Monica Dickens. One Pair of Hands (1939).
I’m not sure how I found this one–perhaps the popularity of Downton Abbey (which to date I have never watched) has thrust memoirs like these forward on the shelves. I like to read memoirs on occasion and am particularly interested in the contrasting lives of people of the various social classes, so I picked it up.
Monica Dickens relates her adventures during a year when she went out “to service” as a London cook/maid when a young woman. Being actually from a rather higher stratum of society this is an unusual choice and, in her day, no doubt an adventurous and entertaining one. Her class snobbery, which she apparently believes herself void of, is apparent in the very level of surprise she evinces at the friendships she occasionally forms among the servant class.
The book, though it does present an intriguing picture of the changing English society as seen in between-the-wars London, falls a bit short of the descriptor given it by The Times as being “riotously amusing.” Basically, not sweeping under the beds is too standard in housekeeping today to be read as shocking or amusing and thus Monica’s insubordination to her employers doesn’t make us laugh as it might have in 1940. Her continual struggle to “fake it” in the kitchen isn’t even as well-drawn as it might have been.
A quick read about a bored young woman with more zip than honesty who works as a servant for a year.