Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson


71rdkvvouulFiction — print. Persephone Books, 2008. Originally published 1938. 234 pgs. Library copy.

On my list of twenty-one things I’d like to accomplish before I turn twenty-one was to read a book published by Persephone Books. I selected Watson’s novel simply because this is one of only two books (and the only fictional book) published by Persephone that my public library shelves.

Watson’s novel tells the story of Miss (Guinevere) Pettigrew, an older woman and governess, sent to the wrong address by her employment agency. Upon arrival at this particular address Miss Pettigrew is introduced to the young and glamorous Delyisa LaFosse, who in turns introduces the semi-prudish Miss Pettigrew to nightclubs, alcohol, and romance all in the course of a day.

This was probably not the best Persephone for me to start with considering I was “meh” about the movie version of Watson’s novel. Even so, I had higher expectations for the book because it does appear on the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. It was really fluffy!

I know my opinion of this book is probably unfair as I am judging this book by my own (liberal) standards. It might have been shocking for those readers when the book was originally published (1938), but the novel had a hard time capturing my attention.

There were also some spacing issues with the book I got that I found incredibly distracting. The illustrations for the book were cute; I liked their simplicity. But they were often times printed on the page after the scene in which they depicted occurred.

All that said, I was really intrigued by Henrietta Twycross-Martin’s introduction to the novel. Apparently, Watson wrote six successful novels before 1941 but after being bombed out of her London home during the Battle of Britain, she stopped writing. She told Twycross-Martin in 2002 that the moment for writing had passed. She never published another novel. I’ve always wondered why authors stopped writing, which maybe why I really enjoyed Twycross-Martin’s introduction.

(Note: The endpaper (above) is a 1938 furnishing fabric by Marion Dorn; “it is an elegant and light-hearted repeat pattern on a background of pale linen”. I read the novel as issued by Persephone Classics (right) so the endpaper in my copy was grey-scaled.)

Others’ Thoughts:


  1. I enjoyed this book, fluffiness and everything. I think, for me, it was just feel-good, and I read it in-between some World War II lit. Loved the illustrations as well, and almost forgot about the introduction – thanks for the reminder!

    Why do authors stop writing? Read this article a couple of years ago, while googling something around the same, and thought it was interesting… specially the bit about Dickens and Trollope.


  2. dieseltaylor

    ” I know my opinion of this book is probably unfair as I am judging this book by my own (liberal) standards”

    I cannot follow the logic ofyour statment but I think your opinion unfairly low.

    I think that any reviewer who has seen a film or read the book and then follows up with the other version is “tainted” as a reviewer. Rather like taking a quizz the second time and finding it “easy” and passing this opinion on.

    In our household we both found the book delightful and therefore found your one star review rather out of sync with most of the Librarything reviews.

    To have value I suggest reviewers only write on what they see originally – and as far as possible avoid prior reading of other people’s views and the incidental plot reveals.


    • You are certainly within your right to argue that people stick to either seeing the movie or reading the book. However, I think that’s unfair. Certainly, there are books out there such as A Song of Ice and Fire with a mass media edition (Game of Thrones) set in the same world but offering an entirely different experience. People should be allowed to experience and discuss both versions.


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