What a delight! Miss Pettigrew is a middle-aged governess, unmarried, and part Cinderella, part Mary Poppins. One day, her employment agency sends her to Miss Delysia LaFosse, ostensibly to fill an open place. On arrival, Miss Pettigrew finds Miss LaFosse, a night club singer, trying to deal with an unwanted male visitor. Miss Pettigrew surprises everyone, including herself, by successfully getting rid of the gentleman. And from that point on, she can do no wrong in Miss LaFosse’s eyes.
Miss Pettigrew is forty-ish, unmarried, and entirely dependent on employers for her room and board. Miss LaFosse’s lifestyle is foreign and exciting, as are her relationships with men. Despite her success ousting unwelcome suitors, Miss Pettigrew is completely inexperienced in the art of romance, and even the most basic beauty rituals:
Miss Pettigrew stared at her blankly. Her mind was whirling: her thoughts chaotic. A mental upheaval rendered her dizzy. Yes, why? All these years and she had never had the wicked thrill of powdering her nose. Others had experienced that joy. Never she. And all because she lacked courage. All because she had never thought for herself. Powder, thundered her father the curate, the road to damnation. Lipstick, whispered her mother, the first step on the downward path. Rouge, fulminated her father, the harlot’s enticement. Eyebrow pencil, breathed her mother, no lady … ! (p. 73)
She’s also very proper:
“I’ve never sworn in my life before,” wailed Miss Pettigrew.
… “But I didn’t hear you swear,” consoled Miss LaFosse.
“You must have been too upset. I said ‘damned’ and ‘hell’ and meant them … that way.”
“Oh!” said Miss LaFosse with a reassuring beam. ‘“They’re not swear words. They’re only expressions.” (p. 45)
Over the course of a single day, Miss Pettigrew comes to the aid of Miss LaFosse and her friends in countless ways. And they teach her a thing or two as well, giving her a makeover and whisking her away on their evening adventures. As the clock advanced into the evening, it appeared Cinderella’s coach might turn back into a pumpkin, and Miss Pettigrew would once again find herself destitute and alone. But Winifred Watson takes the story in a different direction, one that is simultaneously predictable and enormously satisfying.
This book was real treat. And while it was my first Persephone Classic, I have a feeling it won’t be my last.