One Pair of Hands
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One Pair of Hands

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  400 ratings  ·  45 reviews
What does a young, well-off English woman do with herself when she's thrown out of acting school and is tired of being a debutante? Well, if you're Monica Dickens, you become a cook. She makes the plunge to a life "below the stairs," confident in her abilities to be a cook because she once took a course in French cuisine. She quickly learns the difference between school le...more
Paperback, 220 pages
Published August 30th 2005 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1939)
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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo IshiguroThe House at Riverton by Kate MortonBrideshead Revisited by Evelyn WaughA Room with a View by E.M. ForsterHowards End by E.M. Forster
Downton Abbey-esque Books
96th out of 421 books — 755 voters
Below Stairs by Margaret PowellOne Pair of Hands by Monica DickensThe Maid's Tale by Rose PlummerLife Below Stairs by Sian EvansKeeping Their Place by Pamela A. Sambrook
Domestic Service (Non Fiction)
2nd out of 42 books — 4 voters


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Paola
Unsettled by her life of meaningless partying as a debutante in the England between the two wars, Monica Dickens enter "service" undercover to get a radical change of perspective in her life.

Yes of course we know she does it by choice and not because she has no other alternatives - she can choose to say that her mother is a war widower, she can go back to the comfort of her home, she can take humiliations safe in the knowledge that she is socially the equal (or better) of most of the families s...more
Emily
I had mixed feelings about this memoir, which was originally published in 1939, about a debutante girl's experiment of trying a life of domestic service after having completed a course in a cooking school. It's hard to say why exactly she does this. Certainly not economic necessity -- she is demurely reticent about her own family's circumstances, but they appear quite well off. She presents it as the simple result of boredom with the same-old society whirl and the whimsical desire to try somethi...more
Karyn
This book is an account of the year and a half Ms Dickens chose to spend working as a servant, specifically as a cook-general, despite the fact that she came from a wealthy family, and was at liberty to choose a more leisured life. She justifies her unusual choice on the grounds that she was bored, and that the alternative life of leisure and parties seemed pointless. And she wanted practical experience cooking, and this wasn't possible in her own wealthy household in which the servants ruled th...more
Claire
I absolutely adore this book. I've read it multiple times, and (like the Provincial Lady series) it never disappoints. Yes, it is a relatively light and fluffy true tale of a mildly aristocratic young lady who wants to see how the other half lives and hires herself out as a maidservant in Britain in the 1930s. It's beautifully written - she's a relative of Charles Dickens - and great fun. She learns a few lessons along the way, but it's never mawkish or sentimental. It's just one of those books...more
Roberta
One Pair of Hands è il primo di tre volumi autobiografici in cui l'autrice racconta la sua esperienza come cuoca (One Pair of Hands), infermiera ausiliaria (One Pair of Feet) e giornalista (My Turn to Make the Tea). Monica Dickens (incidentalmente, pronipote di Charles Dickens, sì proprio lui) apparteneva ad una famiglia benestante dell'alta borghesia ma, dopo la scuola di rito, un'esperienza a Parigi da aspirante attrice e la mancata presentazione a corte, decide che la vita oziosa tipica della...more
Austen to Zafón
May 20, 2010 Austen to Zafón rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anglophiles, social historians
A great-granddaughter of Charles, Monica Dickens was a debutante from a wealthy family in the 1930's. As a young woman, she grew bored of "going out to parties that one doesn't enjoy, with people one doesn't even like." Much to her family's surprise, she decides to "go into service," working as a cook-general for the wealthy "on the other side of the green baize door." This memoir covers her day-to-day life during the year and a half she spent going from job to job. It's quite funny, but it's al...more
Cera
Monica Dickens (grand-daughter of the famous Charles) decided to see how the 'other half' lived by hiding her privileged background and taking on a variety of jobs as a cook-general during the 1930s, when servants were becoming so hard to find in England that a girl with no experience had no trouble finding a position. The book is certainly funny, but there are moments when her knowledge that she can quit at any time and go back to her comfortable life is pretty grating. It's still a fun read, t...more
Africableu
Loved this book. LOVED. IT. I laughed my booty off the whole way through it (though sometimes my hands covered my mouth in horror at the scraps Ms. Dickens got herself into). Such a great book; man, those Dickenses have writing in the blood, don't they? Her characters were every bit as rich as her great-great-grandpapa's.
Linda Hunt
What an interesting premise - one is rich and privileged, but bored, so one chooses to hire oneself out as a cook-general. Without experience. Without training. And gets hired - multiple times! I really almost felt sorry for the people who hired her - especially the nice ones - because she really only worked hard for a few days, it seemed, and then took advantage of their good natures and got sloppy in her work. The book was entertaining and humorous, and it was easy to forget it was written bac...more
Leah
Gentle, amusing and well-written…

