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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson

The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062562661
Trade paperback, $15.99, 320 pages
Before there was E-harmony or Tinder, there was The Marriage Bureau, which is recounted in Penrose Halson's book of the same name.

In 1938, twenty-four-year-old Audrey Parsons had already been through a litany of jobs near her home in England. She worked in a factory (too boring), as a dental receptionist (too bloody- she had to pick up teeth off the floor!), as a photographer's assistant (the darkroom was too dark), as a delivery girl for a cake shop (fired for eating the cakes) and as a riding instructor (she refused to muck out the stables).

Audrey went to visit her Uncle George in Assam, India and he gave her the idea of starting a marriage bureau in London. There were so many young men working overseas looking for a wife to join them, he thought Audrey could do something about that.

So Audrey found a partner in Heather, who was practical and logical in contrast to Audrey (now called Mary), who was more romantic and imaginative. They made a perfect team for this job!

The Marriage Bureau was formed, and thanks to a slew of good publicity in local newspapers, it was successful right out of the gate. The idea was that people would come in and be interviewed, giving their requirements for a potential spouse. They paid a small fee, and if a match led to marriage, they paid an After Marriage Fee.

The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London is filled with stories of the many clients who came in looking for love. Their first wedding was a 68 year-old bride to a 70 year-old groom, which garnered so much publicity (including a short documentary film) that the bureau was overrun with inquiries across the world- India, dozens of African nations, and once WWII broke out, even American servicemen stationed in England used their services.

The stories are charming and sad, and some are even maddening. Mary and Heather were so successful, they even found a match for Cedric, a man they both found unappealing and disagreeable. Maybe there is a lid for every pot.

At the end of the book, there are two lists that must be read- Requirements for Female Clients 1939-1949 and Requirements for Male Clients 1939-1949. These lists contain such specific client requests as:
Women required:

  • Not too sophisticated but not too dumb
  • Man who will cherish a large woman
  • I divorced my husband who was teacher. Not another teacher
  • No bridge, pub crawling, golf, passion for The Club or Americans

Men required:

  • No hysteria, no gold diggers; likes mountaineering
  • Able to play a portable instrument (string or woodwind) well. Rather a prairie than a hothouse flower
  • Someone who doesn't expect too much
  • A nice, stylish girl, not too brainy, with the appearance of a West End mannequin. No objection to a rich widow. Someone who likes living and is human.
Reading this put me in mind of PBS' series Home Fires, and if you like that, this book is for you. Mary and Heather were women ahead of their time, and I enjoyed reading about their successful business and all of the lovely people they helped to find love. I recommend The Marriage Bureau.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Penrose Halson's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Tour Stops

Thursday, May 4th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, May 5th: BookNAround
Monday, May 8th: Always With a Book
Tuesday, May 9th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, May 10th: bookchickdi
Thursday, May 11th: Man of La Book
Friday, May 12th: Reading is My Super Power
Friday, May 12th: View from the Birdhouse
Monday, May 15th: StephTheBookworm
Monday, May 15th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, May 16th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Wednesday, May 17th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Thursday, May 18th: Just Commonly


  1. Oh my gosh those lists! LOL I would read the book just for that! But I know I'd enjoy the rest of the book if even half of what you say is true. What a lovely read!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.