Hey there, Georgy Girl! #1965Club

My second contribution to the #1965Club is the novella Georgy Girl by Margaret Forster. I must have read it in my teens, and I probably saw the film as well at some point, but I had no idea that the song by The Seekers was written specially for that film.

It is the book that was most mentioned in the obituaries of Margaret Forster in 2016, the book by which she will be most remembered, although she wrote more than 25 novels, as well as well-regarded memoirs and biographies. Georgy Girl was one of her first novels and became an instant bestseller, perhaps because it captured the mood of London’s Swinging Sixties so well.

George is a young working class girl who has had the privilege of a middle-class upbringing. Her parents work for a wealthy childless gentleman who has brought her up as his own daughter, sent her to a posh boarding school and even to a finishing school in Switzerland. Yet, despite her background (or perhaps because of it, because she doesn’t quite fit in anywhere), she lacks self-confidence. She is playful and fun, but quite naive and doesn’t know how to conform. Furthermore, she feels gauche and ugly, and is inclined to bouts of self-pity.

She didn’t see how she could ever stop looking like a caricature. It was something to do with her face being too long and big and her damned hair being the way it was.

Yet her small acts of rebellion, such as a dramatic haircut, do not end well. She earns her living giving dance lessons to children and shares a flat with the pretty but selfish Meredith, who takes advantage of George’s motherly instincts. Described as a ‘warm-hearted ugly duckling’ by reviewers of the book at the time, it is clear that, despite her lack of self-esteem, George has a special charm of her own, since both Meredith’s boyfriend Jos and her ‘uncle’ James fall for her. There might be some wish fulfilment at work here, but one with a very unusual twist: Cinderella looks more like an ugly stepsister, yet she gets her prince… or at least a mutually beneficial but essentially loveless contract.

Lynn Redgrave as Georgy Girl.

It was just the dawn of the sexual revolution and Women’s Lib, so George’s pragmatic approach to life and love, her refusal to give up on her principles for the sake of a man and her frank admission of her carnal desires, must have been quite revolutionary at the time. Certainly the ménage à trois that George, Jos and Meredith engage in must have ruffled feathers at the time, as would the cynical calculations about George’s future. I have no doubt there were plenty of others marrying older men for money and security rather than love, but it wasn’t necessarily as explicit.

Although the book could be interpreted as a bit of fun, it did leave me with a slightly nasty aftertaste. George is presented to us as a survivor, we are encouraged to root for her throughout the book, yet at the end she is still in bondage, although in bonds of her own choosing. Yet, to what extent were her choices limited because of her sex, her class and the age she lived in?

13 thoughts on “Hey there, Georgy Girl! #1965Club”

  1. There is a lot to think about with this one, isn’t there, Marina Sofia. It raises some really interesting issues and questions that were, as you say, probably quite revolutionary at the time. And even now, the question of how much we limit ourselves is a good one…

  2. Oooh, interesting choice – I was hoping we’d get some books that took in the swinging sixties! I don’t remember the film, though Mr. Kaggsy does and doesn’t think it’s that great… As you say, the subject matter must have been quite shocking; however, I think the changes of the sixties took a long time to filter through to women, and most of the promiscuity favoured the men. Hence the women’s movement of the late sixties/early seventies, I suppose…

    1. Well said, Karen. I have heard that from several women who lived during that period, that free love is all very well, but women are still left holding the baby. Not Meredith, obviously, she doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body.

  3. I saw the film decades ago and I remember the song, but I don’t remember much of the plot. Interesting.

  4. I hadn’t realised Forster wrote this. I’m intrigued now as it seems so different from her other titles, which I’ve enjoyed. And now I’ll be humming the song all day ….

  5. Like Sandra and Ali, I didn’t realise that Margaret Forster had written this book. I’ve seen the film, but it was so long ago that all the details have slipped from my mind. It sounds like an interesting (and accurate) reflection of the times. An excellent choice for capturing the social context of the mid ’60s.

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