Archive for the ‘Dorothy Whipple’ Category

The book blog has been sluggish lately because my world is utterly crowded with all sorts of crucially time-voracious real-life stuff, but a wicked virus has knocked me around enough this past week to give me some enforced down time and I have happily read my way through a number of okayish novels. Norah Lofts et al., suitably light but reasonably intelligent amusement for someone under the weather.

And then this one.

Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple. Written in 1932, this was Whipple’s second published novel, and the third I’ve now read.

They Knew Mr. Knight (1934) and Because of the Lockwoods (1949) were highly enjoyable, if slightly melodramatic, but Greenbanks was something on a different level.

Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple. Not my copy - mine is a lovely greyt Persephone - but stolen shamelessly from the internet for the sake of the glowing cover blurb by Hugh Walpole.

Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple. Not my own copy – mine is a lovely grey Persephone – but borrowed shamelessly from the internet (thank you, Milady’s Boudoir) for the sake of the glowing cover blurb by Hugh Walpole.

Ostensibly a sedate family saga, it evolves into a deeply convincing manifesto on the rights of women to self-determination and social, educational, financial and sexual equality. Set in the decades before, during, and immediately after the Great War, centre stage is shared between a family matron and her granddaughter, representatives of the old world and the new, with sporadic but telling secondary roles played by the adult children of the household, their various spouses, lovers, friends and acquaintances.

The ending was unexpected, and deeply satisfying in its blunt refusal to neaten things up in a conventional way; it shocked me because I’d rather expected Whipple to manufacture an eleventh-hour cluster of pleasantly innocuous solutions to its most pressing dilemmas, and she didn’t go there at all.  And it worked.

I am starting to see why Persephone Press is so dead keen on this writer; those first two books piqued my interest but this third one has given rise to real enthusiasm.

If you’re already a Dorothy Whipple person – and I know many of you are – I’d be most pleased to hear your personal opinions on Greenbanks as it stands in her body of work. Is this as good as she gets? Or am I in for some more unexpected readerly surprises?

Someone at a Distance is here on the shelf; it came in the package with Greenbanks just the other day and I am torn between diving right in, and, alternatively, allowing myself some cooling off time, because I’m still processing the deeper nuances of the book I’ve just devoured with such paradoxically reluctant speed.

It’s time to choose my evening’s reading-in-bed book, and I am at a loss at what to attempt, not wanting to diminish the mood. I’m thinking Elizabeth Cambridge, or maybe Rose Macaulay, or perhaps even a return to one of the previously-read Whipples, sure to be well sauced with the piquancy of this fresh appreciation.

The “Whipple Line”, indeed! Virago, hang your metaphorical head in shame!

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This is a much harder post to write than the Worst Books Round-Up, because 2014 was full of excellent reading, and keeping it down to a mere ten choices is extremely hard to do.

Most (all?) are “vintage”, because I was mainly reading books published between 1900 to 1999 as part of a Century of Books project.

Here are the top tennish, loosely organized countdown style from the merely excellent to the very best.

Enjoy.

Books Which Pleased Me Greatly in 2014:

#10

greenwillow hc no dj b j chute 001

Greenwillow 

by B.J. Chute ~ 1956.

A charming rural romance about a young man under a curse, the village maid who loves him, and the two preachers who share the church and differing views on the Devil and Eternal Damnation in the idyllic village of Greenwillow, time and country unknown.

#9

the blank wall elisabeth sanxay holding

The Blank Wall 

by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding ~ 1947

A cleanly written noir novel centered on a devoted mother’s protection of her teenage daughter from a blackmailer after an inconvenient man turns up very dead.

#8

inside daisy clover gavin lambert 1963

Inside Daisy Clover 

by Gavin Lambert ~ 1963

Fictional tale told via the diary of thirteen year old Daisy Clover as she is discovered by a manipulative film magnate and turned into a Hollywood star.

#7

because of the lockwoods dorothy whipple 001

Because of the Lockwoods 

by Dorothy Whipple ~ 1949

The tale of two families and their unequal relationship, due in large part to a secret wrong perpetrated by the father of one family upon the widowed mother of the other. My very first Whipple, but definitely not my last.

#6

love elizabeth von arnim 1925 001

Love 

by Elizabeth von Arnim ~ 1925

Women, aging, and societal unfairness. One of von Arnim’s more serious novels, and deeply poignant.

#5

goodbye to all that robert graves 1929 001

Goodbye to All That 

by Robert Graves ~ 1929

Poet and writer Robert Graves’ outspoken memoir of his school days, time in the Great War trenches, and attempt at post-war normalcy. Opinionated and cranky and exceedingly good.

#4

beyond the blue horizon alexander frater 001chasing the monsoon alexander frater 001 (2)

Beyond the Blue Horizon (1986) and Chasing the Monsoon (1990)

by Alexander Frater

A 1980s air-travel epic, and an examination of the meteorological phenomenon of the Indian summer monsoon. I read both of these while road-tripping, and they were mesmerizing. Just the thing to fall into at the end of a long day: journeyings much more exotic than one’s own, written up with polish and grace. Excellent travel writer whom I was unaware of prior to my on-a-hunch acquisition of Beyond the Blue Horizon; I will be looking for more by him in future.

#3

the houses in between reprint society howard spring 1951 001

The Houses in Between 

by Howard Spring ~ 1951

Fictional autobiography of a 99-year-old woman, 1848-1948. Melodramatic, funny, poignant.

#2

Dodie Smith in 1921, aged 25.

