“The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London” by Penrose Halson is an interesting story about a real agency that began matching couples in 1939. It’s by turn sweet, touching, grim, and terrifying.
Two young women from different social backgrounds joined forces to start something revolutionary — a matchmaking service. They were organized and brilliant at what they did. These are some of the stories about the agency and the people whose lives it touched.
While many of the couples lived happily ever after, some of the stories are about women willing to marry almost anyone to escape grim situations. Interestingly, some of the men required that the women be self-sufficient and have their own income, while others looked down on women who worked.
The social lines were not to be crossed while finding matches, but the two grew adept at ferreting out who was hiding their true social class in order to “marry up.” Men came to London on leave from plantations and work in India or other colonies and needed to find and marry a wife in a matter of weeks or a few months.
Some of the stories are heartbreaking, such as the one about the woman who in one night during a tearful farewell threw caution to the winds and slept with her fiancé. He was killed in battle, but she was also raped during a night of bombing by a stranger who fled immediately after. She was pregnant, she didn’t know by whom, and she needed to find a husband — immediately.
While this is not the type of book to keep one up late nights, it’s rather like a box of chocolates — to be savored and enjoyed at one’s leisure. It’s quite interesting to see how things were managed before apps like Match.com and Tinder were created. Even in “the old days,” there were ways to help people find love, or at least a marriage.
Please note: This review is based on the final, paperback book provided by the publisher, William Morrow, for review purposes.