Monday, 26 August 2013

My Friend Rose by Jane Duncan

published 1964  chapter 2  set in the 1930s








[A shipping firm arranges a day out for all the workers at the country home of one of the owners]

The staff was enjoying its collective self in what My Friend Martha would call ‘no ordinary way’. ..

Miss Slim, with typical versatility, was the queen of the luxurious, blue-painted swimming-pool. Enormous in her tight black suit with the club badge on its ample breast… in the water she was agile, graceful and lovable… At one moment her broad laughing face under its tight cap would be grinning at us from the deep end and at the next her huge shiny rump would be rising like Atlantis refloated from the water of the shallow end. The typists and despatch clerks, white and spindly, the boys inclined to strut a little in their royal blue or black, were all glad to take lessons from her…

The door of the women’s dressing room opened and Mrs Roy came through, a golden-haired, cream-coloured Juno in a tight, flame-coloured backless swimsuit of shining satin, a large yellow towel trailing from her left hand.



observations: Another of this weird series that I am re-reading, and as it is the summer Bank Holiday in England (usually the cue for endless rain and cold winds, but still) here is a nice summery day out and some poolside antics. This book is a return to the quality of the 1st one (My Friends the Miss Boyds) while being a completely different kind of novel. Written in the 1960s, it is mostly set in the 1930s: a young woman works for an upper middle class family in London and the Home Counties, and watches their goings-on with interest. There is a discontented wife (Mrs Roy, above) a difficult child, chirpy cockney servants, and spinster friends in the village. It has a good brisk pace and plenty of activity. In a fine example of changing mores, our heroine/narrator hits the child and by this means impresses her, improves her behaviour and ultimately gets employed to look after her. More sociological detail: the child has been wetting the bed, and someone enquires ‘is she still pigging it?’ – unfamiliar to me in this form, though the 1950s book Lark on the Wing produced some interest in the phrase in the comments, here – in regard to young people sharing a flat, not wetting the bed. 

On the plus side – there is a hat the colour of the fluff under a housemaid’s bed (though this is seen as a mean comment), there is an unseen character called Pipette (!), there is one called Angela Carter who couldn’t be less like the real-life novelist of that name, and there is this ruthless comment from Mrs Roy to our lovely narrator:
Your figure isn’t bad, but you shouldn’t wear these shirt blouses. They make you look like a Lesbian but you aren’t. I’d know if you were.
Lesbian blouses! If only we could find a picture to illustrate that.

The timeline of the book don’t quite seem to work out – or at least it’s hard to believe that Rose was 35 when she got married, or that the child is only 8 and has already run away from school twice, and that the marriage only lasted five years.

Links on the blog: More of this series on a regular basis, click on Jane Duncan below. Maybe going to become less regular, as the later books are much more expensive to buy 2nd-hand (they are all out of print), and I don’t like them that much. Janet in the book has a fraught meeting with potential in-laws – there’s a very similar scene in the same era in London Belongs to Me, and the clothes shopping in the entry isn’t going to help. A previous Bank Holiday entry here, and Graham Greene ensures you don't think Brighton on a holiday would be fun in Brighton Rock.

The picture is a swimsuit layout for the Ladies Home Journal in 1932, from the amazing George Eastman House collection.

8 comments:

  1. Moira - What I love about your description here is the swimsuits of the era - so different to today's, that's for sure. And it's fascinating to see that impression of what social life was like in the '30s. I think it'd be interesting t compare that to some work that was really written at the time. But I have to admit I'm stuck on that notion of hitting a child being portrayed as a successful, good thing to do...

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    1. I'm intrigued by the idea of that kind of office outing - I don't think it would exist quite like that these days. There was a certain patronizing air of showing the lowly employees how the other half lives. I think there's a similar event in the Rona Jaffe book, The Best of Everything.

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  2. Wonderful photograph and the book sounds intriguing. Given the speed of social change I wonder how a book written now about the 30s would differ from one written in the 60s.

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    1. Thanks Susan! As I get older, I read books set in the time of my youth, and often think authors have got the feel and details wrong. Moral views from a previous era are probably very hard to get right.

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  3. On pulp fiction covers of the 50s (there are lots on the web), lesbians wore tight, white shirts.

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    1. Aha, interesting. I was thinking in the wrong direction - loose, mannish ones I thought. A bit like 'boyfriend' shirts. And that's a word usage you should cover on your blog, all those boyfriend items of clothes which in fact have been carefully tailored to suit female figures: a lying clothes term.

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  4. White shirts if you dare: http://pulpcovers.com/tag/lesbians/ Not safe for work! But some wonderful art. (I like the idea of "boyfriend" clothes, but they don't seem to have caught on.)

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    1. Oh I *SO* want to read those books! 'Torchlight to Valhalla' is an intriguing tagline, while 'Strange are the ways of love' would have us all nodding our heads in thoughtful recognition of its truth.

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