Dodie Smith in 1921, aged 25.

The Dodie Smith Memoirs:

Look Back with Love ~ 1974

Look Back with Mixed Feelings ~ 1978

Look Back with Astonishment ~ 1979

Look Back with Gratitude  ~ 1985

The novelist and playwright turns her attention to herself, and finds much to say about her personal life and times. Dodie Smith’s magnum opus, and, in my opinion, after spending much of the year tracking down and reading her more obscure novels after being bowled over by the wonderful I Capture the Castle some years ago, the best thing she ever wrote. A huge undertaking, reading these, and worth every effort it took to track these mostly out-of-print autobiographies down. 

#1

the sun in scorpio margery sharp 001

The Sun in Scorpio 

by Margery Sharp ~ 1965

Portrait of a girl growing into womanhood and on into middle age, from the beginning of the Great War to the end of World War II. Starting off  on a Mediterranean island near Malta, and progressing quickly to mist-huddled England, Cathy never loses her desire for the warmth of the sun. An unusual book, gloriously cynical and beautifully styled.

Honourable Mentions

In no particular order – just too good to leave off the list. The first three are not yet reviewed – keep an eye out for posts on these in 2015

*****

  • Spring Always Comes by Elizabeth Cambridge ~ 1938 ~ A low-key, thoughtful novel examining the characters of a vicar’s family – mother, father, four children – and the nature of personal fulfillment and one’s larger responsibility to the society one lives in. Started out slowly but drew me in completely. Gorgeous novel.
  • Try Anything Twice by Jan Struther ~ 1938 ~ A collection of essays on a multitude of topics by the author of Mrs Miniver.
  • Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw ~ 1969 ~ A gorgeous bildungsroman concerning the daughter of celebrities who is given a chance to temporarily reinvent herself as a nobody.
  • The Visiting Moon by Celia Furse ~ 1956 ~ Fictionalized memoir of a Victorian childhood Christmas.
  •  by Norah Lofts ~ 1972 ~ Inspired by the real life murder accusation against teenage Constance Kent, this noir suspense novel is chillingly mesmerizing. Did Charlotte kill her young stepbrother? And if not, who did?
  • Pomp and Circumstance by Noel Coward ~ 1960 ~ Too silly for belief, but absolutely charming. A sun-drenched fictional island prepares for a Royal Visit.
  • Beowulf  by Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman) ~ 1948 ~ A London teashop in the Blitz is at the heart of this linked series of vignettes and character portraits.

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because of the lockwoods dorothy whipple 001Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple ~ 1949. This edition: Longmans, 1949. 1st Canadian edition. Hardcover. 358 pages.

Provenance: Purchased (via ABE) from A Biblio-Omnivore Harvey Lev, Montreal – March 2014.

My rating: 9/10

Sound the trumpets! I have finally read a Dorothy Whipple. And thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, too.

A satisfyingly nasty family of antagonists, and an absolutely feeble (though gentle and well meaning) family of protaganists, saved from themselves by the spunky youngest daughter, with the help of a lower-class social climber who has fallen in love with said daughter and uses his keen wits to their joint advantage.

Shortly after the end of the Great War, meek Mrs. Hunter, an architect’s wife, is suddenly left a widow with three young children, and who should she turn to but her husband’s business acquaintance, lawyer Mr. Lockwood, for help with her affairs. Mr. Lockwood, fully occupied with feathering his own nest and the care and nurturing of his beloved wife and three daughters, rolls his eyes and sorts things out in a resentful way. While going through the late Mr. Hunter’s papers, Mr. Lockwood comes upon a situation which he can twist to benefit himself to the detriment of the surviving Hunters; he immediately does so, and the stage is set for our emotionally heart-rending story.

Mrs. Hunter insists on being grateful to Mr. Lockwood, and cherishes the benevolent friendship of Mrs. Lockwood, which is – to give Mrs. Lockwood credit – meant well, even if it doesn’t turn out to be truly kind in practice.

because of the lockwoods 1st page dorothy whipple 001

 

The Hunter children grow up under the shadow of the Lockwoods, and as the youngest child, Thea, watches her older sister, Molly, withdrawn from school and forced into an unsuitable post as a governess at the age of fifteen on Mr. Lockwood’s advice (“Your children must start earning,” he sternly informs the compliant Mrs. Hunter), and her older brother, Martin, placed into a bank rather than being allowed to train as a doctor (“Does anybody need a boy?” casually inquires Mr. Lockwood of his banking acquaintances at his club), she sets herself to avoid her siblings’ fate. Thea will not be shunted off into an uncongenial occupation, oh no, not she!

Thea, cleverest of the Hunters by far, sets herself on an upward path, and eventually, at the age of eighteen, manages to make it to France in company with the Lockwood girls; they to be “polished” and to learn French, Thea to teach English at the same school for her keep. But Thea’s ascendant star is about to tumble from the sky, when she is caught in a compromising situation with a handsome young Frenchman, and is sent home in deep disgrace.

Social injustice, deliberate wrongdoing, frustrated hopes, romantic yearnings – what a fruitful set of circumstances for a novelist! Add to that romance and revenge, plus a dash of remorse, and we have an engaging story with which to while away several most diverting hours.

Dorothy Whipple is now very much on my radar, and I will be actively questing for more of her titles. Happily Persephone Press is actively reprinting the Whipple oeuvre, so some at least will be easy to acquire.

What bookish joy, making the acquaintance of Bryher yesterday, Whipple today. And what a happy time I will have exploring more by both of these congenial (though rather different) novelists!

 

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