Below Stairs: Bookworm’s dilemma

My only asset was that I could talk, and that’s a doubtful asset on a dance floor. People don’t go to dances for conversation, they go to dance and to see who they can collect to take home later. It really did me a disservice to be able to talk because I deviated from the norm in my conversation. It should go like this: the boy says to you, ‘Do you come here often?’ and you answer, ‘Oh yes, fairly often,’ then he says, ‘ Lovely floor, isn’t it?’ then you say, ‘Oh yes, very springy.’ Then he’d say, ‘It’s a good band, isn’t it?’ and you answer, ‘Yes it’s got good rhythm, hasn’t it?’ Instead I’d talk to my partners about historical London, or ask them if they read Dickens. They must have thought I was some kind of freak. They’d never even heard of Dickens, let alone read any of him.

I was beginning to lap up culture, even in those days I always found time for reading, I mean books that were worth reading.

Sometimes I would try talking about Conrad, books a boy would like, Henty even, or O. Henry. But they’d never read anything like that at all, and I’d get dropped like a hot cake.

—Margaret Powell, Below Stairs


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