One Pair of Hands

One Pair of Hands: Upstairs and Downstairs, Seen Through the Eyes of an Ex-Debutante Turned Cook

Monica is bored. Her life as a debutante is an endless round of exhausting gaiety and ‘pointless’ parties. She had tried the stage, and dressmaking, and neither seemed to be her cup of tea. What next?

“I felt restless, dissatisfied, and abominably bad-tempered…

…so I turned to cooking. That was the thing which interested me most and about which I thought I knew quite a lot. I had had a few lessons from my ‘Madame’ in Paris, but my real interest was aroused by lessons I had at a wonderful school of French cookery in London… I.. came out with Homard Thermidor and Crepes Suzette at my fingertips. I was still unable to boil an egg, however, or roast a joint of beef.


“When I told my family that I was thinking of taking a cooking job, the roars of laughter were rather discouraging.”

“One Pair of Hands” follows Monica, the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens himself, as she takes one cooking job after another in London, burning sauces, frantically preparing dinners for parties of ten and, in the process, dropping dishes and helping herself to the cooking sherry. Some of her employers are kind (although there is always the ‘servant-class mindset’ present. Little did they know that Monica was from the upper class), but Monica finds to her dismay that often the servants are looked down on and treated as second-rate, mindless employees.

After a year and a half, Monica is just plain tired and she decides that it is time to make a change.

“Our memories are merciful; they store up details of happiness much more readily than details of sorrow. We, however, respond ungratefully by indulging our innate passion for self-torture by turning remembrance into regret. In the end the memory of something perfect becomes even sadder than the memory of despair, for we torment ourselves with the thought that it can never be quite the same again.”

What a lighthearted memoir! The author’s entertaining vignettes of her life as a cook and maid are hilarious! I really enjoyed this one and it was a fast read.


About Theresa

I live in an old farmhouse in upstate New York (no, *not* the big city!) in the country with my family, two dogs, two calves, and two horses. I love to cross stitch, quilt, read, and look at needlework blogs :) and I love coffee *and* tea!
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