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Every Good Deed and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple

Every Good Deed and Other Stories – Dorothy Whipple

I love Persephone books – I don’t think I have had a disappointing book yet.  For some reason I hadn’t bought one for a while, so I had slipped off the Persephone Biannually list, but when I heard there was a new Dorothy Whipple I had to get it. And then clearly I had to buy another two to get the discount postage – Miss Buncle Married and Fidelity.

Here is the blurb (or what it has on the inside cover – it is an excerpt from one of the stories)…

She sighed heavily and looked unseeingly out of the window, crushed with the boredom of being where she was, of being a widow, of not being invited anywhere for this fortnight. ‘It’s cutlet for cutlet,’ she thought bitterly. ‘I can’t entertain, so no one entertains me now. To think that I should have come to a place like this. After the life,’ she thought, ‘I’ve lived.’

She closed her eyes against the dining room, but opened them again on being addressed by Maud.

‘D’you want the mayonnaise?’ asked Maud truculently, bringing it.

‘Out of a bottle?’ said Mrs Moore. ‘No’.

Maud went out of the dining room, but spoke in a loud voice in the passage outside.

‘It’s a quarter-past two and my afternoon off,’ she said. ‘I’m not going to stand this, so you know, Mrs Pink. I’ve no need to.’

These are beautifully written stories about ordinary (and the occasionally  malicious) people. These stories were published between 1935 and 1961 and are of their time and about a certain class (middle) of English society. Don’t assume it is all tea drinking and scone eating – people are people wherever you find them. They are selfish, self-centred, vicious, kind, generous and self-sacrificing.

These novels are for people who are more interested in character than plot.

Here is the Persephone page for Every Good Deed

Here is a review from the Book Snob about one of the stories – Every Good Deed

And another review …

Every Good Deed and Other Stories – Dorothy Whipple – a new Persephone!


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Greenbanks – Dorothy Whipple

Greenbanks - Dorothy Whipple

Greenbanks – Dorothy Whipple

I have been painfully making my way through Not Wisely, but too Well by Rhoda Broughton (there will be a review) and I needed something less joyless. I have read other Whipple novels – like this one or this one – and enjoyed them all plus as it has been a while since I had ordered any books from Persephone, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Here is the bit on the inside cover…

‘It is a preposterous play’ said Ambrose. ‘I am ashamed to be present at such a play with my wife.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about me,’ said Letty. ‘I know all of this and more.’

‘You know nothing,’ said Ambrose severely. ‘That’s the only redeeming feature of your appalling views. Ignorance. You’ve lived a sheltered life, thank goodness. But as a wife and a mother, you ought to uphold a strict moral standard whether you understand why or not.’

‘Not at a play! Not at a play!’ broke in Letty wildly.

She turned from him and pretended to be absorbed by watching the attendant with the tray of ices, but really she was saying to herself: ‘Oh, I’m tired of all you say. I’m tired even before you begin …’

Ambrose went on talking, but she did not listen. He gave her, more and more frequently, the same flat exhausted feeling she had when she tried to carry a mattress downstairs unaided.

This novel was beautifully written – it is about families, marriages, the choices we make (and living with those choices), the limited choices of a ‘good women’,  parent/child relationships and our expectations. Louisa, the family matriarch, just wants everyone to be happy – from her son Charles – feckless, but charming. her unhappily married daughters (see it’s all about our choices), her companion Kate to her grand daughter Rachel – who might be the one to find happiness. It is a quite novel – lots of knitting and reading in the sitting room, but none the less full of desperation, despair. resentment, boredom and occasional moments of quite happiness.

It is worth reading for the beauty of the prose, the ordinary made extraordinary and for a portrayal of joyless unsuitable marriages (despite appearing to be successful from a worldly point of view).

More reviews …




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They Knew Mr Knight – Dorothy Whipple

As you all know, I’m a bit of a Dorothy Whipple fan – see here, here, here and here. I’ve been meaning to read They Knew Mr Knight for ages and then, luckily, a friend had a copy. I liked it, not as much as Because of the Lockwoods , it is a bit too overtly religious for me, but it is classic Whipple with her shrewd understanding of character.

Here is the description from Persephone

 A Book Society Choice, shortlisted for the Femina-Vie Heureuse Prize, the second Dorothy Whipple novel we publish is also wonderfully well-written in a clear and straightforward style; yet ‘this real treat’ (Sunday Telegraph) is far more subtle than it at first appears.

