Original date of publication: 1938
My edition: 1984 (Dial Press)
Why I decided to read: read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: the Philly Book Trader, August 2010
I’m Not Complaining is a somewhat ironically-titled novel about a schoolteacher living in a working-class town in the 1930s. Madge Brigson is thirty, yet she calls herself and the other teachers she works with spinsters (ha! What does that make me?). The novel deals with the life of the school, the teachers, pupils, and the bleak, desperately poor town the school serves.
It’s definitely not an uplifting novel, made more depressing by Madge’s bleak outlook on her own situation. Madge is sensible and smart and devoted to her job, but she does have her flaws-cynicism being among them. There’s no sugar-coating any aspect of her life, and she has zero tolerance for foolishness. Madge is the type of character who complains about her lot in life while not trying to change it. It’s as though she enjoys complaining for the sake of complaining!
I did enjoy the author’s descriptions of the other teachers at the school. Jenny is the youngest, beautiful and also rather promiscuous (there’s a scene at the beginning that deals quite candidly with an affair she has that must have been more shocking for a reader when the book was published); Freda the communist; and Miss Jones, a spinster who sweetly dreams about the day when she can be reunited with her “friend” who’s in the Navy. Ruth Adam’s novel is extremely realistic in it’s depiction of a depression-era town, where people are losing their jobs. The author does a fantastic job of balancing the stories of the women who teach at Bronton school with the people of Bronton itself. I thought that the ending of the book happened a little too quickly and came from literally nowhere, but Madge’s decision is pretty true to her character.