Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Type-Writer Girl, by Grant Allen

" 'If only we could have lived in those days!' people say. I answer: 'You are living in them.' It is not the days, not the places, not the things that change, but we who see them otherwise."
-- the wisdom of the eponymous Type-Writer Girl, p. 25

Grant Allen's 1897 novel, written under the female pseudonym "Olive Pratt Raynor" (a nice reversal of the expected), is a light and sprightly look at what, in other hands, could be a "problem novel" of social conditions. It deals with a relatively serious subject, that of genteel young women forced to make their own livings, unsupported in a real man's world. Narrator Juliet Appleton, however, never thinks of herself as helpless, but paints her adventures as a typist in dreary offices as a mythic adventure, comparing herself to the classic Odysseus and the operatic Carmen.

 "Adventures are to the adventurous," she insists. "Go through the world in search of Calypo, and you will surely find her. Be modern, and you will find only Willesen Junction. That may suffice for you. I live in 'those days' as all lovers of the mystical have always lived in them" (25). And also: "Misfortunes are nothing if one takes them in the spirit of camping out. Hardships cease to be hardships when you talk of them as roughing it. After all, it is only what we voluntarily do at a picnic up the river" (37).

Orphaned and alone in the world, Juliet is armed with both a solid classical education and the newest technology, since not only her (apparently massive) type-writer, but even more so, her bicycle, are key elements in the novel. She asks, "When man first set woman on two wheels with a pair of pedals, did he know, I wonder, that he had rent the veil of the harem in twain? ... A woman on a bicycle has all the world before her where to choose; she can go where she will, no man hindering" (42-43).

She means that, too, briefly leaving London behind and running off to an anarchist commune in the country, a very funny and well-observed episode which could easily be updated to any latter-day communes, ending with her declaration that "I find myself too individual, too anarchic for the anarchists!" (58)

Eventually, an accidental love triangle develops, and while romance is treated as something that adds spice to a young woman's life, in this case, her happiness ultimately doesn't depend on the success or failure of a particular love affair, and neither does the novel.

Allen is clearly on Juliet's side in all her doings, and if her story isn't necessarily realistic, her ability to take care of herself, and her sheer enjoyment of life, make her great company for the short time it'll take you to read the book.

Allen, Grant. The Type-Writer Girl. Edited by Clarissa J. Suranyi. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2004.

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