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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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