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Just re-read Ballet Shoes as an adult

(502 Posts)
heron98 Thu 03-Nov-16 12:29:22

Someone answer me this - if they are so poor they can't even afford new clothes, why don't they get rid of the flipping cook and the maid? Why doesn't Garnie get a job instead of staying up all night stressing about money?

ElspethFlashman Thu 03-Nov-16 12:30:57

See also: Diary of a Provincial Lady. angry

SeekEveryEveryKnownHidingPlace Thu 03-Nov-16 12:31:20

Genteel poverty, isn't it? And the nurse hasn't been paid in years. Class things, women things....

Also, if Garnie had just gone and got a job, the whole book could just be called New Shoes After A Period Of Relative Lack, because the girls wouldn't have had to earn a crust!

TheOnlyLivingBoyInNewCross Thu 03-Nov-16 12:37:15

Garnie could have done with taking some lessons from the mother in The Railway Children - downsize, get rid of the servants, get on with earning some cold hard cash.

Briarthorn Thu 03-Nov-16 12:40:44

And possibly venture further than Knightsbridge / Kensington when shopping for clothes...

Fink Thu 03-Nov-16 12:41:23

I haven't read it since childhood, but I thought it was something to do with her (Garnie) not atually having any power, it all being in Gum's name and her just having to keep it ticking over till he returns. I vaguely remember that she considered letting the staff go but was terrified of Gum's reaction?

As for why she doesn't get a job, I guess opportunities for women's employment were quite limited after WW1 (I think the book is set in the mid-1920s? Since Pauline was rescued from the Titanic as a baby), particularly for middle-class women with no discernable skills or training. I wouldn't have employed her if I were recruiting.

SeekEveryEveryKnownHidingPlace Thu 03-Nov-16 12:42:38

Yes, Petrova has overtaken her in 'sums' by the age of about 7 hasn't she? Garnie didn't seem to have that many transferable skills.

Gum was a wanker though.

Maddaddam Thu 03-Nov-16 12:44:14

I also like the way they are too poor for private school, but obviously too posh for the local free state school... This is a theme in various novels so I suppose it's how people actually felt.

AnneLovesGilbert Thu 03-Nov-16 12:45:07

Likewise Railway Children and the housekeeper. Mum was working a bit but things can't have been that bad!

SeekEveryEveryKnownHidingPlace Thu 03-Nov-16 12:46:42

The local school would have been a Board School, wouldn't it - state education being in its infancy, that would probably have seemed about as inconceivable as applying to the workhouse!

ImSoVeryTired Thu 03-Nov-16 13:01:28

Oh I love this book. You can't judge it by modern values. It's the same with a lot of old films, even the good ones are appallingly sexist and often racist. You have to look at it through the values of 1920's Britain. Garnie did what she could, bearing in mind she didn't really have any skills, as others have said. Same could be applied to 'White Boots' or even 'A Little Princess'.

HumphreyCobblers Thu 03-Nov-16 13:08:03

Upper class people just did have servants in those days, it was unthinkable to do without them. Even the Railway children had Mrs Viney. It would have been considered a necessity rather than a luxury.

SpuriouserAndSpuriouser Thu 03-Nov-16 13:13:17

I used to love that book! I agree with ImSo, you can't judge the book by today's standards. And as others have said, Garnie probably wasn't terribly employable. Plus, if they hadn't been so hard up, the girls would have never been trained to go on the stage and the book would have been very boring grin

SerendipityPhenomenon Thu 03-Nov-16 13:18:28

I don't remember the Titanic being mentioned?

Cedar03 Thu 03-Nov-16 13:23:04

In one of the Diary of a Provincial lady books she talks about how her daughter is much better trained than she is - knows how to cook,etc - whereas she knows nothing. Women of that social class would have been taught how to manage staff but not to do the work themselves. The writer of the Diary isn't really poor, anyway, just doesn't have as much money as the dreaded Lady B.

I read a book called 'The Village' by Marghanita Laski which is set at the end of WW2 and features a genteel family who really are on their uppers thanks to the failure of the husband to make a success of his business ventures. They still have to maintain standards, though, even if they have nothing to do it with. Whereas the working class family where they are printers are doing well and actually have more money. (But are still not the right class of people in the eyes of the first family). There is lots of angst about the daughter not being able to meet any suitable young men, etc.

