Minnie’s Room is the second story by Mollie Panter-Downes that is in The Persephone Book of Short Stories. A few weeks back I read Good Evening, Mrs. Craven, first of Mollie’s short stories in the collection and thoroughly enjoyed it. Similar to Good Evening, Mrs. Craven, Minnie’s Room is a beautifully crafted short story.
The backdrop of Minnie’s Room is the post-war England. Minnie, the central character, is “an ugly little Londoner” who had been the cook to the Sothern family for twenty-five years. Minnie had joined the Sothern household when she was twenty years old, and even though Mrs. Sothern likes to take credit for Minnie’s skills, in reality, Minnie was born a “natural magnificent cook.”
Before the war, the Sothern family had been wealthy, with their house filled with servants. But now after the war, it is clear that they are struggling – “the Sotherns had visibly shrunk,” and Minnie is the only ‘help’ remaining. So when Minnie informs Mr. Sothern of her plans of leaving the household on the day she turns forty-five, it comes as quite a blow. But it is not like her announcement came out of the blue, Minnie had often told Mrs. Sothern that if she had not married by the time she turned forty-five, she intended to leave the service and have her own room elsewhere. The Sotherns had assumed it is ’empty talk,’ and had not considered the possibility Minnie might actually stay true to her word. Now that Minnie is leaving, the Sotherns are at their wits’ end, as they are not used to looking after themselves without help!
I admired Minnie in this story. I like to see independent women in the stories I read, and Minnie is one of them. She had planned ahead for her future and the room she would own, “getting things together for it, piece by piece, for years, tucking away every penny and every present they [the Sotherns] had given her, cherishing every chipped and battered remnant of furniture that had been thrown out from the upstairs world and had found its way down to the basement.” Mollie had done a marvelous job in her portrayal of Minnie! I should buy her books soon!