Just Like Aunt Bertha by W. Pett Ridge (1925)

Review by Helen N:

The book centres round Aunt Bertha, a woman of resource who deals with both a professional life and sorting out all of her friends and acquaintances. They get into scrapes and she sorts them out, while being constantly criticised for interfering. It is a good-humoured book and written to entertain.

Just Like Aunt Bertha comes quite late in the Author’s canon and is very unlike Thomas Henry (1909) which I read previously, except in its overall air of good humour. The Author sets out to entertain us and there is not much attempt at realism, in fact although it was published in 1925 there is not a great deal of period atmosphere. It is not quite a comedy of manners but the writing is at times deliberately artificial – and this has the effect of distancing the reader from the characters.

In some ways to read the book is like viewing a performance – Aunt Bertha is a true star – without being too upset by events. Even the potentially disturbing episode of domestic abuse is briskly dealt with – not swept under the carpet – by the husband leaving his wife. But there is no attempt to suggest this is anything but criminal behaviour – in that the author is a realist.

The plot lurches from climax to climax; one or other of her young relatives is in trouble and turns to Aunt Bertha who is invariably resourceful, sometimes digging into her savings, sometimes inventing some sensible solution. So of course they keep coming back to her for more help. In the end Aunt Bertha finds a man who is worthy of her – he adores her – and after one or two difficulties, the book ends happily.

It is  a fairly enjoyable read but, written near the end of his life, (he died 5 years later) it is a bit formulaic. For 1925 it is quite an old-fashioned book, only Aunt Bertha’s independence and her position as a Principal of a young lady’s finishing school in which she continues after her marriage indicate the greater freedom of women that existed after the First World War. I wonder if when he wrote it he imagined Bertha played by a favourite actress. As I noted in my previous review, Pett Ridge seems reluctant to describe his characters; they exist in their speech, thoughts and actions but they could be any height or colouring.

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