The Persephone Book of Short Stories: The Photograph by Phyllis Bentley

the-persephone-book-of-short-stories

The next up in The Persephone Book of Short Stories is Dimanche by Irène Némirovsky. But since I am planning on reading Dimanche and Other Stories (Persephone Book #87) as a part of my Irène Némirovsky year-long project, I decided to skip it for now, which left me with The Photograph written in 1935.

The Photograph was a delightful read. Miss. Timperley, the protagonist is a governess. We are not told her age at the beginning of the story, but when Miss. Timperley says “I shall say I’m twenty-nine,” “And I shall have my photograph specially taken,” we know she is no longer in her ‘prime.’ Being a bit old in her profession is not necessarily a bad thing, or so one would think. After all, she knows French, has excellent references and has worked with numerous kids. But it turns out ever since parents started to send their kids to school, being a governess is not as lucrative as it once was.

However, even after schools came in, Miss. Timperley has had a steady income, teaching kids with special needs. She had moved from one client to another through word-of-mouth, up until offers stopped coming three months ago. With her saving drying up, Miss. Timperley goes to a hiring agency, yet with young mothers wanting to hire “nursery governesses, bright, jolly young things to nurse the baby and play with the children to keep them quiet” Miss. Timperley’s chances of landing a job, even with the help of the agency seem pretty bleak. Things could change for Miss. Timperley when the agency informs her that there is a governess position open at the Nash household. But there is a catch! Because it is impossible for Mrs. Nash to have an interview beforehand, she requires the applicants to send photographs of themselves.

Having gone to an interview for a governess position before and turned away because of her age, Miss. Timperley is determined to appear young in the photograph and somehow get the job. She goes to a renown photographer, Mr. Angelo and pays a fortune to get her photograph taken. Miss. Timperley feels glad when an assistant clerk at Mr. Angelo’s tells her a certain amount of retouching is done to all the photographs, and because of the level of attention Mr. Angelo pays, Miss. Timperley is quite sure her photograph will turn out to be splendid.

Alas, when proofs are delivered to Miss. Timperley the next day, it turns out she does not look dashing as she thought she would. Mrs. Ladstone, Miss. Timperley’s landlady assures her “They’re as like as life. Just your pleasant look, they have. They’re right down good,” and when Miss. Timperley checks herself in the mirror once Mrs. Ladstone leaves, she sees Mrs. Ladstone is right.

Then she looked in the mirror, bending forward, scrutinising every feature, every line of her face, with merciless keeness. Yes! The photographs were good ones. The agency was right. The young mother was right. Miss. Timperley was old.

Faced with reality, Miss. Timperley must decide what to write to Mrs. Nash. And her letter may or may not land her the job!

Out of the stories I have read from The Persephone Book of Short StoriesThe Photograph is definitely one of my favorites. According to author biographies at the back of the book, Phyllis Bentley has written over fifteen novels. Inheritance and its sequels – Yorkshire family chronicles are her most successful books, and they are going to go on my wishlist right away! 😉

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