Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day–and so do I
I’ve just finished a thoroughly enjoyable read–Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. Doesn’t the whole thing just roll off your tongue? With such a title and author name, how could I resist the book?
Anyway, as I’ve already said, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day turned out to be a great read. The writing is beautiful and clever, and the story timeless, warm and funny, fast-paced, a Cinderella story about the strengths and weaknesses of women and life. It strikes me that it is very much like Sex and the City, but lifted by writing style and underlying kindness, faith and direction out of the cold and tawdry level. The book is one of those magical gems I will keep on the special shelf of books to re-read.
The novel was a success in it’s time; set, written, and published in the modern and fast world of London in the 1930s. It almost made the silver screen, but WWII interrupted. Eventually it was rediscovered and published, went on to be read on BBC Radio 4 and at last did become a movie in 2008 (I must get hold of it!)
When I enjoy a cracking good book, I become wildly curious about the author. If I could, I would sneak up to their home and peer in their windows. Fortunately for people of my sort, the publisher of this edition, , had Henrietta Twycross-Martin do that for me and write an introduction about Winifred Watson and her work. (Good grief, you have to love those names! It’s like a cemetery down here in the South.)
Ms. Watson wrote six novels during her late twenties to late-thirties, before and into the early years of her marriage. Her last novel was published in 1943, coinciding with the rigorous strains of the War years, a child, and having her mother move in with her. In other words, she entered the woman’s life of domestic interests and demands. She is quoted: “you can’t write if you are never alone.”
Oh, how I nod my head at that one! I am very much of the same disposition. This is a peculiarity shared by all women writers, and few men. This is not a struggle peculiar to women with families; single women also have the nurturing nature. A dear writer friend who is resolutely single still finds that she struggles to balance her writing life with that of friendship and care-taking of aging parents.
Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking. ~Jessamyn West (Hide and Seek)
I started writing when my only child entered school; I was thirty, with boundless energy and enthusiasm. I had the days, when I ignored the house, laundry, cooking, the garden, friends (I made few). For nearly twenty years I lived a rural life, days on end to myself to write my books. I admit to not appreciating this gift of solitary days. The time came, though, when the husband retired and we decided to move to live near our son and grandchildren. My mother went, too.
Now here we all are together. My days are filled with the sound of voices, both childish and grown, calling, “Nana!” Have I seen this, can I do that, trips to the pre-school, the grocery, the doctor carrying my mother, who, as Miss Winifred (I think of her that way now, a friend.) said, “women of my mother’s generation could not live alone.”
To write in the midst of a woman’s domestic life is a great struggle. To write a novel an enormous struggle. Miss Winifred decided to quit that struggle. I imagine her absorbed bit by bit into creating a home for her family, cooking, sewing, gardening, taking photographs of grandchildren, making doctor appointments for her mother, as I just now had to stop to do. Truly, I was put on hold, so I pressed the phone speaker button, set it beside the computer, and kept on typing.
And yet, while Miss Winifred wrote no more novels, I do not believe she quit writing. She was a writer, and no doubt there were long letters to family and friends, perhaps a journal at times, or little short stories to entertain the grands, maybe the local gardeners’ or parish newsletters.
We writers keep writing, as I am doing now, between the appointment making and picking up my grandson at preschool. I have not yet made the choice to give up the struggle, and thus far God provides opportunities here and there.
I have even begun the heretofore unthinkable for me– setting the alarm to rise at 5:30 so as to have a good hour or more of absolute peace and quiet. Good heavens, where will this lead?
I have no idea, but I press on with writing a novel and all manner of other things, including fantasies about having my books rediscovered and made into movies. A woman can dream.
And I smile at thinking of Miss Winifred, who said in her nineties, that she had enjoyed, “a happy life.”
Me, too, each day.
Go and enjoy yours– create something!