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Dear Mrs. Bird Summary & Study Guide Description
Dear Mrs. Bird Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
The following version of this book was used to create the guide: Pearce, AJ. Dear Mrs. Bird. Scribner, 2018
The narrator of Dear Mrs. Bird, Emmy Lake, describes the story of how she took on a new job as a typist at a woman’s magazine, working under the writer of the advice column. Emmy’s story describes her journalistic aspirations and how reading the problems of the magazine readers gave her a way to contribute to the war effort during World War II.
The novel begins with Emmy finding a job ad for a junior at Launceston Press, a major newspaper. Emmy’s best friend Bunty helps her prepare for her interview, grilling her on major political topics of the day. But at the interview itself, Emmy is directing a nearly empty office where the man interviewing her, Mr. Collins, asks her questions seemingly unrelated to journalism. Without asking any questions of her own, Emmy accepts the job, only to learn too late that she has agreed to be merely a typist and assistant to the acting editor of a woman’s magazine, Woman’s Friend. The dying publication is owned by Launceston Press, but is a far cry from where Emmy had hoped to be working.
Always positive, Emmy throws herself into her new job, expecting that she can gain valuable experience. However, she is soon disappointed with her boss, Mrs. Bird, who shows very little interest in her readers’ problems and offers only the most callous advice, typically blaming women for their own problems and telling them to tough it out. What is worse, Mrs. Bird refuses to even look at any letters covering “unacceptable” topics that include sexuality, the war, religion, or politics. In time, Emmy decides to secretly respond to some of these letters privately, but she forges Mrs. Bird’s name when she does. Part of Emmy’s inspiration to write to these women comes from her feelings of duty to her country and to other women. Emmy already volunteers at a fire station, helping to coordinate rescue efforts after German bombings. She feels that she can do more, though, and uses the opportunity given her at the magazine to help comfort women whose romantic problems are exacerbated by the upheavals of war. In time, Emmy becomes bold enough to slip a response into the magazine itself. Shortly after, Emmy tells Bunty that she has been writing letters to magazine readers, and Bunty disapproves.
At the same time that Emmy settles in to her new career, she struggles with relationship problems. Edmund, her fiancé and a soldier, leaves her for a nurse. Emmy’s parents and Bunty try to cheer her up and encourage her to find love again. Although Emmy says she has no interest, during a chance meeting at a tea house, Mr. Collins introduces her to Captain Charles Mayhew, his half-brother. The two fall in love and write to each other after Charles returns to the front. Later, Bunty becomes engaged to her boyfriend, William, a fireman at the same station where Emmy volunteers.
After a night of hard bombing, Emmy quarrels with William for putting himself into unnecessary risk when saving a child’s doll from a collapsing house. Emmy repeatedly fails to apologize to him, and loses the opportunity when he dies during a raid on the night of his and Bunty’s engagement party. Bunty is injured during the same blast, and she blames Emmy for William’s death: Emmy was late to the party, and William thought she was not coming because she was still mad at him. He died in the street while looking for Emmy. Bunty tells Emmy she is wrong to interfere into other people’s lives, including magazine readers. She also tells Emmy not to speak to her anymore. Feeling guilty, Emmy decides to stop writing letters to Woman’s Friend readers. Instead, she writes letters to Bunty on a regular basis in the hope that Bunty may one day wish to be friends again. Emmy also writes to Charles expecting his reproach, and instead finding support and comfort.
At work one day, Emmy comes across a letter that test her resolve to never write to readers again. This letter, signed Anxious, describes a situation suspiciously like Bunty’s. Anxious was injured in a bombing, her fiancé was killed, and she became estranged from her best friend. The writer also says that she has been demoralized. Women were expected to live their lives as normal and be there for their husbands and families, and to never show signs of worry or fear during that war. This woman feels ashamed that she can no longer live like that. Emmy decides this cannot be Bunty, but she wants to help anyway. She writes a very long response praising Anxious for admitting weakness and facing up to it. This patriotic letter puts all of Emmy’s feelings about war and womanhood into perspective and gives her her confidence back. Emmy wants to send the letter directly to Anxious, but there is no return address. So, she slips her response into the final proof of the magazine for printing.
Mrs. Bird discovers Emmy’s treachery when she receives a letter from the mother of a reader who had taken Emmy’s advice and eloped with her boyfriend. This discovery occurs on the same day as distribution of the edition of the magazine with the letter to Anxious in it. Mr. Collins and Emmy’s coworker Kathleen are very disappointed with what Emmy has done, but they also try to support her. A week later, Emmy faces Lord Overton, the owner of Launceston Press and Woman’s Friend, to face consequences for her actions. Mrs. Bird wants her fired and arrested, but Lord Overton listens to Emmy’s defense. Emmy shares her thoughts on how important it is to properly address the pain and suffering caused by war, and the romantic difficulties women face. Mrs. Bird is horrified, though Lord Overton is sympathetic. Nevertheless, he does not excise Emmy. Before he can fire her, though, Mr. Collins arrives at the meeting to present some evidence on Emmy’s behalf. Her influence on the magazine and her letters have attracted new readers and new sponsors. This pleases and impresses Lord Overton, but he is not ready to forgive Emmy.
Bunty then barges into the meeting, along with the post boy Clarence, with a sack of letters praising Emmy’s letter to Anxious. Mr. Collins had shared the letter with a journalist friend and the story had become widespread. Lord Overton even admits that he and his wife approved of the sympathy and patriotism shown in the letter. With news that there has been widespread positive response to the letter to Anxious, Lord Overton finds a way to keep on Emmy at the magazine. He claims that firing or arresting her would be too scandalous at a time when Woman’s Friend is in the news. Instead, he says she can stay on, under Mr. Collins’ guidance, if they can continue to increase revenue. Mrs. Bird threatens to resign in disgust.
After the meeting, Bunty explains to Emmy that she really was anxious and that she felt she could not write to Emmy directly after being angry for so long. The friends are reconciled and look forward to their futures.
This section contains 1,233 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)