Author: Susan Scarlett
Publication: Dean Street Press, paperback, 2022 (originally published in 1941)
Setting: LondonDescription: On her last day of school, Beth Carson hears her headmistress saying the school will be the poorer without her, and she knows she will miss it but steadies her shoulders to enter the adult world. A job awaits her at Babbacombe’s, the highly-regarded department store where her father has worked for years. It is too bad her exasperating cousin Dulcie has come to live with the Carsons and is going to work at the store as well (spoiling the father and daughter’s enjoyable commute together) but this annoyance is offset by a pleasant discovery: the nice young man she encountered by chance is David Babbacombe, son of the owner. Beth finds him handsome and unaffected but she is sure both their fathers would disapprove of even a friendship and she makes this clear. But the chance meeting with Beth has given David the motivation he needed to please his father by working at the store but also pursuing his own dreams – and now these include Beth!
My Impression: I had decided I never wanted to risk tainting my love of Ballet Shoes by reading the adult version Streatfeild wrote first, The Witcharts, but when I learned several years ago that Streatfeild (as Susan Scarlett) had written 12 novels for adults that fall into the light romantic fiction genre, I was thrilled. I am so grateful that Dean Street Press and Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow republished these books last year, and pleased that Liz of Adventures in Reading, Running and Working from Home is again celebrating Dean Street December. I am pacing myself with these books – I read Clothes-Pegs last year, which has a similar setting – a busy family, affectionate parents trying to stretch every penny, and a lovely eldest daughter starting her first job and eager to help with household expenses. The department store setting is more relatable than an upscale clothing boutique, however, and while there are no mean girls sabotaging Beth in the Gowns Department, there is a shoplifter who takes advantage of her inexperience to take a £40 frock. Luckily, Beth has made a good impression on her boss and the store detective, so she is not sacked and, in fact, her observation skills help her bring the thief to justice later.
Those who have read Dancing Shoes/Wintle’s Wonders will not be surprised to hear that this Cousin Dulcie is also a spoiled brat, who looks down on the Carsons and has her eye on Beth’s friend David. Due to respect for Mr. Carson, Dulcie is also offered a job at Babbacombe’s: her choice of a position in handbags, with room for advancement, or a job as a decorative elevator attendant:
[Mr. Smith] looked up at George. “I can do one of two things with her. There’s a vacancy on the lifts. She’s got the appearance for that. She’ll start at 25 shillings, and the top wage is 30 shillings. As you know, there’s no future in the work. Alternatively, we need a junior in Handbags. What do you think?”Dulcie’s choice of a decorative job with no future where she hopes to meet a rich man is clearly frowned on but it makes sense for what she wants. Also, she inherited some money from her father - a lavish £1/week (it is to laugh) - so has a cushion Beth does not. It sounds as if Dulcie’s suit is a knockoff of a famous brand: H. Huntsman & Sons was originally a Savile Row tailor that became an influential fashion house in the 20th century, dressing Gregory Peck, Vivien Leigh, and Coco Chanel, among others. Per Wikipedia:
Dulcie did not wait for George to answer. She broke in with shining eyes.
“Oh, I’d love to be a lift girl. Do I wear special clothes?”
Mr. Smith nodded.
“Green suits in huntsman’s style. But you heard what I told your uncle; there’s no future, and it’s only a job while you’re young.”
A Huntsman suit is characterised predominantly by its structured shoulders and high armholes. The line through the waist is cut long with a subtle hourglass shape and some flair in the skirt which reflects Huntsman's sporting heritage. Jackets are generally cut with Huntsman's signature one button fastening . . .Despite its predictability, the story is delightful, the family interaction vintage Streatfeild, and the department store setting is convincing. For instance, Beth is exhausted after her first few days of work, finds her new high heels uncomfortable, and is scolded when errands take her longer than expected, regardless of the reason. My first full-time job after college was in a department store training program. I realized fairly soon that I hated it, although the people I trained with were nice and I was a bridesmaid for one of them. My office was at the end of the men’s fitting room and I had to lock the door from the inside or men would come in lasciviously pretending they wanted to try things on (the door said, Office – Do Not Enter). Just a sexual harassment case waiting to happen! I quit before it did.
Clothes in Books and she also reviewed Babbacombe’s, as did Captive Reader.
Source: Purchased as a Christmas present (it might be for you!)