- TITLE: GIRL ABOUT TOWN
- AUTHOR: KATHERINE PENT
- YEAR PUBLISHED: 1937
- PUBLISHER: HILLMAN CURL, INC. (A STREAMLINED ROMANCE)
Two women are having a conversation; but it is no ordinary conversation, for they are worried! Or, rather, the one named Anne Hartley is worried. Felicity Winton is more concerned with the state of her manicure.
Several useless dialogue tags later, Anne is still melodramatically wringing her hands over the lateness of her boyfriend, Robin Gunter. How very English. I’m pretty sure she is the Girl About Town of the title, and that the town in question is London.
At this point, I’m starting to think that poor Robin and his scarlet-and-black racing car are mangled somewhere in a ditch. How will Anne and Felicity make it to the party for which they are preparing, if Robin and his fancy wheels don’t escort them? The answer is, surprisingly, a bus.
Someone, it seems, is dating above her station. Cripes!
Nope, scratch that. A paragraph down we are informed that, although Robin is of the moneyed class and Anne is but a lingerie model (the horror!), they are social equals. How is this possible, you ask? It involves a boring story about dead parents, a wealthy aunt, and our plucky heroine’s very modern determination to make it on her own in the city rather than being stuck living in the country on the sufferance of her relations.
I’m pretty confident that this “social equals” bullshit is going to come in handy later.
Oh, and Robin is not dead! His sexy automobile is also, presumably, fine.
“Why, Felicity!” She turned round sharply as Felicity came into the room and closed the door behind her. “What is it?”
“Darling. It’s not Robin.”
“It’s his mother. She wants to see you. I’ve shown her into the sitting-room.”
Uh-oh. Here’s our plot!
Mama Bear Gunter, it seems, does not want her handsome and dashing cub to marry a poor, tacky-ass model.
“There was going to be trouble and no mistake!”
Mrs. Gunter has sent her son to Cannes, far from the fleshy temptations of “A girl of your class! A girl whose figure is displayed in every newspaper. It’s common! Cheap! Vulgar!” What’s more: Robin has no idea that his dear mother is visiting Anne.
Things just got really real, y’all. (I’ve never written or spoken the word “y’all” before, but it undeniably fits here.)
Then, much to my surprise, our girl Anne stands up for herself!
“How dare you speak to me like that? she cried hotly. “What right have you to come uninvited into my flat and behave like this?”
She continues yelling at her newly-minted nemesis for an entire page. Mama Bear knows that Anne speaks the truth, but, instead of having an adult conversation with her, leaves in a haughty, upper-crust huff.
Anne knows that Robin is out of her life forever!
It’s an entire year later. Never fear, though, because Anne is realistic and level-headed. Pink geraniums are blooming in the window-boxes! Everything is fantastic! She’s totally moved on with her life. Haha!
“I told you you’d get over it in time,” said Felicity.
“And you were right,” agreed Anne, but in her heart she knew that Felicity was not right. She had not yet got over her love for Robin.
What are the odds that Robin is really an insufferable ass? There is just no way that this guy is all that Anne makes him out to be. And even if he is, has she already forgotten about his mother? Run, girl, run.
Hey, what’s this? Oh, just a timely letter from Anne’s wealthy Aunt Alicia inviting the former to a house-party in the country. Anne’s cousin Muriel is coming of age. This is highly important and must be celebrated with other rich people.
“You’ll go, won’t you, darling?”
“Go! Me? Up there to a stuffy house-party! Don’t be ridiculous.”
It takes Felicity an entire page to convince Anne to go to the posh festivities. She finally decides to make the trip, even though the train fare equals a week’s pay and she totally doesn’t have any appropriate clothes. If you want her to go that badly, Felicity, why don’t you pony up the damn money? Why do you care so much? Oh, that’s right. She thinks that Anne will meet a rich husband whilst there, even though Anne has told her that she wants no such thing (except for Robin, of course). I’m beginning to think that Felicity is not a particularly good friend. She annoys me.
Anne and Felicity spend another page discussing wardrobe needs. Ultimately they decide that Anne can borrow everything from friends, which she does. “Luckily there were four of them who were nearly the same build as Anne.” How convenient. Here we are treated to descriptions of clothes, which I rather like. Black lace! Taffeta! Tweeds and woollies and brogues, oh my!
This is what Anne packs for three nights at a large house-party in the country:
- Three woolly dresses
- Two tweed suits
- Three pairs of brogues
- A thick tweed coat
- Five “of the most countrified felt hats”
- Black lace gown
- Felicity’s “best taffeta” gown
- Presumably some great lingerie and undergarments
Give me all of these items, please.
Now it’s off to the country with Anne, her suitcase, and a big fat lie about what she does for a living!
“And don’t forget you’re a nice, quiet, demure little-pupil teacher from a most respectable kindergarten for the sons and daughters of professional men.”
This is going to end so well!
On the train to Cumberland, Anne meets a Nice Young Man. They hit it off. They share tea!
Guess where Nice Young Man (his name is Peter Foster) is headed for the weekend?
A cookie of your choice if you said Aunt Alicia’s estate, Langton House!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that in English novels at least one main character heading via train to a house-party in the country will meet and chat up a complete stranger who by total happenstance is heading to the same house-party.
Anne and Peter share a ride from the station to Aunt Alicia’s house. Not much else occurs, until we meet Muriel.
“Anne’s heart warmed to Muriel. She had changed a lot during the last three years. Her hair now boasted a permanent wave, and Anne was almost sure she was using rouge.”
Muriel, it turns out, has a personal maid…and a secret fiancé. She plans on announcing her engagement at her birthday party. He’s “positively rolling in money.”
Anne is happy for her, but unimpressed.
“No, Muriel,” she reflected, as she pulled on her new silk stockings and slipped into black-and-gold brocade shoes, “you can keep your large house and your servants; and a maid to wait on you, and your rich young man. I wouldn’t change places with you if I could! I’d much rather be as I am.”
Oh, Anne. Don’t you know that characters in novels should never utter such things out loud? It’s a basic tenet of not being a dumb-ass.
It’s time to meet some of the other guests, which gives Anne plenty of opportunity to tell lies about her fake profession. Everything is going swimmingly! She teaches drawing and painting and dancing. How utterly quaint.
What’s that you say, butler?
“Mrs. Gunter and Mr. Robin Gunter.”
I think we’ve just met Muriel’s beloved.
“Mary Gunter always prided herself on being equal to all emergencies. Life had taught her that they appeared round the most unexpected corners. Her own life in particular had been full of them. It had started over a newsagent’s shop off Edgware Road, and her pious hope had been that it would end in Mayfair or a large estate.”
So Mama Bear is a giant hypocrite. Fancy that.
This chapter is fairly short, and most of it is given over to necessary but dull background info about Robin’s mother’s rise from poor obscurity to obscene wealth and social standing. Only the last two pages count for anything, but they are highly entertaining.
“Mrs. Gunter flushed. That in some peculiar way this girl might be invited here for a week-end was feasible, but that she should turn out to be one of the family was staggering.”
It’s nice to see Mama Bear squirm, even if it lasts but a moment or two. Anne takes the high road, and during the introductions acts like she has never met Robin or his mother. Awkward. Awkward. Awkward.
Naturally, Mama Bear, worried about her own self-preservation, corners Anne:
“A school-teacher, are you? Somehow I seem to remember hearing from Robin that your profession was something very different. But anyway that is merely a little secret between ourselves, isn’t it? For my part, tonight is the first time I’ve seen you. If you feel like that too-“
Isn’t she a peach?
Up Next: Chapters Four-Five of Girl About Town