One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens

Gentle, amusing and well-written…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

one pair of handsThis is an interesting and entertaining memoir of the period when Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of Charles of that ilk) decided to work for a time as a cook-housekeeper.

As a daughter of a well-off family in the ‘30s, she had no need to work for money but, bored with a life revolving around social events and parties, Monica had taken some cookery courses and then discovered that her family’s own cook did not take kindly to her interfering in the kitchen. So she signed up with an employment agency and found herself, despite her inexperience and self-confessed inefficiency, in a series of jobs ranging from cooking and cleaning in the flat of a bachelor to being the cook in a large country house.

Monica Dickens
Monica Dickens

The book provides a below-stairs look at the life of the servant at that time. Working sometimes from 7 a.m. till 11 at night, with employers ranging from the kind and helpful to the downright rude and obnoxious, it certainly wasn’t a life of ease. However, Monica found compensations in the joy of having her own kitchen and in the fun of getting to know the other servants as well as the constant stream of tradesmen who in those days delivered supplies on an almost daily basis to the houses of the wealthy. Having a healthy curiosity, she also took interest in the on-goings of the ‘above-stairs’ families and provides us with humorous and, in the main, affectionate portraits of all these varied characters.

I first read this gentle, amusing and well-written book many years ago and am glad to see it re-published. Although it was written over 70 years ago, it’s still an enjoyable read – Miss Dickens’ wickedly observant eye and lack of deference has allowed it to age gracefully. Recommended.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

7 thoughts on “One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens

  1. I like her lack of self-indulgence also – she just gets on with it (suffering a little from the self-indulgence of an autobiography I’ve been reading – not self indulgence in the writing, but in the LIFE!)

  2. Oh, this does sounds like a great memoir. And I like it that she wanted to do more than just live ‘the easy life.’ Not but what I’d like a little luxury once in a while, but still…

    • Yes, and she was self-aware enough to realise that, however tough it got, she had the ultimate luxury of being able to go back to her old life, unlike the people she worked with. One of the bits that always amuses me is that her maid wakes her early with a cup of tea before Monica goes off to work as a servant herself!

  3. As a teenager, I remember dipping into the large print version belonging to my grandmother. Following your review, I intend to read it properly.

    • I hope you enjoy it – I think you will. Although it was written so long ago, Monica comes over as being a very modern woman in many ways. I’ll look forward to hearing what you think.

  4. Like you I first read this many years ago now. I don’t think I shall go back to it – I’m having a glut of re-reading at the moment – but I’m glad to have had my memories revived. Thank you.

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