Published by Persephone Books
Publication date – 1 February 2008
Source – own copy
Miss Pettigrew is a down-on-her-luck, middle-aged, governess sent by her employment agency to work for a nightclub singer rather than a household of unruly children. over a period of 24 hours her life is changed – forever.
Miss Pettigrew has little hope of work but is surprised to find her employment agency have a vacancy for a governess. With some trepidation she sets off to the address. There she meets Miss Lafosse and just as she is pulled wildly into the apartment she is pulled wildly and wonderfully into the lives of Miss Lafosse and her friends. Miss Pettigrew finds that she was merely existing before and decides to live life as Miss Lafosse does, even if it’s just for one day.
And what a day it is!
Oh what a joy this book is. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is one of those novels where you kick yourself for not reading it sooner and yet feel like you’ve discovered a gem.
A re-telling of the Cinderella story, life for Miss Pettigrew is her ugly step-sister and Miss Lafosse the glamorous and perhaps unexpected Fairy Godmother. As the reader goes through the fabulously mad-cap day they find themselves hoping that the day will never end and that Miss Pettigrew won’t have to return to her previous life.
All of the characters are a delight to read. Miss Pettigrew is a wonderfully rounded character, one it is a pleasure to see alter over the course of the story. She starts out curled in on herself, oppressed by her current state of living, her money worries and her poor diet attributed to her dowdy complexion and old worn clothes. With no warning she is exposed to another world, one of glamour and nightclubs, beautiful women, stunning gowns, cad, bounders and lovers. Inexplicably she finds herself reacting to situations in a surprising manner, lying and swearing (to her) for the first time. As the day progresses she shrugs off the vestiges of her staid upbringing. Enjoying her new found freedom but finding it tempered with a sadness that come the morning it will all be over we see Miss Pettigrew as she really is, and find her the more appealing for it. Miss Delysia Lafosse is fabulous, avant garde, flighty but also underneath, someone looking for guidance or a type of mother figure, something she realises Miss Pettigrew possesses. Her friends are so accepting of Miss Pettigrew, so laid back in their lives, indeed too wrapped up in themselves, that they don’t question who Miss Pettigrew is. They listen to her, find her profound and delightedly baffle Miss Pettigrew.
There is something wonderfully exhuberant and almost careless about the novel. The reader is pulled into the frantic world of Miss Lafosse along with Miss Pettigrew and is as much caught up in the whirlwind excitement of the unknown as the eponymous governess is.
There are a couple of instances that haven’t aged well but otherwise this is a timeless piece about societal structure and the self imposed boundaries one can set. It’s a lesson about living, about being able to breach the confines of expected behaviour and of re-discovering new aspects of yourself.
This edition is printed with the original typeset and illustrations and I found that this drew me even further into the story, being transported to the heady days of smoke-filled nightclubs, furs, pearls, extravagant dress and a bohemian way of life. Even the cover makes you smile and gives a hint at the heart-warming tale inside.
I loved spending the day with Miss Pettigrew and her new friends. I’ll be revisiting her again soon.
About the author
Watson was born in 1907 and brought up in Newcastle, where her father owned three shops. Educated at St Ronan’s School, Berwick-on-Tweed, she was a secretary until, in 1935, aged 28, she married Leslie Pickering, the manager of a timber firm. She wrote Fell Top in 1935 and Odd Shoes a year later, ‘two rather strong dramas…but when they received a book that was fun – Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day  – they would not accept it…I can remember to this day looking up at the publisher and saying, ‘You are wrong, Miss Pettigrew is a winner.’ But he just looked stubborn. I wrote another straight novel [Upyonder, 1938] and, when they did publish Miss Pettigrew, I was proved right… France published it, Australia, and even Germany was about to only the war came.’ Winifred Watson published two more novels, but stopped writing not long after the birth of her son in 1941. She lived in Newcastle for the rest of her life and died there in 2002. (Image and bio from Persephone Books )