High Wages – Dorothy Whipple

I’m still on my Persephone marathon (and I just bought another three). I think I bought this one because Jane Brocket wrote the preface.
Here’s the blurb from Persephone …

It is about a girl called Jane who gets a badly-paid job in a draper’s shop in the early years of the last century. Yet the title of the book is based on a Carlyle quotation – ‘Experience doth take dreadfully high wages, but she teacheth like none other’ – and Jane, having saved some money and been lent some by a friend, opens her own dress-shop.

As Jane Brocket writes in her Persephone Preface: the novel ‘is a celebration of the Lancastrian values of hard work and stubbornness, and there could be no finer setting for a shop-girl-made-good story than the county in which cotton was king.’ And the cultural historian Catherine Horwood has written about this novel: ‘Dorothy Whipple was only too well aware that clothes were one of the keys to class in this period. Before WW1, only the well- off could afford to have their clothes made: yards of wool crepe and stamped silks were turned into costumes by an invisible army of dressmakers across the country, and the idea of buying clothes ready-made from a dress shop was still unusual. Vera Brittain talks of “hand-me-downs” in Testament of Youth with a quite different meaning from today. These were not clothes passed from sibling to sibling but “handed down from a rack” in an outfitter’s shop, a novelty.’ High Wages describes how the way people shopped was beginning to change; it is this change that Dorothy Whipple uses as a key turning point in her novel.

I loved the social history aspects of this novel. I had no idea that the shop girls ‘lived in’ (and were paid appallingly and half-starved). I enjoyed reading about the changing times – how people were going from made for them clothes (by the local seamstress) to off the rack items.  The writing was beautiful and the characters are wonderfully portrayed. However, it was quite a sad story and I’m at a point in my life when I want happy endings (does that make me a philistine?).

Here are some other reviews …





Filed under Fiction - Light, Recommended

2 Responses to High Wages – Dorothy Whipple

  1. Pingback: Sateens, foulards, kippers, and pence: High Wages by Dorothy Whipple « A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books

  2. Pingback: Greenbanks – Dorothy Whipple | My BookClub Reviews

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