I’ve been looking forward to reading Winifred Peck’s masterpiece, a book written and published in the midst of WWII about an upper-class lady, Rose, who must learn housekeeping because all the maids are abandoning service. First line magic: “It was as she stood in Mrs Loman’s Registry Office for Domestic Servants that Rose Fairlaw suddenly realised what a useless and helpless woman she was. Up till that moment she had always assumed vaguely that she was a buy and useful member of society.”
Rose was widowed in the first great war, left with a baby daughter, Flora. Her best friend, Lilias, was also raising a child, and they shared a nursery. Lilias died of pneumonia, and Rose marries her widowed husband, Stuart, mostly so she isn’t separated from the son, Mickie, that she’s been raising alongside Flora. Stuart and Rose have a son, Tom, and everyone is upper-class gentry of Scotland. Rose is incredibly well read and always dropping odd quotes and statements into her conversations with people, like referencing Montaigne’s comments that wherever her daughter travels, she’ll still have herself for company. When we meet her, it’s December 1941, and her maid and cook are about to run off to jobs in the war effort. When she attempts to hire another set of staff, she overhears the matron suggest that the harried women simply do their own housework. Rose takes this to heart and does her best, mostly muddling along with help from Major Hosmer (who gives tips on cooking and suggests modernizing the kitchen with heated water and an electric stove) and Mrs Childe (who is a highly efficient maid teaching Rose how to do things).
Very clever and witty writing. “…I don’t think the law’s an idea of how to deal with marriage. For one thing, except for murder it’s the only crime for which you get a life sentence… and even for murder you can shorten your sentence by good conduct.”
New word perfect for 2017: fanfaronade – empty boasting, bluster.