The Blakes are an ordinary family: Celia looks after the house and Thomas works at the family engineering business in Leicester. The book begins when he meets Mr Knight, a financier as crooked as any on the front pages of our newspapers nowadays; and tracks his and his family’s swift climb and fall.

Part of the cause of the ensuing tragedy is Celia’s innocence – blinkered by domesticity, she and her children are the ‘victim of the turbulence of the outside world’ (Postscript); but finally, through ‘quiet tenacity and the refusal to let go of certain precious things, goodness does win out’ (Afterword). And the TLS wrote: ‘The portraits in the book are fired by Mrs Whipple’s article of faith – the supreme importance of people.’

 This novel provides a glimpse at life between the wars for a certain set of people (middle class English families). Thomas gets into deeper and deeper financial trouble by following Mr Knight’s advice. At first everything is wonderful; he buys back the engineering works, he can afford a new and nicer house, but then, as always, he needs more and ultimately he over extends himself and loses everything. Celia is happy with their position at the start of the novel – she is busy keeping house and tending the garden. As they move up in the world she has less to do and becomes disgruntled. She hates the new house and is over joyed when they move again – although it is clear that it will be a stretch to keep the new house. Thomas’s focus shifts from his family to the stock market and business concerns. The oldest daughter is more concerned with appearances – she only wants the best and doesn’t want to appear poor, and in the end she escapes into a loveless marriage to avoid the family’s ruin. The other two children are made of sterner stuff and it is clear that the family will survive the calamity and possibly be the better for it.

This novel is about ordinary people living an ordinary life, but even these ordinary people face temptations and must live with the consequences of their actions.

I’ll be looking for more by Dorothy Whipple.

There is a fabulous review here.

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Because of the Lockwoods – Dorothy Whipple

This is my favourite Whipple to date.  I found this novel compelling reading when and how would Mr Lockwood’s fraud be discovered? What would happen to all of the Hunters? Whipple’s ability to write about ordinary people in an interesting manner is amazing. I find it difficult to understand why she is not more wildly known.

Here is the blurb …

Dorothy Whipple excels in her portrayal of family life and in her wise and humourous understanding of the many elements of character and personality that clash to make up a family. Her new book, while not a family chronicle in the accepted sense, is a subtle and convincing portrayal of character in a family setting and shows with delightful perception how the grown person can still be influenced by the events of childhood. In Thea, denied the easy way by the lack of financial security, readers will recognize one of Mrs Whipple’s best characters. In her mother and her brother and her sister; in the Lockwoods against whose patronage Thea so determinedly rebelled; in the frank forthright Oliver Reade, symbol of a new order of things, and in the vivid portrayal of English North Country and French Provincial life, readers of Mrs Whipple’s earlier novels, Greenbanks, They Knew Mr Knight and They Were Sisters to name a few, will immediately recognize that once again her charm and her humourous but acute acceptance of the strange twists of life and people have produced a story as enjoyable as any of its predecessors.

I do reveal a bit about the plot, so be warned. Mrs Hunter is hopeless completely incapable of organising her family and their affairs after the unexpected death of her husband. In step the Lockwoods. Mr Lockwood would rather not help and certainly helps with an ill-grace. The Hunters are made very aware of their reduced social standing (Mrs Hunter gets Mrs Lockwood’s cast off clothing and they are invited to look at the gifts the Lockwoods are giving other people). Molly is sent of to be a nursery maid – despite being obviously unsuited to the the position and Martin becomes a clerk at a bank (despite wanting to be a doctor). Thea is the only one who doesn’t think the Lockwoods are kind or generous. She hates their patronising  interference, but is at a loss as to how to resurrect her family’s fortune and respect. Ultimately Oliver is the one to provide the help and guidance the family need and Thea finds and opportunity for revenge and then regrets the impulse.

The best part of this novel are the wonderful characters – they are all complicated. Mr Lockwood could easily descend to a Mr Brocklehurst type villain, but we do ultimately feel sympathy for him. Thea is young and excitable, but she matures over the course of the novel and finally recognizes Oliver’s true worth.

This is definitely worth reading if you like domestic fiction or character driven fiction.

