I don't know why - I'm not sure what was going on in her life at the time - but her post-war novels Because of the Lockwoods (1949) and Every Good Deed (1950) don't show Mrs Whipple at the peak of her form. (Or may I call her Dorothy, do you think, now we're such old friends and I'm presuming to criticise? Perhaps not, I can feel myself fidgeting under her observant eye and she isn't impressed by that mug of tea without a saucer.)
I'm not quite a Whipple completist. I haven't read her children's books, nor some of the short stories. But I have read every Whipple novel, including the rare ones. Thanks, Rachel!
My library copy of Because of the Lockwoods is nothing like Rachel's copy with its lovely original jacket. No, it's an ugly large-print edition, well-worn and tea-stained, a book that would happily sit on a WRVS hospital trolley. (Here's a nice story, dear ...)
It is set in Whipple-country - a northern milltown - where Mr Lockwood, a prosperous solicitor, takes advantage of his widowed neighbour and cheats her out of a substantial sum of money. Thea, her younger daughter, bitterly resents the patronising Lockwoods and blames them for everything that goes wrong in her life - especially after they sully her good name when she is sent home in disgrace from au pair-ing at a strict French school after a very innocent first romance with a young man.
Set in the 1920s, this must have seemed very old-fashioned to readers in the aftermath of a second world war.
But though it has all the classic Whipple ingredients ... class and snobbery, social climbing and downward mobility, a young woman trying to find her path in life ... it doesn't quite come off. Thea is too snobbish herself to be very likeable, and for all her supposed brains she can be as droopy as her mother. 'If you don't mind my saying so, I think, as a family, you're inclined to give up. Give you a blow, you don't rally. You shrink and nurse your pride,' says Thea's ardent admirer, a rough diamond who is trying to improve himself to win her middleclass heart.
Nor does Mr Lockwood - a loving paterfamilias - have any of the glamour of Whipple's villainous Mr Knight.
And, oh Dorothy, what came over you to write that silly, melodramatic ending!
Now for the first time I understand why Virago drew their Whipple line.
It's a shame, because a couple of years later Mrs Whipple is back on top form and Someone at a Distance, her last novel, is one of her best.
I'd delayed reading Because of the Lockwoods, knowing that I'll never again have a weekend welded to the sofa with a fresh Whipple. But I'm not as bereft as I felt coming to the end of Elizabeth Taylor.