Many of the entries are undated, but one can safely say that the journal covers the period between the Sudetenland crisis of 1938 and early 1943. Much of the first half of the book deals with the fears and trials of European intellectuals that Russell/Jameson encounters and assists in her role as president of the British branch of PEN , and the second half with her experiences during the first years of World War Two, including the Blitz and rationing. While I initially thought Jameson’s reflections on these contemporary events would be the most interesting parts of the book, there is often such a relentless seriousness that too much of it becomes tedious. (Or ridiculous: “Turning her back on us, France is bequeathing us a summer. Very kind. It would be kinder still if she sent us her Fleet.”)
One of the themes the women return to frequently in The Girls in the Office is their belief that men are just little boys, infants with “hang-ups in their brains like spider webs.” I have heard this theme song so many times from so many women; and every time I hear it, I recoil. It is, quite obviously, a profoundly anti-male remark; it is also, I’m afraid, partly true. Saying it’s so gets us nowhere, though. The unhappy corollary to the fact that a lot of men are just little boys is the fact that so many women put up with it — cater to it, in fact, mother them, bolster their egos by subjugating their own — and feed right into the real problem, which is not that men are little boys but that men don’t like women very much, can’t deal with their demands, their sexuality, their equality.