Book review: Margaret Forster’s Diary of an Ordinary Woman

16 Nov

Book cover from Vintage edition

Recently I read a great book, Margaret Forster’s Diary of an Ordinary Woman 1914-1995 (2003). It fitted in so perfectly with the themes of All Work and Low Pay that I thought I’d recommend it to you.

It’s a novel but it took me a while to realise it, because it’s in the form of a very convincing edited diary. The story begins when the author is invited to meet an elderly lady, Millicent King, who has kept a journal recording her whole life since she was 13 years old. What follows is an ‘edited’ version of the fictional diaries, tracing historical events and social change from the First World War to Greenham Common.

The descriptions of Millicent’s experience of work are really interesting as she changes her mind about her career several times: she’s a teacher, a publishing assistant, and one of the earliest social workers, as well as taking on a role as an ambulance driver in the Second World War. There are detailed considerations of training and educational opportunities for women, choices which have to be made when balancing paid work and family responsibilities, the drudgery of unpleasant jobs and the joy of fulfilling work. As well as being a fantastically well researched piece of social history, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable novel, with all the romance and suspense and humour you could wish for. Highly recommended.

Margaret Forster is a very prolific writer, and we have many of her books in The Women’s Library, including Diary of an Ordinary Woman. We’re a reference library, so it may take you a few visits to our Reading Roomto get through the whole novel (you’re very welcome to curl up in a cosy corner and sp

including biographies of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Daphne du Maurier. I was pleased to discover that in a 2002 article in Architect’s Journal, the author described the (then brand-new) Women’s Library as her second-favourite building.

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