Four or five years ago I was browsing in blissful Daunt Books in Belsize Park when a plain grey book cover caught my eye. It was a copy of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson and, on a whim, I took it home.
Between the covers was a glorious tale of misunderstandings and romance, evening frocks and Marcel waves, bounders and gentlemen which had me hooked from the first page.
This was the beginning of my love affair with Persephone Books, a privately owned imprint based in London’s Bloomsbury. They specialise in re-discovering out of print and forgotten classics by (mostly) women authors from the twentieth century, ranging from novels to cook books, memoirs to travel.
Published in 1938, and set a few years earlier, Miss Pettigrew fits into the genre of gorgeously romantic, often bittersweet, beautifully written period literature that includes Nancy Mitford & Georgette Heyer’s entire oeuvres and The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
The movie of the book opens here this week, and I attended a preview screening this evening. The casting is excellent, (Amy Adams is perfection as the ditzy co-lead, nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse) the set design ravishing, the costumes fabulous, but the photography is gloomy and the simplicity and charming heart of the book has been replaced by rather too much moralising and some shocking liberties with the plot that don’t really stand up to much scrutiny.
Go see it, but don’t read the book ’till afterwards. You’ll be delightfully surprised.