This 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...more
Wendy Macaskill
It is interesting that this book has recently been republished having first been published in 1939, perhaps because of the current popularity of Downton Abbey and the fascination with Upstairs Downstairs life. Monica Dickens wrote this book aged only 22, already a lively and interesting writer with a subtle sense of humour. For women who now work outside the home as well as cook and do their own housework today the chapters devoted to Monica's stories of working as a full time cook general in qu...more
Pam
Great fun. Just what I needed on a cold rainy December day. Granted Monica Dickens (great granddaughter to the beloved Charles Dickens) was of priveledged circumstances. Granted that in her shoes, I cannot think I would have decided to work as a cook/servant in someone's house just because I was bored. But I am quite glad that she did. The result was entertaining. Not deep, not mind-altering, not fine literature. But fun. And that counts, too. It reminded me of Diary of a Provincial Lady or even...more
Elizabeth
Found this among my mother's extensive book collection. Sounded interesting and potentially amusing. It is FUNNY! Plus always fun to see how the English language has evolved (since 1939 even), differs from American English, varies w/Class, etc.
I had never heard of Monica Dickens (Great Granddaughter of Charles D.) and more's the pity. Apparently, she was quite prolific and quite a woman.

It's quick and easy reading and if you were a fan of "Upstairs Downstairs," you'll definitely want to read th...more
Slickery
If you like Upstairs/Downstairs, Downtown Abbey, and similar looks at the British class system, I highly recommend this distressingly short, highly entertaining book. Written by Charles Dickens' great-granddaughter, it's a look at below stairs life in the 30s by an upstairs girl. She was bored with her life and went into service with no training. She holds a series of jobs for different families, including a newlywed who allows her mother to run her household and a fashion designer.
Masina
I found this book entertaining. It was sort of like reading episodes of our modern 'big brother' shows on tv. You got to have a look at what life was like back in the day , through the eyes of the kitchen cook. Monica was really a nosey servant - peeking through her employers closets, listening in on conversations , breaking into the liquoir cabinet .. I thought she was very funny.
Heather G
This book was a complete and total joy to read. Monica Dickens is such a fantastic writer, and to think she wrote this up in a short amount of time is incredible. This is autobiographical, she's an educated person from an elite family who fights boredom by being a domestic servant in English homes. The characters are wonderful and it's very humorous.
Mrsgaskell
Bored and restless after returning to London from the gaiety of New York, Monica Dickens decided to get a job. For the next 18 months this great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens took on a succession of domestic positions as a cook-general in a variety of households. It was an amusing account of life below-stairs in the thirties.
Katz
Read this alongside 'Below Stairs by Margaret Powell' and revisit Britains class division. Two girls going to work, the one because she has to, the other because she is bored. One story is bitter and grumpy, the other is lighthearted and fun but both tell the intriguing story of domestic service in the 1920/30s. Read them!
Julia Tracey
I love Monica Dickens, and I was curious to read about her experience as a servant. But I kind of felt this was over-the-top madcap writing. It wasn't all that funny. I like her perspective, but I think I like her fiction better. I still have to read One Pair of Feet and see how that goes comparison.
Helen
Originally published in 1939. Account of Monica Dickens cooking for the upper English classes after being expelled from drama school and tired of the social circuit. Commentary on the upper class social life and customs. Lots of humor. Think 1930's Nanny Diaries only about a cook/cleaner.
Deborah
Unimpressed by the world of debutante balls, Monica Dickens shocked her family by getting a job. With no experience whatsoever, she gained employment as a cook-general.

This is a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining insight into worlds both upstairs and down in the early 1930's.
Cara
Monica is sort of the female anti-Jeeves, but still with a sense of that wonderful Wodehouse wit. This is a fun, fast non-fiction read that lets you peek into various moneyed English households from the the kitchen door and through the sharp eyes of the author.
Elizabeth Reid
Such a fun, interesting read. No romance, no plot really, but enlightening and entertaining reading about life as a cook. Half-way through the book I was reminded of Downton Abbey. I am eager to read Monica Dickens' other books now.
Lori
This book was written by Monica Dickens, great great granddaughter of Charles Dickens. It tells about her exploits as a domestic cook. Funny and entertaining, although definitely British humor.
Anne
This is a light read that talks about the granddaughter of Charles Dickens who masquerades as a cook/maid below stairs when she was born and raised above stairs - entertaining.
Cathy
This is an adorable and entertaining little book written in 1935 detailing the adventures of a lady "in service" to an interesting collection of lofty British employers.


Joanne
I enjoyed this book. "Monty's" employment choices must have helped her deal with anything that came down the pike. I read it in one sitting, then made a batch of scones for tea.
Elizabeth
A fictionalised memoir of an upper-middle class young woman, bored with her life, who takes a series of domestic jobs. I found it very interesting and entertaining.

Stephanie
Sep 22, 2011 Stephanie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Stephanie by: orion nebula
Shelves: from-library, 2011
Generally entertaining account of Monica Dickens - a debutante from a well-off family - who goes out into the world to work as a cook in various homes in England.
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500 Great Books B...: One Pair of Hands - Monica Dickens 1 1 Jul 27, 2014 07:59PM  
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From the publisher: MONICA DICKENS, born in 1915, was brought up in London. Her mother's German origins and her Catholicism gave her the detached eye of an outsider; at St Paul's Girls' School she was under occupied and rebellious. After drama school she was a debutante before working as a cook. One Pair of Hands (1937), her first book, described life in the kitchens of Kensington. It was the firs...more
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