Saturday 19 November 2011

Madeleine Grown Up by Mrs Robert Henrey

I have finished re-reading Madeleine Grown Up. the sequel to The Little Madeleine in which the authoress, Madeleine aka Mrs Robert Henrey, writes of her life as a child in Montmartre and elsewhere in France. Madeleine Grown Up covers the period from 1928 to 1929 when she worked as a manicurist in the Savoy Hotel. Her observations of life in Stacey Street, where she shared a room with her mother, who continued to work as a dressmaker, are fascinating and so are those of the Savoy, her clients and members of staff.

For example, she writes movingly about Davy the page, who would stand with his back to the door while Madeleine and the other manicurists sewed or darned their stockings while singing No,No, Nanette, Lady Be Good or Yes We have No Bananas.

“Davy never stopped. When the bar was open customers would send him off for cocktails; others wanted cigarettes or theatre tickets. The cashier sent him to the A.B.C with a tumbler for her afternoon tea. Hew used to race back across the busy Strand holding the steaming glass in a serviette, dodging in and out of the traffic, diving under the nose of our tall commissionaire, then balancing his precious cargo on the tips of his fingers, push through the swing doors. We all liked him. Fifth or sixth of a very large family, he had a passion for a baby sister to whom for Christmas he had given her a perambulator, costing twenty-two shillings for her doll. He would have liked to buy a bed for the doll and he was saving his sixpences and shillings, but the Strand was full of temptations when he and Georgie” another page “ would glue their faces against the windows of bicycle shops, the shops that sold photographic apparatus and the postage stamps and all the other things dear to boys so that the money Davey had set aside for his little sister’s doll’s bed was broken into sometimes, and a conflict raged between brother and growing man.

“Both boys were tiny. Their delicate limbs and faces whitened by the slums were their chief asset in life, their charm, their stock-in-trade They looked like plants brought up in hot-houses….”

Mrs Robert Henrey’s books are alive with memorable people who populated her world.

She also makes her most mundane experiences interesting.

“As there was no cloak-room attached to the shop, my colleagues and I had the right to use the very luxurious one reserved for the famous grill-room. The woman who guarded this fortress did not arrive till eleven, so that all the morning, or at least for the best part of it, this palace of marble or white porcelain and tall mirrors with its Niagara of hot water was almost my own….The tall mirrors caught me, handing me from one to the other. My little black dress was poor, but my magnificent shock of blonde hair shone like a ball of fire under the myriad electric lights. ….Now for the wash basins with the gallons and gallons of hot water….was it not reasonable to wash my stockings? Soon, being of a practical nature, I washed my lingerie.”

Madeleine’s blonde hair, energy, enthusiasm and French accent attracted many admirers at the Savoy. Amongst them was a Hollywood film magnate who sent photos of her to the studio and arranged for her to go to America. However, she met Robert, her future husband at the Savoy. On the following evening he took her out to dinner and kissed her in the taxi. Madeleine chose love instead of Hollywood and, after a long illness when she fought against death in the Pyrenees, she returned to England hoping her mother was wrong when she said that Robert would have forgotten her.

While travelling by car in France, Madeleine and her companions passed through “…small white villages scorched by the sun. …one did not see anybody except an occasional little old woman all in black sitting on a cane chair, her feet in black stockings and black shoes on a footstool, a cat asleep behind geraniums on the window-sill, and hens pecking around her. How happy she must be! I seldom saw such a wizened old woman without thinking this, and hoping one day to be contented and happy… Yes, she (the old woman) must be happy! May I end my days with the orange cat, the geraniums and the pecking hens!”

Cured, Madeleine returned to England where Robert met her at the railway station. Before long they married in St Georges, Hanover Square.

Mrs Robert Henrey’s biographies and autobiographies fascinate me. I plan to read as many as possible and share some of them on my blog.

Rosemary Morris
Historical Novelist

New releases from MuseItUp Publishing
Tangled Love set in England in Queen Anne's reign 1702-1714 27.01.2012
Sunday's Child set in the Regency era 06.2012

1 comment:

Barbara Elsborg said...

Ah darning - I wonder if anyone does it anymore! I suspect not. I still have my mother's mushroom but I'm afraid socks with holes go in the bin! Without books like these, we'd lose touch with what life used to be like!