Mini Persephone Readathon: Day 2

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Well, I breezed straight through Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day in about 36 hours! Much like the film it inspired it’s delightful. In some ways, it had a lighter than air quality that the film lacked.

The novel was written in 1938, a year before the beginning of WWII. The film, made in 2008, has an awareness that these characters are living under the looming specter of the coming war. While things are breezy for the characters on this particular day, they’ll be facing the Blitz in the next few years. The film’s Miss Pettigrew and her love interest, Joe, are old enough to remember WWI, and have some idea of death and destruction that are imminent, while the younger characters were small children when WWI ended, and find the coming war exciting.

All of this larger historical context is absent in the novel. We’re given hints that both Miss Pettigrew and Joe have seen difficulties in the past, but it’s nothing that we learn anything more about. Because Winifred Watson (presumably) couldn’t see the future when she wrote the novel, none of this is addressed. Yes, a reader with an awareness of history knows that this historical moment holds a lot of significance, which I think is why the film decided to address it directly. But as a result, even though the film was a screwball comedy, it had some darker undertones. The book, on the other hand, is a simply a comedy or strange bedfellows, witty misunderstandings, and smart dialogue.

For some of the optional challenges:

In Six Words: Describe your current Persephone read in 6 words: fizzy, frothy, funny, optimistic, charming, light-hearted.

Quote This: Share a quote from your current read

“All the men send you orchids because they’re expensive and they know that you know they are. But I always kind of think they’re cheap, don’t you, just because they’re expensive. Like telling someone how much you paid for something to show off.”

Watch This: Give a TV or film recommendation based on a Persephone book

Well, based on this one I’d recommend the film version of Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, certainly. Aside from that, I’d suggest several other screwball comedies of the era. Bringing Up Baby came out the same year as the novel, and has a similar plot in that it involves a stuffy professor who has a wild, out of character day with a free-spirited nonconformist. Ball of Fire is also about a sultry, vulgar, siren who stirs up the lives of seven fusty academics and teaches them about living. It Happened One Night features a spoilt, rebellious rich girl, who is thrown through a day and a night of trains, busses, and hitched rides with a journalist hired by her father to bring her from Florida to New York to rejoin her fiance.

All of these had a certain effervescence due to the time they came out. In the 1930’s the world was going through the Great Depression. Audiences sought to escape from their troubles in movie theaters (Miss Pettigrew considers movies her one guilty pleasure) and these comedies gave them a chance to experience a glitzy world, full of quick talking characters, witty banter, and romance farce.

Thanks again to Jessie @ Dwell in Possibility for hosting this readathon and being my unofficial Persephone sponsor!

8 thoughts on “Mini Persephone Readathon: Day 2

    • In this case, I think seeing the film first also played a role. The coming war was addressed directly in the film. It was completely absent in the book. Naturally, that made me think of why it was absent. Aside from the fact that it’s unlikely the author could predict the future and know that WWII was about to start, I think that whatever was happening in the world at the time wasn’t what she was intending to write about. She was writing a frothy concoction of a novel. In that context, it might be jarring to have a character stop trying to hide evidence of an illicit lover to read the newspaper and worry about the state of things. In a film that was easier to keep in the background. For example; the characters would walk down the street and stop briefly as they saw military planes fly overhead. Or they’d walk past a newspaper stand and the camera would catch a headline about the situation. It’s harder to do something like that in a novel, even if the author was aware of the historical significance of the moment that she was writing about. But of course, there’s no way she could have even been aware of it.

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  1. haha I’m happy to be your unofficial Persephone sponsor, Fran! I feel a bit guilty admitting this, but I ever-so-slightly prefer the film version over the book. Like you say, the historical context gives some lovely and poignant shading to the lightness. Your six word description is spot on, and that quote is great as well.

    Thanks for the reminder that I need to finally watch Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night! Both have been on my to watch list forever, and it sounds like they may scratch a similar itch that the Miss Pettigrew film does. I could definitely use some comedic, effervescent viewing right about now!

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    • I know the feeling! I rewatched Miss Pettigrew this morning, which turned out to be just what I needed! One element of the film that I also appreciated was that the relationships were a bit more developed. We see Miss Pettigrew encounter Joe at several points during the day. We also learn more about Michael’s past with Delysia. That allowed me to invest emotionally a bit more.

      Liked by 1 person

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