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.
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?