Teen the Elder is working as a summer intern at New Hampshire Citizens Alliance,where he is one of the only men in the office. During his first week he asked me if I knew what the difference in pay is between men and women in New Hampshire (the average woman earns $0.78 for every $1 earned by a man in our state). He seemed optimistic that the gap will close.
I thought about that as I read Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann. The co-protagonists of the book, New Yorkers Amanda Rosenbloom, a contemporary woman who owns a vintage clothing shop and Olive Wescott, an aspiring department store buyer in 1907, both deal with gender and class issues as they struggle to find fulfilling work to support themselves and lasting relationships to sustain them. In Olive’s time, Woolworth’s owner pays shop girls low wages to encourage them to marry and stay home, where he thinks they belong. Amanda loves her work but only stays afloat thanks to loans from her married lover. When she’s threatened with eviction she realizes her shop’s future is more precarious than she thought.
Here’s the review I wrote for the library’s “Beyond the Bestseller” feature:
“Amanda Rosenbloom owns Astor Place Vintage clothing shop but finds more than some beautiful old dresses when she visits 98 year old Jane Kelly. Among the consigned items is a fur muff with a diary from 1907 hidden inside. Amanda, who loves New York history, reads the diary and learns about Olive Wescott, a 19 year old orphan who hopes to become a department store buyer. She’s just lost her father & her income and struggles with expectations about her gender and class as she finds work, settles into a boarding house, and makes new friends. Amanda faces losing her store lease, undergoes hypnosis for insomnia, and vows to break up once and for all with her high-school-sweetheart-married-lover and find a man she can start a family with before she hits menopause. Lehmann deftly weaves Amanda’s and Olive’s stories, taking readers on a virtual tour of old New York (with vintage photos to aid the imagination) in the process. As the novel unfolds it becomes clear that although women today enjoy more rights and freedoms, they have many of the same concerns, dreams, ambitions and desires as their sisters of a century ago. A fun, interesting, thought provoking read for history buffs and fans of Joanna Trollope and Masterpiece’s Mr. Selfridge. An excellent choice for book clubs.”
I didn’t love Mr. Selfridge — I actually never finished watching it — but I loved the history it evoked and the ideas it tried to explore about women and their ambitions and hopes for balancing family and work. And the costumes and sets, which I pictured as I read Astor Place Vintage. Lehmann’s research, which she describes in an interview published in the back of the book, sounds really interesting and I look forward to meeting her tomorrow at Main Street Bookends in Warner.