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Miss Pettigrew > Miss Pettigrew - names

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message 1: by Gina (new)

Gina | 320 comments Mod
We can start a new post for each question, so I'll post Jean's question here. If you have any new discussion questions, you can title it "Miss Pettigrew" and a brief description of the question.

Hi. I want to get the discussion ball rolling! Now I don't know what to talk about, so I am going to throw some topics out there...and I don't want to give anything away...what do you think about the names? I love that Miss Pettigrew is born already with the perfect name for Miss Lafosse's crowd; Guinevere Pettigrew. Yet she is dressed in muddy browns and is a governess, a job she can't even do well and hates. Sarah Grubb would be a name more suited for that person and Delysia LaFosse knows it, that's why she chose a better name. And she chooses better clothes and better men. Edyth Dubarry does this as well. So do you think Miss Pettigrew believes she was actually meant for a "Guinevere" type of life, or does she realize you can choose your type of life (with a little luck) regardless of Grubb (a problem Delysia solved), or good looks (a problem Miss Dubarry solves)? Or what do you think, because I don't think that Miss Pettigrew really thinks about it all truthfully.

message 2: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 114 comments I love this discussion. I dont believe Miss Pettigrew has had much self-realization before. I think that is what makes this such a fun fairy tale-like novel. By the way, this sounds like it could be a trivial plot, but somehow this fabulous Ms. Watson kept it from being that. And in the process two women begin to find strength and possibilities.

Maybe the exchange about the names between Lafosse and Pettigrew means more than that too. We see and feel Pettigrew's drab, grueling life dealing with those fusspots and their children. But, really, Lafosse's life is a different version of the same thing. Trying to break away from "power men," trading herself for her future, and still not making it to a place where she was comfortable and enjoying her own life as an actress.

Didn't Watson do a great job on the names though? I dont think Guinevere realized the potential of her name, even after watching all that cinema :') haha

message 3: by Odette (new)

Odette | 8 comments Maybe Miss Pettigrew was always meant for a more interesting life, but she got lost in a cul-de-sac made up of poverty, jobs she was ill-suited for and the weight of her upbringing. Her name was a touchstone, so that when opportunity finally presented itself, some part of her was still prepared to take it.
- Which actually makes it a much more modern fairy tale, because in traditional fairy tales, the heroines's lives are usually transformed without them doing anything. Guinevere definitely made the most of her situation.

message 4: by Gina (new)

Gina | 320 comments Mod
I love all of the comments so far on this post! So interesting...I hadn't thought of any of things all of you mentioned. Even the simple fact of Miss Pettigrew's name and Miss Lafosse's name--they are really very similar characters in similar siuations. They really help each other to see things they hadn't seen before--Miss Lafosse helped Miss Pettigrew to enjoy life more, and to see herself as a worthwhile person, and Miss Pettigrew helped Miss Lafosse be more assertive and to think about her actions a little bit more.
I think Miss Pettigrew's life was meant for her day with Miss Lafosse--like Odette mentioned, her name (unconsciously) allowed her to be prepared for that moment, so she could be fully realized and really live! I don't think she had understood before that day that life could be different--I don't think she had considered this before then.

message 5: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 114 comments Hey Phyllis,

I wonder if this was an item of harsh discrimination or more just a term of class distinction. I don't remember exactly seeing the term in the book?

The reason I say that is I know during my own childhood in America a few decades ago I wouldnt have been surprised to hear an offhand comment like that, but I don't believe it would have reflected a condemnation of the Jewish people.

It does bring up something to think about though. I like how these early-century novels will give us a specific look into their world when so much turmoil was going on, especially politically.

message 6: by Emilie (new)

Emilie When you read " a little Jew in him" what does this conjure to you? I wondered too when I read it, what specifically its supposed to signify, but it seemed pretty clear to me that this was no compliment.

and I am confused how being Jewish represents a class distinction? I was under the impression that Judaism was a religion? Could you please explain what class all the Jewish people of 1930s England were?

and I find it shocking that you really believe America was free of anti-semitism in the 1950s. and how exactly is an "offhand comment like that" not anti-semitic? at the very least, this assumes there is something fundamentally attributable to Jewish people. Would this be found in the blood?


To me, it feels sad, disappointing and makes me angry that so many intelligent and interesting writers were not able to see past this religious or cultural difference (and many other types of differences.)

and though I understand the impulse to think that its only "part of the times" and no stain upon the character of the artist, I cannot agree with this. and this does not make it right.
What of all the people such as Bataille, smart and talented writer, who saw through this kind of stereotyping and risked his life to hide and rescue the work of Walter Benjamin.

If everyone believed and accepted the stereotypes and hatreds of their times, nothing would ever change and no one would be held accountable for their actions. (Does this mean that owning slaves in pre-bellum South or perceiving African-Americans as subhuman was okay because it was "acceptable in the times"? )

I understand too the desire to minimise the ill deeds of those one admires-and I think it brings up a lot of interesting questions about the responsibility of the reader. I think when we read things like this, we ask ourselves things like: To what degree are we participating in this kind of thinking when we read and take pleasure in this book....?

I agree that these books provide windows into the times- but I think that this particular phrase is a window into a kind of socially acceptable and unexamined anti-semitism. and we,as readers, do not need to go along with it-by attempting to neutralise it. I think we can allow ourselves to take pleasure in this book, And to acknowledge that this stereotyping of Jewish people is a flaw in the writing and the writer.

message 7: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 114 comments I looked back at the quote in the book and Miss Pettigrew used the term nationality rather than religion. So, it looks as if it were a social distinction -- foreign not English- might have been influenced by the imperialist views of England, which might have still been pretty strong at that time. And even "imperialist" might not have meant "anti-Semitic."

Unfortunately, distinction of people as “foreign” is also a distinction of their “blood” sometimes, isn’t it? Other distinctions of a social group or “class” would be by both religion and blood, like “Irish Catholic.”

If you look at "sharing of a common attribute" as a common definition of class, maybe my comment about "class distinction" can be taken as I truly meant it - (the comment I made before I reread the quote in the book). A "Jewish person" was probably used as a classification during that time period (foreign or native-born).

Another example -- women intellectuals of the 1930's were also a "class" all to themselves. Maybe not distinctively described as such by a government census, but as far as social perception -- yes, I believe they would have been.

I am not looking for a writer who was unflawed or making any attempt to neutralize any of their words. I also think we each would do well not to make any assumptions about the members of this group. We don’t know each other. Emilie, some of us might share that very same religious background under discussion in this thread.

I wouldn't assume that a writer might not have been willing to risk her life for anyone in jeopardy, regardless of words written in a fictional story at any time.

I will suggest that our group threads may work best when approached as a conversation. I believe our passion for books and ideas will keep these conversations flowing.

message 8: by Rachel (new)

Rachel (rrgoettl) Also we might want to keep in mind that the statement was made in the character of Miss Pettigrew. While this may also be the opinion of the author herself, we really don't know.

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