Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Books – Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson

Now I don’t tend to read happy books. This may sound like an odd statement, and yet it’s too often true. I enjoy heart-wrenching books, books that tear your soul a little bit, and so sometimes I end up reading nothing but sad books for weeks on end. There’s occasionally a little burst of Dickensian or Austenite happiness, but I for the most part I read dark books, grim books, books that are liable to make you cry on the train to work. Reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, I remembered the beauty of happy books, of books that only make you want to cry with joy.

Published in 1938, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day tells the story of Miss Pettigrew, a middle-aged impoverished nanny. In search of a new position, she ends up knocking on the door of the young and beautiful Miss LaFosse, and is suddenly drawn into a new and different world. For just one day, Miss Pettigrew’s steps into Miss LaFosse’s Bohemian and dramatic life. She is astounded and excited, and astounds those around her. It’s like if a (less perfect) Mary Poppins met and got caught up with Evelyn Waugh’s Bright Young Things and decided to just go with it. It is beautiful.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Non-fiction – The Invisible Woman, by Claire Tomalin

Now I don’t normally review non-fiction – but I do spend a lot of time talking about Dickens on my Booktube channel, and in my efforts to read more non-fiction, I figured I ought to put a Dickensian spin on it somewhere.

The Invisible Woman, by Claire Tomalin, is a biography of Ellen Ternan, a woman who literally erased herself from history. Nelly Ternan was Charles Dickens’s mistress. They met in 1857, when Nelly was eighteen and Charles Dickens forty-five. By 1870, at the time of Dickens’s death, they had been in some way together for over ten years. She lived in various houses paid for by Dickens, and he divided his time between her houses and his family home in Gad’s Hill. She read and helped edit his novels. They may or may not have had a child together. And yet Nelly Ternan remained a secret. After his death, she erased ten years of her life. She pretended to be ten years younger than she was, cutting out those years she’d spent with Dickens. On her death certificate, even on her grave, her children incorrectly recorded her age.

While his adoring public knew that Charles Dickens had separated from his wife, it would have devastated his persona as a man of domesticity if it were discovered that he also had a mistress. He protected his own reputation – and Nelly’s – by ensuring their relationship remained a secret, and by the time of his death, only a few close friends and some of his children knew of his and Nelly’s association. A few more thought they had an innocent friendship – that of godfather and goddaughter, not a romantic or sexual relationship – and there are still a few critics who stand by this, insisting that we don’t have enough evidence to prove that Nelly Ternan was actually Charles Dickens’s mistress.