Charm School – Advice For The Thoroughly Modern Girl

Charm School Advice For The Thoroughly Modern GirlCharm School Advice For The Thoroughly Modern Girl by Lara Maiklem

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh how I love this book let me count the ways. Split into three parts, it’s a collection of comic strips from the 1950s magazine for girls called, um, ‘Girl’. What Girl did was it published a series of ‘picture-strips’ in the following subjects: ‘How to make the very best of yourself’, ‘I want to be … Essential careers advice for the modern girl’ and ‘Concerning you : correct behaviour for every situation”. This book is a collection of the best strips from each area.

And it’s glorious.

In the charm school section, we learn the necessity of buying stockings that are half an inch longer than your big toe and how Daphne can face the future ‘without a care in the world’ once she sorts out her fine and dry skin by having a diet full of ‘cod-live oil capsules, citrus fruits and as much butter as possible’.

The careers section includes guides to being a nanny, a riding teacher and in a spectacularly lovely 1950s reflection of THE FUTURE, a plastics designer. Each of these guides are a whole little story in six panels; Virginia, Ruby or Anita take up their chosen career (usually with great success, there’s not much failure going on here!) and the last couple of panels, in a sort of brilliant manner, in every piece coolly recounts their current salary earnings and potential to develop further.

The final section of the book is ‘Concerning You’. These little strips are practical guides to life and include such glories as ‘Clothes for the plump girl’ and ‘clothes for the too thin girl’. The latter has a particularly glorious panel that reads ‘Avoid fitting coatts, pretty though they are. Look for one that falls straight from the shoulders. I suggest a double-breasted style with big pockets’. The accompanying illustration is amazing. It’s a thin blonde girl, swamped in something that can only be described as a flashers mac.

This book is beautiful. It’s fascinating in a historical, sort of anthropological point of view. These were popular culture, albeit popular culture for a specific demographic of society. I love for example how even though the careers guides become increasingly extreme (I want to be a demonstrator! I want to be an air stewardess!), there’s always the calming presence of the career girl’s parents in the comic. And I love the piece in the Charm School section about Mary and her friend Joan who has come to stay. This is an epic two parter: ‘Meet Mary – her father is a dentist and she knows how very important it is to take care of her teeth. When her friend Joan came to stay for a week she was able to teach her a lot – how chewing tough foods hardens the gums against diseas and eating fruit and salads helps to keep down decay’. This goes over two separate comics to ensure that Joan learns the error of her ways!

And now, I’ll take a leaf out of the guide to being a good guest and finish this review here. For: ‘when it is time to leave, don’t linger awkwardly in the doorway. You will only be a hindrance to your hostess. Say your thanks and goodbyes – and go!”

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