Business As Usual

From the publisher:

Business As Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford was first published in 1933. It’s a delightful illustrated novel in letters from Hilary Fane, an Edinburgh girl fresh out of university who is determined to support herself by her own earnings in London for a year, despite the mutterings of her surgeon fiancee. After a nervous beginning looking for a job while her savings rapidly diminish, she finds work as a typist in the London department store of Everyman’s (a very thin disguise for Selfridges), and rises rapidly through the ranks to work in the library, where she has to enforce modernising systems on her entrenched and frosty colleagues. Business as Usual is charming: light, intelligent, heart-warming, funny, and entertaining. It’s deeply interesting as a record of the history of shopping in the 1930s, and also fascinating for its unflinching descriptions of social conditions, poverty and illegitimacy. ‘Jane Oliver’ was the pen-name of Helen Evans (1903-1970). Formerly Clemence Dane’s secretary, she developed a writing career, and wrote many successful novels with Ann Stafford (the pen-name of Ann Pedlar, also known as Joan Blair). Business as Usual was their first joint novel. Jane became a pilot and married the author John Llewellyn Rhys, who was killed in the war. She founded the Llewellyn Rhys Prize in his memory. She later lived in Hampshire near Ann Pedlar, and cared for her in illness until her death.

Gayle recommends:

A book so delightful I burst into tears on finishing it. Originally published in 1933 and recently rediscovered and reissued by the brilliant Handheld Press, Business as Usual tells the story of Hilary Fane, a young woman from Edinburgh who, in her year of independence before her planned marriage to a busy surgeon, moves to London and gets a job on the Book Floor of an Oxford Street department store. It’s all told through her letters home and interdepartmental memos, and it will make you wish you still wrote letters, and lament the fact that, even if you did, they’d never be as witty and charming as Hilary’s. If this is all sounding a little whimsical and twee, I promise you it isn’t; in between the jolly anecdotes about life on the shopfloor, it touches on the darker aspects of life as a single woman in London – damp, cold digs, making rent, unwanted pregnancies…

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