Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shirley by Kaoru Mori

An Innkeeper named Miss Cranley puts out an ad for a maid to take care of her home, and one night, when she gets home, there is a young girl on her front steps wanting to take on the position. She's only thirteen, but she has no family and nowhere else to go, so Bennett Cranley takes her in.

Shirley Madison turns out to be just the maid that Mrs. Cranley needed, so she got to stay with her young mistress.

Then, Mrs. Cranley buys Shirley a fashion doll, and doesn't seem to get much response from her to it, but later that night, she finds Shirley planning to sew clothes for it. Does Shirley have a future as a modiste and fashion designer?

Then, Shirley longs for long, blonde, beautiful hair, like that of her employer. But Bennett Cranley wants dark brown hair like Shirley's. Can either of them ever be content with what they have?

Next, Bennett attends a party and meets an old friend of hers, a handsome young man who seems very taken with her. People have been telling her she should marry, but will she take them up on her advice, or will she decide it's nicer to come home to a home of her own?

Then, Bennett gets a note from her aunt telling her that her aunt will be visiting. Shirley, who has broken a teacup and thrown away a piece of paper that was important to her employer, is nervous and on edge. But when Bennett's aunt reams into her about her lifestyle and how she should be married, will Shirley's spirited defense on behalf of her employer cause Mrs. Cranley to fire her for being rude to a guest?

Two non-related stories close out the volume. "Me and Nellie and One Afternoon" has a rich boy very close to a maid named Nellie. He says he is in love with her and wants to marry her one day. He always wants to play with her, and one day he finds an injured Robin that fell out of its nest. It's sure to die, but will the death change their relationship forever?

"Mary Banks" tells the story of a maid with a Master who loved playing pranks on his servants. Frogs, spraying them with water, trip ropes and other forms of foolishness were all she could look forward to any day. But when her employer passes away unexpectedly, what will happen to Mary Banks?

This volume purports to be an examination of the class differences in Victorian society, but I didn't get that out of it at all. It's basically an examination of the lives of maids, from a society that apparently can't get enough of them (Take a look at how many "Maid Cafes" there are in Japan).

The Japanese have some strange fetishes, and I suppose this is one of them, but the stories are done with a deft and gentle touch that create nostalgia for a bygone era, and almost completely miss what being a maid was actually like.

This isn't the first maid series that Kaoru Mori has done, "Emma" was another one, and is rather famous in Japan. This book has a mishmosh of stories that don't really go anywhere or do anything, but the soft touch and longing for a bygone age do entertain- as long as you remember that Victorian society was much, much harder on their servants than even these stories indicate. Recommended.

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