A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford

on July 20, 2022

The theme: Vintage

Why this one: I love this sort of old-fashioned book, which was first published in 1933. It’s not genre romance but does have a happy ending. Fun fact: the authors, under the name Joan Blair, were very prolific early Mills & Boon authors!

I’ve written before about being annoyed by epistolary novels that borrow from Jean Webster, but this is one case where I didn’t much mind, perhaps because they were published less than 20 years apart and I got a mental picture of the authors as girls, loving the book when it first came out. (I guess it feels more acceptable when it seems like the borrows were part of the zeitgeist? Though considering the title of this blog was literally inspired by Dear Enemy, I’m likely just being an ass.)

And perhaps another reason is… I can’t read Dear Enemy anymore, so having a decent substitute doesn’t hurt. And I do mean decent.

Like Sallie McBride, our letter writer Hilary is a young, educated, upper-class woman, who’s decided to spend some time working before marrying her successful, upper-class fiancee. Both find the experience very drab and depressing at first, and bring a sense of humor to get through the difficult times.

But the reality seems… more real with Hilary. As she writes to her fiancee, “The worst of earning one’s living, Basil, is that it leaves so little time over to live in.“ And she backs this up with vivid detail of just how grim and on the edge her life as a worker is. Ugly, uncomfortable lodgings, being constantly nickled-and-dimed for the basic necessities of life like heat and hot water, having to calculate what meals could be skpped… and how much time it all takes, with so little left over for pleasure, intellectual stimulation or even simple relaxation. The book is hardly a rallying cry for socialism, but the picture it paints of how soul-crushing even a “respectable” job can be, especially when it doesn’t pay enough to provide more than a meagre living, speaks for itself. And when Hilary is in a position to help her fellow workers, she does so without judgment.

It’s hardly all grim though. Hilary has a strong spirit, and she learns to find bright spots and compensations. And, again like Sallie, she finds that working can be interesting… perhaps even more interesting than a fiancee. Ultimately, it’s a smile-making, comfort sort of read, and I’m glad it’s still around.

5 responses to “TBR Challenge: Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford

  1. azteclady says:

    I am very intrigued; sadly, the sample at the z*n is basically all introduction, no actual text, and the price is not in the budget. I’ll have to look for it elsewhere.

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