Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson

Romance, history, matchmaking, humor. It's all there in Penrose Halson's enjoyable account, The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London. Before eHarmony and and Tinder, there was the Marriage Bureau, founded in London by Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver in 1939.

In 1986 author Penrose Hanson took over Katharine Allen Marriage and Advice Bureau in London. It had been founded in 1960, modeled on the Marriage Bureau. In 1992, Heather Jenner's daughter asked the author to take over her clients.

It all started with Audrey Parson's Uncle George. Audrey, a farmer's daughter, had sailed from England to marry a young man who worked for her uncle in India. But, Audrey wasn't ready to marry. She returned home to England and took a number of tedious jobs, until her uncle invited her back to visit. On that visit, he suggested there were so many British men in Ceylon and India who were desperate to marry British women. Maybe she should start a marriage agency.

Audrey talked to a friend Heather Lyon, an ex-debutante who was divorced if she wanted to join her. Both women changed their names to family names. Audrey became Mary Oliver and Heather became Heather Jenner. They couldn't advertise in the newspapers, but fortunately their new business became news stories, and remained newsworthy over the years. The Marriage Bureau survived several locations, the inexperienced owners, and the war years. It survived marriages and a changed partnership. And, the two women and future employees survived with humor and tears.

The Marriage Bureau is a riveting story. There are funny stories - judging at a baby show, accounts of some of their more difficult clients. And, there are stories of tragedy and death. The Second World War and the Blitz destroyed lives. But, throughout the first ten years of the business, covered in this book, love and marriages flourished.

This is not a World War II story. It's a story of two enterprising young women, and their matchmaking business. But, some of those first ten years were during the war, so it reflects the changing times, the changing occupations for women, the men who were destroyed. The Marriage Bureau is a compelling book.

The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London by Penrose Halson. William Morrow. 2017. ISBN 9780062562661 (paperback), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.