More reviews …




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The Priory – Dorothy Whipple

Above is an image of the end paper in the Persephone edition

This is a novel very much of it’s time – 1930s England. It’s about women and education and the role of women of a particular class at a particular time. None of the women have been educated for anything but marriage and if they doesn’t happen or the marriage fails then they are left floundering without any way of earning their keep. Without marriage their lives are doomed to girlish silliness and boredom.

Here is the description from Persephone

The setting for this the third novel  is Saunby Priory, a large house somewhere in England which has seen better times. We are shown the two Marwood girls, who are nearly grown-up, their father, the widower Major Marwood, and their aunt; then, as soon as their lives have been described, the Major proposes marriage to a woman much younger than himself – and many changes begin. ‘The Priory is the kind of book I really enjoy,’ wrote Salley Vickers in the Spectator, ‘funny, acutely observed, written in clear, melodious but unostentatious prose, it deserves renewed recognition as a minor classic. Whipple is not quite Jane Austen class but she understands as well as Austen the enormous effects of apparently minor social adjustments…Christine is a true heroine: vulnerable, valiant, appealing, and the portrait of her selfless maternal preoccupation, done without sentiment and utterly credible, is one of the best I have ever come across. The final triumph of love over adversity is described with a benevolent panache which left me feeling heartened about human nature… A delightful, well-written and clever book.’

The lives of several women are portrayed in this novel. The two sisters; Christine and Penelope, Anthea, the unmarried women (called sheep by the sisters), Aunt Victoria (the sisters’ aunt) and the servants (Bertha and Bessie).

Upper class women are trained at home (unlike the sons who attend school and then university). They are expected to marry and if they don’t then they remain at home – no chance of a career or independence.

Victoria has never married and she is expected to keep house for her brother after his first wife dies. In his opinion she does this poorly and he is compelled to marry Anthea in an effort to have his house run smoothly. Victoria is not interested in the house she simply wants to paint (badly it would seem). Anthea is in love with the Major but is quickly disillusioned and transfers all of her attention to her pregnancy and then her children (children are the great advantage of marriage it gives the women something on which to focus not mention things to do).

Christine falls in love and marries a dashing young man – he turns out to be too dashing and they separate. At this stage they have a child. Christine returns home, but there isn’t the money to maintain her. She must find a job, but she is qualified for nothing. In the end she finds a job in a beauty salon (because she is a ‘lady’).

Penelope marries simply to escape the family home. She is determined that she will not have children and makes this a condition of her marriage. Consequently she is bored and restless.

None of the women have much control of their lives – the best they can hope for is to be pampered.

From a social history point of view this novel is fascinating. The domestic routine, the servants and the day to day activities of people without the need of employment.

I found it a bit long winded particularly the section where Christine was working in London, but it’s an easy read and I encourage anyone interested in domestic fiction to read it.

Here are some other reviews …




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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 …





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Someone at a Distance – Dorothy Whipple


I’ve been continuing my Persephone reading feast. Someone at a Distance was my free classic. 

Here’s the blurb …

‘A very good novel indeed about the fragility and also the tenacity of love’ commented the Spectator recently about this 1953 novel by Dorothy Whipple, which was ignored fifty years ago because ‘editors are going mad for action and passion’ (as she was told by her publisher). But this last novel by a writer whose books had previously been bestsellers is outstandingly good by any standards. Apparently ‘a fairly ordinary tale about the destruction of a happy marriage’ (Nina Bawden in the Preface) yet ‘it makes compulsive reading’ in its description of an ordinary family (‘Ellen was that unfashionable creature, a happy housewife’) struck by disaster when the husband, in a moment of weak, mid-life vanity, runs off with a French girl. Dorothy Whipple is a superb stylist, with a calm intelligence in the tradition of Mrs Gaskell (both wrote in the Midlands and had similar preoccupations). ‘The prose is simple, the psychology spot on’ said the Telegraph, and John Sandoe Books commented: ‘We have all delighted in this unjustly forgotten novel; it is well written and compelling.’

The thing I noticed most in these days of common divorce was how no one not even Ellen think she is entitled to some of the family assessts. Alimony is offered and refused, but the house is his as are the publishing company and his share of the hosiary company.

The writing is beautiful and the characters are real living and breathing creatures. In some way English good manners brought about their downfall. Ellen should have made Louise leave even if she had no where else to go.

Here are some other reviews …



and a review at the Persephone forum


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