Although I didn’t realise it when I bought it, I had read this book as a teenager. It was reprinted by Knight Books as Three Top Secretaries and had a photo of a very 1960s looking girl on the front cover. Outline for a Secretary was published by Chatto & Windus in 1956 and has a much more fearsome front cover! I don’t think it does the book any favours as the main characters are not fearsome at all.
Anne, Eve and Sue meet at the Vincent Secretarial College in London . As we come across them, they are just finishing their training and are about to look for jobs. As they deliberate about what they want to do, we learn much about the opportunities available. Incidentally the reader is also instructed in the best way of renting a flat, something the three girls do together.
The girls end up with fairly different jobs from each other. Anne goes to be the secretary to the editor of Grasp magazine; Susan is taken on by one of the partners in a law firm; and Eve, the cleverest and most ambitious of the three, takes the position of secretary to Miss Fortune of the export department in a firm of biscuit makers. We learn a lot about the psychology of different types of boss, how to understand them and to work well for them.
I was thankful on re-reading the novel this week, to discover there isn’t too much nitty gritty detail in it. You certainly won’t learn the correct spacing for a letter or a contract by reading this. Once settled in their jobs, the girls get on with them without any major calamities befalling them or too much discussion about their place in the office. They have lives outwith the office that they enjoy and we share in those too. It’s a light-hearted book and the leading players are independent women, rather than nervous school or college leavers which was quite refreshing.
There’s a lot of stress laid on the importance of doing your job well and having a fulfilling career to look back on even if, once you marry (as is still the long term assumption), you never go back to it. Romance is given very little space here and only one of the girls is engaged by the end of the book – and that happens off-stage.