At the raggedy end of winter, sunshine comes as a welcome reprieve, even if the weather may not be quite so lovely tomorrow. The same may be said for the life of the title character in Winifred Watson?s thoroughly charming 1938 novel. Miss Pettigrew, a 40-year-old governess who, by her own admission, has “no friends, no family, no money,” appears promptly at 9:15 a.m. at the house of Miss LaFosse in hopes of landing a job. With the sort of attractiveness that drives men to unbridled distraction, Miss LaFosse can?t cook, clean, or choose which suitor to settle upon. What the 20-something lounge singer does quite ably is entangle herself in romances, and it?s the newly arrived Miss Pettigrew to whom she looks for rescue and counsel. Treated as a confidante for the first time, Miss Pettigrew rises to the task with aplomb, and the scenes that unfold between her and Miss LaFosse?s gentlemen callers are often laugh-out-loud funny. The character of Miss Pettigrew is so engaging that reading of her travails over a 24-hour period feels like being in the company of an old — and reliably entertaining — friend. By mid-afternoon, Miss Pettigrew, saturated with dry sherry, has been given a makeover and introduced to Miss LaFosse?s social set as one of them. The two protagonists are each other?s perfect foil: Miss LaFosse offers her infectious sense of adventure; Miss Pettigrew, her outspoken common sense. To her surprise, Miss Pettigrew realizes that this is the best day of her life. She relaxes into her first name, Guinevere, settles into her borrowed dress, and herself experiences a variety of the grand romantic chaos swirling around her charge. Miss Pettigrew possesses an inner strength and beauty entirely her own, and this confident and authentic version of herself is, happily, here to stay.
About the Author
Sarah Norris, arts editor of The Villager, has reviewed books for The New Yorker, Village Voice, Time Out New York, and other publications.