fear and trembling of being turned away. She is desperate for a new position; a new position is, she fears, the one thing which stands between her and the workhouse. When the lady at the agency mixes up two possible positions, and sends nursery governess Miss Pettigrew after a position as a ladies maid to a glamorous nightclub singer, she inadvertently changes Miss Pettigrew’s live forever.
Nervous, dowdy Miss Pettigrew is immediately swept up by Delysia LaFosse, treated as a trusted confident and friend. Delysia LaFosse is a glorious creature in a diaphanous negligee, who puts Miss Pettigrew in mind of the stars of the cinema she secretly loves. People come to call at the flat; each time the doorbell rings it seems to herald things happening. Miss Pettigrew is thrilled, never has she seen and heard such things in her life before. As the day progresses Miss Pettigrew – Guinevere – finds herself the dispenser of good sense and advice – almost without realising she is doing it. Delysia LaFosse is a in a bit of a mess with her love life, having three men dangling only one of which Miss Pettigrew approves, and only one of who Delysia cares for, and Miss Pettigrew sets about paving the way for him. Meanwhile she meets Miss Dubarry – the owner of a beauty parlour, who soon sets about transforming Miss Pettigrew into a creature she barely recognises.
“Miss Pettigrew stared. She caught the back of a chair for support. She felt faint. Another woman stood there. A woman of fashion: poised, sophisticated, finished, fastidiously elegant. A woman of no age. Obviously not young. Obviously not old. Who would care about age? No one. Not in a woman of that charming exterior. The rich black velvet of the gown was of so deep and lustrous a sheen it glowed like colour. An artist created it. It had the wicked brilliant cut that made its wearer look both daring and chaste.”
Having drunk sherry, dispensed with unsuitable males, and been transformed by Miss Dubarry Miss Pettigrew accompanies her new friends to an afternoon cocktail party, slightly scandalised by the young ladies jumping in and out of taxis without a thought, she follows delightedly. Miss Pettigrew is a surprising hit with the glamorous young people around her, who have been told that Miss Pettigrew is a marvellous new mimic destined for great things on the stage. Miss Dubarry is in the midst of an unhappy love affair herself, and Miss Pettigrew sets about smoothing the way for her with Tony, who gives Miss Pettigrew a rather fiery drink that threatens to knock her off her seat. Later Miss Pettigrew accompanies Delysia to the nightclub where she is a singer, nightclubs were places previously only glimpsed on the silver screen, and poor Miss Pettigrew is very excited to see inside one.
“An attendant hastened to open the door or doors. They passed through. Miss Pettigrew faltered and stopped. An open space, with a shining floor, surrounded by tables, met her gaze. At the distant end the band was silent. All occupants of the tables were free to stare. As Miss Pettigrew gazed panic-stricken, the room grew bigger and bigger. She must walk across that immense floor the cynosure of all eyes. Her courage oozed out of her toes. ‘Now remember,’ whispered Miss LaFosse urgently, ‘tummy in shoulders back. You will notice there are mirrors. I will seat you strategically and an occasional peep will give you pep. You look swell’ “
While at the nightclub two of Delysia’s suitors square up to one another bringing everything to a head with more than a nudge from Miss Pettigrew. However Miss Pettigrew’s magical day as not yet ended – and here she meets and dances with Joe Blomfield a no-nonsense middle aged man who is immediately taken with Miss Pettigrew.
Miss Pettigrew lives for a day I know is one of Persephone’s most popular titles. It is easy to see why; this is a fairy-tale for grown-ups. Miss Pettigrew is a sad and desperate figure at the beginning of the book, her fear, poverty and desperation very real, and completely at odds with the frivolous frothy tone of the rest of the novel. Some delightful original black and white illustrations are included in this Persephone edition which does add something to this overall delightfully cosy read.
Having been reading some fairly heavy duty things during this my month of re-reading, this was a delight. I think that Miss Pettigrew lives for a day – was my very first Persephone book some years ago. It set me off on a delightful obsession, and introduced me to a wonderful collection of brilliant variety.