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One Pair of Hands

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  754 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Sonja Larsen
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
Paperback, 220 pages
Published 1963 by Penguin Books (first published 1939)
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Fiona MacDonald
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books
I'm just head over heels in love with Monica Dickens and her hilarious memoirs. Her writing is wonderful and so full of life I can't stop laughing as I am introduced to a variety of strange and eccentric characters that she has to work with. This memoir follows her life as a cook in various houses. It's fascinating to hear about her duties and her accounts are so rich and funny i sometimes forget I'm reading a true story. Wonderful, wonderful woman, her great grandfather would be so proud 😉

Monica Dickens, figlia di una facoltosa famiglia, pronipote del grande scrittore, per assaporare il gusto della vita vera, abbandona i privilegi e inizia a lavorare come domestica. Dall’avventura nasce un libro.
Quanto possono essere tristi certi parti, mi dico.
Assunta e licenziata – nel primo capitolo – dalla La signorina Cattermole.
Assunta e licenziata – nel secondo capitolo - dalla signora Robertson, e poi assunta dalla signorina Faulkene.
Nel terzo capitolo, licenziata dalla signo
Monica is a 1930s socialite who got kicked out of drama school for refusing to wear the school hat. With nothing to do but go out every night, she's bored and wants something to do. She gets the great idea to become a cook, having taken a class on French cuisine. When she lands her first job as a cook-general, she discovers that taking one class is not the same as being a chef. She chronicles her disastrous escapades over the 18 months she spent as a cook/maid in London and the countryside. She ...more
La Fenice Book
Sep 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Ho letto la trama e mi pareva qualcosa di molto carino poi ho letto la biografia dell'autrice Monica Dickens e non immaginate minimamente chi sia ...lei mi ha colpito tanto, quindi ho deciso di leggere questo romanzo. Vi ricorda qualcuno il suo cognome? Si forse avrete capito a chi appartiene... il grande Dickens!

Monica Dickens era nata a Londra nel 1915 nella celebre e facoltosa famiglia Dickens, pronipote del grande scrittore, delusa dal mondo in cui era cresciuta, decise di lasc
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
Austen to Zafón
Apr 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is a long time ago but I still remember this as being very funny as were the rest in the series.
Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore
Dickens’ account of the period of over one year she spent in domestic service when one fine day she found herself fed up with society life. She may have been kicked out of drama school but she does use what little acting talent she has to create a persona (or rather personas depending on where she went) more suitable to a domestic, complete with widowed mother who must have her at home every evening. She goes through an assortment of jobs―short term ones, “permanent” ones, and some just for the ...more
May 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 15, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Come Musica
Dec 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Davvero brava, lei!
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir

Monica is bored. Her life as a debutante is an endless round of exhausting gaiety and 'pointless' parties. She had tried the stage, and dressmaking, and neither seemed to be her cup of tea. What next?

“I felt restless, dissatisfied, and abominably bad-tempered... I turned to cooking. That was the thing which interested me most and about which I thought I knew quite a lot. I had had a few lessons from my ‘Madame’ in Paris, but my real interest was aroused by lessons I had at a wonderful scho
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 27, 2010 rated it liked it
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
May 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 16, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dena Shunra
Jun 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The second-hand book store in the town where I grew up had an uncommon wealth of good books. There were some good universities there, and itinerant academics would shed paperbacks in spring like cats shed fur. This was how I ran into Monica Dickens' books, hands first.

Hands: she had only one pair of hands, you couldn't rush her beyond what a human being could do. The work she'd taken on, cook-general maid for households of similar class to her own (or lower), was both less and more than her edu
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
A bored debutante decides to get a glimpse of how the other half lives, and on the strength of a couple of cooking classes plunges into life as a "cook-general" in 1930s London. Of course she takes nothing seriously, and sells her nonexistent skills shamelessly everywhere from a small London flat to a stately home. She seems to feel she's "putting one over" on each person who hires her. One feels there must be quite a bit of poetic licence somewhere, either re: her actual abilities or re: the em ...more
L'autrice racconta del periodo in cui, annoiata dalla sua vita da privilegiata, decide di mettere a frutto un corso di cucina e diventare cuoca e cameriera, talvolta a giornata, talvolta per periodi più lunghi. Racconta dei disastri che combina, della differenza della vita su e giù per le scale. Sicuramente un punto di vista interessante ma poco obiettivo, visto che quando Monica si stancava, poteva decidere di licenziarsi e tornare a casa servita e riverita, mentre chi aveva (ha) bisogno di lav ...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
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
Mar 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
This was rather cute, rather funny, but somewhat sad/pathetic at parts as she steals her employer's cars, practically poisons their food, ruins their dinner parties, coolly observes marriages of convenience, etc. In general good natured, however. No plot at all, just a series of pithy little stories. A nice read for settling down into 1930s Britain.
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.
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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500 Great Books B...: One Pair of Hands - Monica Dickens 1 3 Jul 27, 2014 07:59PM  
  • The Provincial Lady in America
  • Period Piece
  • One Fine Day
  • Keeping Their Place: Domestic Service in the Country House
  • The Forbidden Zone: A Nurse's Impressions of the First World War
  • Climbing the Stairs
  • Anybody Can Do Anything (Betty MacDonald Memoirs, #3)
  • Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45
  • Mrs. Tim Christie
  • Down the Garden Path
  • The Sun in the Morning: My Early Years in India and England
  • The Solitary Summer
  • Christmas at High Rising
  • The Maid's Tale
  • Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
  • Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942
  • A London Child of the 1870s
  • The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh
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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