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 learning and real life. Scalded milk, dropped roasts, and fallen souffles plague her in her domestic career, but she perseveres. What makes this book so delightful is the sense of humor and drama Monica Dickens brings to her work. From dressing up for job interviews in a "supporting-a-widowed-mum look" to eavesdropping on dinner guests, she tackles her work with an enthusiasm for discovery. To her descriptions of battles with crazy scullery maids, abusive employers, and unwieldy custards, she brings a humorous and pointed commentary about the delicate and ongoing war between the wealthy and their servants. Written in 1939, this true-life experience reveals a writer who wasted no opportunity to explore daily lives and dramas. Her keen eye for detail, youthful resilience, and sense of the absurd make One Pair of Hands a deliciously inside look at the households of the British upper-class.
Great granddaughter to Charles Dickens, Monica Dickens (1915-1992) was born into an upper middle class family. Disillusioned with the world in which she was brought up, she acted out—she was expelled from St Paul's Girls' School in London for throwing her school uniform over Hammersmith Bridge. Dickens then decided to go into service, despite coming from the privileged class; her experiences as a cook and general servant would form the nucleus of her first book, One Pair Of Hands, published in 1939. Dickens married an American Navy officer, Roy O. Stratton, and spent much of her adult life in Massachusetts and Washington D.C., but she continued to set the majority of her writing in Britain. No More Meadows, which she published in 1953, reflected her work with the NSPCC—she later helped to found the American Samaritans in Massachusetts. Between 1970 and 1971 she wrote a series of children's books known as The Worlds End Series which dealt with rescuing animals and, to some extent, children. After the death of her husband in 1985, Dickens returned to England where she continued to write until her death aged 77.
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