The Girl Behind the Keys is definitely an Edwardian novel – it was published in 1903 – but that girl, Miss Bella Thorn, is definitely not a typical Edwardian heroine.
She was alone in the world, living in a rented room , and she was down to her last sixpence. She really didn’t know where to turn or what to do; but as she tore up her newspaper to fuel the small fire possess that she had lit to take the chill off a cold, cold day, an advertisement caught her eye.
Secretarial Supply Syndicate Limited
Young lady required, with knowledge of type-writing
Must possess great tact, and be willing to travel
Miss Thorn was proficient in the modern art of type-writing, and so she set off straight away to enquire about the position.
She was hired, she was given an advance on the salary that was far more than she had expected, and she learned that the work would be not very demanding at all. It seemed almost too good to be true.
It was too good to be true, and it didn’t take Miss Thorn very long at all to work out that the Secretarial Supply Syndicate was a front for a gang of criminals; con men who were ready to use any means necessary to extract money from their victims.
It was fortunate that Miss Thorn was a bright and resourceful young woman. She knew that she could not afford to lose her job, but she knew she had to thwart her employers’ schemes, without them ever realising what she was doing.
It was extraordinary how many different way there were that a typist – and her type-writer – could be used in schemes. The variety of the stories in this little book was wonderful. But the best thing of all was its heroine, who always worked out what was going on, who always kept her composure, and almost always managed her employers’ intentions.
She told her own story, in a clear voice that always rang true, and so I quickly came to love and understand Miss Thorn.
Fortunately she had the good sense to realise that it wouldn’t take long for employers to work out that she was working against them. As soon as she had built up a little nest-egg she gave notice. But it wasn’t accepted.
Her employers didn’t want to give her a chance of telling what she knew.
“As the door was thrust open, I heard, as in a dream, the voice of Neal Larrard—calm and cool as ever—dictating to me; mechanically, my fingers touched the keys, and I began to type. While I did so, I felt that fearful dead thing pressing against my knees, and felt also the muzzle of the revolver hard against my side.”
The conclusion was nicely dramatic – and conclusive – but it was over much too quickly.
That was the drawback of this book. It was a little too quick, the characters, the scenarios were a little too simply drawn, and at times I almost felt that I was reading an outline rather than a finished book.
It was a lovely period piece, it was an enjoyable quick read; a book worth picking up if you should spot a copy, but not a book you need to rush out to find.
Sounds like great fun Jane! I guess a case could be made about the art of typewriting having a lot to do with changing the lives of women over the years, giving them job opportunities and the like they never had before. So the typewriter as an item of liberation then! 🙂
Exactly – though this is story rather than theme driven.
Is this available via project Guttenberg? It sounds great.
I’m afraid not, but I’ll happily send my copy on to you – I’m glad I read it, but it’s not a keeper,
Oh Jane thank you that would be lovely 🙂
Oh, lovely, may I have a read when it’s got to Bham, please, Ali? After all, it has some relevance to my working life (although I’ve never heard anything nefarious on my transcription tapes!)
The book is in the post. You won’t find too many technical details, but I’m sure you’ll find Miss Thorn to be a credit to her profession.
Hooray, a lovely shared read to look forward to. There aren’t many novels about typists (or are there …?) so it should be a cool read!
How about a transcription novel? I loved Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer, about early telegraph operators, and its public domain ….
Think this is a book to look out for. Sounds intriguing.
Yes, it is intriguing, and a great entertainment too.
You find all the best retro reads, Jane – straight on to my reading list!
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