Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Babbacombe's by Susan Scarlett aka Noel Streatfeild #DeanStreetDecember23

Title: Babbacombe’s
Author: Susan Scarlett
Publication: Dean Street Press, paperback, 2022 (originally published in 1941)
Genre: Fiction
Setting: London
Description: 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 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.”
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:
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.
For those who enjoy department store settings, I recommend this post from Clothes in Books and she also reviewed Babbacombe’s, as did Captive Reader.  

Source: Purchased as a Christmas present (it might be for you!)


LyzzyBee said...

This is going to be a popular one - I've got it TBR (so I'll save your review to read properly when I've read it) and at least two other people have it on their piles!

Lory said...

I've no desire to read The Whicharts either! I really enjoyed the first Susan Scarlett I read (Clothes-Pegs) and this sounds like fun too. Dulcie is a name that Streatfeild seems to have taken against, isn't it?

TracyK said...

I do like department store settings, and I have a copy of this as an ebook. I am glad you reminded me about this book, and hope I can read it soon.

Fanda Classiclit said...

Lovely review, Constance! I have just finished my first Susan Scarlett: Murder While You Work, and loved it! I do love reading about career women in early 20th century. Babbacombe has been in my TBR, but I think I'll save it for next year. The department store setting would be lovely to read!

CLM said...

It was definitely a fun choice, although I might have picked something else if I'd guessed it would be so popular this month!

Yes, Lory, Streatfeild was not always very original with names. Dulcie is spoiled and vain name. George is a kind fatherly name. I'm sure I could think of others! But sometimes she got them just right as in Thursday's Child, one of my favorites.

Tracy, you will enjoy this when you get to it. Fanda, I nearly chose Murder While You Work but now I will wait on it a bit. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

Katrina said...

It sounds good to me and I enjoy a department store setting. In fact I enjoy department stores but they have all closed down here - even Jenners in Edinburgh, reading about one is the closest I can get. I haven't read any by Susan Scarlett yet.

CLM said...

Even the ones here are shadows of their former selves - more and more sections are devoted to workout clothes, although I did find a pretty black chiffon dress for a fancy dinner last month at Macy's, a big chain. I had to wander around the store looking for a register that was open, then wait in line for 20 minutes to pay for it.

What I find annoying is not being able to find a raincoat with a lining that is long enough to wear over a dress or suit. I guess everyone wears pants in the winter to stay warm here!

LyzzyBee said...

I absolutely loved this one and I'm thrilled so many of us read it this DeanStreetDecember as it makes it feel like a special readalong!