Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Reprise

February 9, 2009 at 7:55 pm (Book Commentary) (, , , , , , )

My second post on my fresh, brand new blog was about the movie Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. https://solitaryspinster.wordpress.com/2008/09/

Since I’ve seen the movie I’ve been able to read the book. Thank the Stars for outstanding local libraries where I was lucky enough to acquire both within six months of each other. To recap: the book is about a day in the life of a spinster governess working in London just prior to WWII. Very much in line with the screwball comedies of the time. It was written by Winifred Watson in 1938 and reissued by Persephone Books in 2001.


Ms. Watson grew up in Newcastle (Great Britain) and worked as a secretary until she married. She wrote six books before she retired to look after her growing family in 1941. Persephone Books reprints forgotten works by (mostly) women writers. Miss Pettigrew is a charming little volume with all of the original artwork included as well.

You may want to read my first post first as I plan to talk here about how the book differs from the movie.

The book opens with an introduction by Henrietta Twycross-Martin (no, no idea who she is) that summarizes how this book brought joyful fantasy into her mother’s life. It introduces us into Ms. Watson’s life, both when she was writing Miss Pettigrew and when it was reprinted. An optimistic story within itself.

Miss Pettigrew’s chapters are separated into hourly type sections. We start the day at 9:15 a.m. to 11:11 a.m and end at 3:47 a.m. It is an interesting life changing day for everyone involved. It differs from the movie as there is no set-up; we are thrown instantly into the meeting between Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse. The book draws one in quickly and never lets go until the end. I finished the bulk of it in two days.

Instantly, Miss Pettigrew feels accepted. They talk to her.  Miss LaFosse , her friend Miss Dubarry and the others look to Miss Pettigrew for solace and advice.  Miss LaFosse is a grown-up child and Miss Dubarry runs a successful business. They make her over. They take her to a cocktail party, a nightclub, they treat her as an equal. Something none of her other employers have ever done. This, I think, mirrors slightly the British class system and how it works. Here, no one laughs at her for being a governess (and a very bad one at that). Here, they drink up her advice, praise her mimicking skills and her quick wit. It is a world unlike any Miss Pettigrew has ever seen.

The spinster, Miss Pettigrew, is a lot like me. She has never “been in a taxi for pure frivolity before.” She has spent her life catering to other’s needs and waiting for a life to happen. On some days, I feel I do this more than on other days.

Miss Pettigrew has arrived at the age of forty and never been kissed. She states, unequivocally, that she has never been loved in her life. Thankfully, I have loved and been loved and lost at love. I have a village of family and friends who tease and push and challenge and accept me. I choose the spinster lifestyle and relish my aloneness (most of the time).

The movie minimized the drug use that the book portrays as normal. There is cocaine and massive amounts of alcohol use. That the movie minimized this doesn’t surprise me as this is an American adaptation.

The movie also changes and minimizes the friendship between the three women (Miss Pettigrew, Miss LaFosse and Miss Dubarry). It introduces, into the story, conflict that is caused by two of the women being attracted to the  same man. This change annoys me. I found the book’s portrayal of the women and their friendship to be more honest.

The movie added to the storyline:

  • Miss Pettigrew’s true love; a young man who dies in WWI (as if she is less of a person, in the book, because she has never been loved or loved anyone herself)
  • the conflict between two of the women over a man (as if true love precludes any ethics one might feel over stealing away another’s lover)
  • the upcoming war was foreshadowed (the author choose to completely leave this out of the novel even though it must have been apparent when she was writing the story)

Yes, in the book Miss Pettigrew does find love. However, not until the last chapters. He is fifty-five, so they are compatible age-wise, in the reader’s mind. Man must always be older than the woman! Introducing the love story earlier in the movie minimizes and trivializes the growing relationship between the women.

In my mind, it is the women who are central to the story. It is these friendships that save Miss Pettigrew and give her what she needs most: a better sense of who she is and what she is capable of.

I would recommend the book more than the movie, However, don’t limit yourself, enjoy both. And I would love to read anyone else’s reviews of both, let me know if there are any out there in the blogosphere.


  1. Karen said,

    I agree with your post above about the differences between the book (a long-time favorite of mine) and the movie. While I very much enjoyed the movie (the performances, the marvelous Art Deco sets, the costumes, the music), I was a bit diappointed (although not surprised, I suppose) that the film makers chose to put the story of the young lovers front and center, rather than Miss Pettigrew’s, I was also annoyed, as were you, at the invention of a fiance lost in WWI — underscoring the film maker’s view (shared with the rest of society) that a never-married, never-loved woman must be too uninteresting and too unimportant a person to warrant much attention. Ah well…..I suppose it’s a miracle that they made the movie at ALL. so I’m grateful for that, at least! But I would certainly encourage everyone to read the BOOK. It’s a rare treat.

  2. Nan said,

    I wrote about the book recently on my blog, and said I probably wouldn’t see the movie. I had so many comments saying I should see it that I rented it from Netflix and honestly could only watch about ten minutes (if that). I couldn’t stand the changes, and it seemed almost cartoonish. It reminded me of two movies – Babe (the one about the pig) and Nanny McPhee. They had that sort of weird photography and approach that just seemed silly to me. I loved the book so much. Here’s my book report if you’d like to read it.


    Oh, and how did I find you? I set up a google alert for the very first time for ‘persephone’ and voila, your blog entry came up. I’ll be back to visit some more. I love the name.

  3. gigi said,

    Thanks Nan,

    I loved your review. Too bad you didn’t enjoy the movie! Also, like your casting idea but I can only agree with Kate as Miss Pettigrew and I think Jimmy as Joe.

    (For everyone else, here are Nan’s casting choices:)

    Miss Pettigrew – Katharine Hepburn
    Miss LaFosse – Myrna Loy
    Nick – Clark Gable
    Michael – Cary Grant
    Miss Dubarry – Jean Arthur
    Tony – Jimmy Stewart
    Joe – Spencer Tracy

  4. gigi said,

    Hi Karen,

    Love your blog; do you plan on updating soon? I took the movie for what it is-fluffy.

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