Friday, 2 August 2013


What an inspired choice of cover (I don't recognise the artist) but this is exactly how I imagine Miss Mole. My copy, unfortunately, is a faded 1930s hardback that I picked up for £1 and has been lying around for ages ... if only I'd known what a treasure was languishing down the side of the sofa. (It won the James Tait Black memorial prize in 1930.)

Miss Mole is a Miss Pettigrew crossed with Mary Poppins but with a 'past' that she acquired by loving not wisely, but too well, in the aftermath of WWI. She is almost 40, wears unfortunate clothes but good shoes and dreads a future of poverty-stricken spinsterhood with optimism and courage. After losing her job as a lady's companion, she becomes housekeeper to a pompous Nonconformist minister and his dysfunctional family. You'll have to plod through a few longueurs - my red pencil would have chopped   50 pages or so - but it's worth it for the wonderful character of Miss Hannah Mole and her sharp tongue. This is a Spinster Lit classic and Miss Mole is a role model for anybody who has ever lunched off the cheapest currant bun in the teashop. (The equivalent these days is probably a miserable egg sandwich from M&S.)

I've been reading it through some of the hottest, stickiest, sleepless nights of the heatwave but this is a book for autumn, full of mists and dahlias and Michaelmas daisies ... not that I'm wishing the summer away, but I'm wilting.

Does anybody recall this rather wonderful sounding BBC adaptation from 1980? I don't remember it at all.

17 comments:

Cornflower said...

Thank you for reminding me that I have a copy of Miss Mole (a green Virago but a different portrait on the cover) but I've never read it. Maybe, as you say, when the season turns ...

mary said...

It's more of a nip of whisky read than a Pimm's read, Karen.

Noelle the dreamer said...

A delightful review Mary, witty as only you can give it! Thanks for sharing, and what a find at the price!
Wilting Dear? 15 degrees C here on the Pacific NW coast and wondering what happened to Summer?

Mystica said...

Came over from Cornflower Books as I was intrigued with the reference there! This sounds so very good. You dont know the meaning of wilting till you have come to Sri Lanka!!!!

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

Sounds lovely, I shall hope to search for it in a second hand book shop & save for autumn reading one year.

callmemadam said...

I love the book but don't remember any radio adaptation.

Lots more E H Young to enjoy for those who like Miss Mole!

mary said...

I mustn't grumble it away, Noelle, and it's much cooler today.

I've only once been to Sri Lanka, Mystica, for Christmas - and the weather was heavenly! But I think your summers would finish me off!

I think you'll find one quite easily, Joan.

It was TV, not radio, Callmemadam. I've been looking for it on YouTube but no luck. But I do have a copy of William so I'm looking foirward to more EH Young.

Cait O'Connor said...

Another one for the list, thank you. Might read it at Michaelmas :-)

Lucille said...

I'm ready for the autumn evenings with this recommendation. You are always utterly reliable. It's like having a personal cultural guide.

mary said...

That's very kind of you, Lucille. I could rather fancy being a professional culture-taster!

Toffeeapple said...

Having recently re-read Miss Pettigrew (and loving it anew) I think that Miss Mole might suit me very well. thank you for your review Mary.

Sue said...

I love a book which matches the season. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter Downes is perfect for July and I meant to reread it this July and forgot. I shall track down Miss Mole and save it for autumn.

mary said...

It's not as frothy as Miss Pettigrew, but Miss M is a wonderful character. Hope you enjoy it, Toffeeapple.

I love One Fine Day, Sue. I'd like to read it again, too.

Sue said...

I recognised the artist as soon as I saw this cover Mary but couldn't remember his name. Now my copy has arrived and it is the same edition so I can tell you that it is a portrait of Mrs William Smedley-Aston by Joseph Southall and is in Kidderminster Art Gallery. Joseph Southall has works in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which was where I knew him from.

mary said...

Thank you, Sue. I recognised one of his other paintings now I know the name. Hope you enjoy the book.

StuckInABook said...

I loved Miss Mole - I loved William even better. And I agree that some of the prose could have been chopped, but the dialogue is worth every second.

mary said...

That's good to know, Simon. I've got William and also bought The Curate's Wife in Oxfam the other day.