It's years since I've read Ballet shoes. I seem to remember worries about attache cases. I wasn't quite sure what one was when I was a child.

catbrushblanket Thu 03-Nov-16 13:26:09

Can't have been the Titanic, Pauline was 'born' in 1920 in the book.

ElspethFlashman Thu 03-Nov-16 13:26:38

I guess also it was a total mare to keep a house that big clean. No Hoover's, no washing machines etc.

So possibly you needed someone just cos it took hours and hours to do anything.

I still remember some of their lovely outfits from that book. There was a velvet dress, and something made from organdie, whatever that is. <sigh>

I'm going off to see if there's a box set on Amazon for DS, even though she's way too young.....

Iwantacampervan Thu 03-Nov-16 13:27:26

I don't remember the Titanic being mentioned?

I have dug out my copy - it says 'The ship on which he was sailing struck an iceberg, and all the passengers had to take to the boats.'
Gum rescued baby Pauline as she was floating in a lifebelt after the (life) boat had capsized.
The Titanic isn't actually named - unless it's mentioned later on in the book.

SilverDragonfly1 Thu 03-Nov-16 13:36:37

Garnie would have been brought up as a lady of leisure and not expected to work, so she wouldn't have been offered a job. Really the only jobs for women would still have been manual or shop work (poorly paid and long hours) or something like nursing or teaching which was still looked down upon. Possibly typist/secretary but again she wouldn't have those skills. She was very limited as to acceptable ways to earn money. Probably could have got rid of cook but as it's a largish family and no microwaves, supermarkets etc ( or easy ways to do cleaning, washing and so on, which she was dealing with) I can see why she wouldn't!

As others have said, it's a class thing. It really would have been considered shocking for Garnie to go and work in a shop and send the girls to a state school and they could forget about 'good marriages' completely...

toffee1000 Thu 03-Nov-16 13:38:32

Exactly. In the BBC adaptation Garnie said that unless a position for a paleontologist's assistant opened up she didn't really have any skills.
I agree with others who just say read it whilst baring in mind historical and social context. In the film one of Mrs Smith/Mrs Jakes said they couldn't go to the local school because they'd catch lice. It's genteel poverty. They're poor but don't really want to have to admit it, at least not openly.

corythatwas Thu 03-Nov-16 13:45:29

OP, would you have hired a middle-aged woman with no training and no experience of either physical labour or skilled work when there were thousands of servants/ex-munition factory workers/ex-Land Army women looking for work? Not to mention all the ex-soldiers. What would you have hired her as?

Garnie is probably doing the best she can by turning the house itself into an asset. Keeping the servants on enables her to do that, since they have the skills she doesn't. It takes skill to keep a house like that clean and upholstered and generally to the kind of standard you have to.

corythatwas Thu 03-Nov-16 13:50:32

The only job somebody with her background and at her age would be likely to get would be a very poorly paid one as a lady's companion- and then she wouldn't be able to keep either the house or the children.

It's not just about her pride: it's also that a shopkeeper, say, would be less likely to hire her because they'd rather spend their working day around somebody they felt comfortable with. Snobbishness cuts both ways.

Same thing happens today: if you are looking for unskilled work in middle age, a PhD in Classical Greek and a posh accent are not really going to help your chances.

Taytocrisps Thu 03-Nov-16 13:53:48

"She was very limited as to acceptable ways to earn money." I agree. From what I've read of the period, middle class women who didn't marry were very limited in their opportunities. They could teach or become live in companions to wealthy older ladies. Working in a factory or as a maid in a big house would have been simply unthinkable for a woman from Garnie's background. Unfortunately, Garnie also had no skills or training when it came to cooking or cleaning. If she had let the cook go, she wouldn't have been capable of cooking very much. Cooking was a lot more complicated in those days because everything had to be cooked from scratch - you couldn't just bung a ready meal in the microwave or dish up beans on toast.

LyingWitchInTheWardrobe Thu 03-Nov-16 16:11:06

shock... I love this book and HATE this thread.

It needs a 'spoiler' in the title so that posters don't innocently click on it, ffs.

Pontoufle Thu 03-Nov-16 21:08:36

Clearly Garnie was ahead of her time. She was just trying to hang onto her enormous house in Chelsea until her great grandchildren could sell it on 2016 for 20 million.

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