Thursday List: Older Women Winning Through



Miss Pettigrew out on the town


I recently made a list on the blog of those books we all love about 'young women growing up in amusing circumstances, and how they achieve what they want in life'. That wasn’t very snappy, so I described it as 


It occurred to me then that there was another similar list to be made: older women, not giving up, and entertaining us along the way. And they needed to be comfort reads – ones you can pick up and know they will cheer you up. Perhaps I should call this list 

Books Like Miss Pettigrew

What a fruitful field it turned out to be – and even with all those below, I will have missed some out, so please add them in the comments. All the books and authors below have featured on the blog: follow the links to see full entries.



1) Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield – so much more than the sum of its parts, in a way that is hard to define. Perhaps because it really does read like a diary, but has been very carefully written and constructed to give that dashed-off effect. One of the most featured books on the blog (along with James Joyce’s Ulysses – perhaps Molly Bloom should be included as a splendid older lady).

2) Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. The perfect cheering up book- funny and charming and life-affirming, even if it is a complete fairytale. One of the publisher Persephone’s finest finds.

3) Margery Sharp – The Eye of Love, The Nutmeg Tree, Something Light. The heroines are older, but they are usually having a last burst of activity, looking for someone to settle down with. The Eye of Love, a quite extraordinary book, shares the story between someone too young for romance, and her aunt, a complete anti-heroine: old and plain and not in fact particularly appealing. But you end up rooting for her.

This could easily be a Margery Sharp heroine




4) Barbara Pym and her Excellent Women - stalkers in comfy shoes and a nice cardigan. Sometimes you want to throttle her heroines for putting up with too much, but the books are endlessly enjoyable.

5) Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels are always there when you need them, even though they can be quite annoying. As I said in this post on Northbridge Rectory, there is always 'the usual woman of great humour and self-deprecation but terribly attractive to everyone etc etc – see all Thirkell’s books – and a repository for what one assumes were Thirkell’s own views'.

6) Aunty Mame by Patrick Dennis, as dealt with on the blog by the Guest Blogger. Mame is the older woman seen through a child’s eyes, and she is forever loveable, always fighting her way through the trials of life with great elan and wit.

7) A second male author making the list – Being Julia by W Somerset Maugham (aka Theatre). The hilarious story of an actress fighting back against any idea that she should let others, younger women, take the limelight. Also a wonderful film.

8) And a third, perhaps surprisingly: Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt. An oddity among Greene's books, but Aunt Augusta is wonderful.






9) Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – I have only just read this account of one woman’s life on the homefront, but I am certain it has joined the canon, and will be re-read frequently.

10) The wonderful Lucia, created by EF Benson (4th man on the list) – she is one of the great comic creations of the 20th century.


I feel I also should have added a trio of Misses – Miss Marple, Miss Read and Miss Pym (as in Josephine Tey, not Barbara Pym, above.)

Please add your own role-model-older-ladies below.

Comments

  1. Splendid list, and especially good to see Margery Sharp on there. Could I add the eponymous heroine of Somerset Maugham's very funny short story, 'Jane', the 'dowdy, dull, provincial' widow who becomes the toast of London.

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    1. I don't know that one - while being a big fan of WSM's women characters - and must look it up at once! Thanks for the addition.

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  2. Moira - What a fantastic idea for a list! And yes, I think Mame definitely belongs on it! Elizabeth Spann Craig has written a terrific series featuring Myrtle Clover, a delightful older lady - a former schoolteacher - whom I would definitely put on my list. I'm sure there are a lot of others too, but she popped into my mind first. This is a terrific theme!

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    1. She sounds like a great older lady to add to the list - thanks Margot. I bet you can think of enough to do a blogpost of your own on lady detectives...

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  3. EF Benson also has a dowdy, provincial novelist who becomes toast of the town thanks to a younger man she hires as a publicity agent.

    Then there is Paul Gallico's Mrs Harris saga - dated, patronising, sentimental and I probably couldn't reread, but there's a lot about "Dior dresses".

    Anna Chancellor, soon to play Lucia, calls her a "terrible, dominating phoney".

    "Theatre" is brilliant. Julia deserves credit for always being honest with herself.

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    1. Can't wait to see the new TV Lucia. I read a couple of Benson's non-Lucia books, but not that one I think.
      One of the many reasons for liking the actress Annette Bening is that she saw the potential of playing Julia and made the most of it. Fabulous part.

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    2. Daniel Milford-Cottam14 November 2014 at 09:24

      I was going to suggest Mrs'Arris too! The Dior book is "Mrs 'Arris goes to Paris" (aka Flowers for Mrs Arris). I've not read the others but I loved the theme of the Dior book.

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    3. Dior/Paris/Harris sounds like a must-read for me - thanks Lucy and Daniel.

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  4. Not exactly a role model, but I did enjoy The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (bearing in mind that if you were a woman in your mid-thirties in those days, you were OLD.)
    Excellent Women: yes. That and A Glass of Blessings are my favourite Pyms.

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    1. Oh yes, she definitely needs to be on the list - real wish fulfilment there, with the aristo lord who can see through to her inner beauty. A favourite theme of mine - I guess at some point I passed seamlessly into enjoying it ironicially.

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  5. Scary dude in the photo at the top on the RHS - I'm going to have nightmares I think. Unsurprisingly I'm not familiar with anything on the list. Burning question - do I want to be? Err, not really......

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    1. I think this one really is not aimed at you....

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  6. Moira, I read Greene's "Travels with My Aunt" a long time ago and while I can recollect very little about, I do, however, remember that not many people liked it as much as some of the author's other books. I haven't read Maugham's "Being Julia" yet.

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    1. Travels with my Aunt very different from his other books - I know some people didn't like that. I'm sure you would enjoy Being Julia - film or book.

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  7. I always loved the movie "Auntie Mame," such fun and fantasy. I just saw "Being Julia," at this blog's urging and enjoyed Annette Bening to the hilt. She is good.

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    1. Oh good, so glad you enjoyed it. And yes, Mame is a great creation.

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  8. I would add Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver and Dorothy Sayers' Miss Climpson's to your Misses list.

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  9. One would think I would like this theme, but only a few of these appeal to me, so I guess not. I purchased Auntie Mame (book and movie) after reading Colm's post and will be getting to those in 2015. Henrietta's War sounds possible, and maybe Travel's with my Aunt. If I think of any other mysteries that fit the topic, I will make a note of that.

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    1. I could probably do another whole list of older women detectives, and may even do so....

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    2. That is an excellent idea.

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  10. Older women detectives ... sounds like a good idea to me. Or aging women detectives.

    And as for Annette Bening, she is good in every movie she is in. Whether or not one likes the movie's theme is a different matter. She always shines.

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    1. Yes, I love AB, in everything.
      I'm going to do a younger women detectives, and then an older one too - there were just too many!

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  11. I can see that Being Julia is a MAJOR omission from my reading if it is on this list with so many of my favourites. Must rectify this urgently!

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    1. The only possible answer is 'Yes you must.' Honestly, I think you'll love it. It goes under both titles, Theatre and Being Julia, and the film is also excellent. You will not regret it!

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