Tuesday 17 August 2010

I can hear hisses from loyal Dorothy Whipple fans but, much as I've enjoyed her, I'm beginning to see why she fell out of favour after the war.
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.


Joan Hunter Dunn said...

I've yet to read a Whipple so good to read an overview of her.
I finally researched who Mrs Minniver was. A great blog title and now I'd like to read her columns/see the film.

mary said...

Oh, it's ages since I've seen that film, Joan - I keep hoping it will pop up on television. Didn't Churchill say it was the film that won the war?
I'm sure you'd like Dorothy Whipple - I enjoyed this one, too, but it doesn't compare with some of her others. Someone at a Distance and They Knew Mr Knight are my favourites of those still in print; and I loved Greenbanks, though it's harder to track down.

verity said...

I've just stumbled upon your blog - what fun it is! I too love Whipple - have yo uread her short stories? I was not a short story fan, until, having read all of her novels, I read these. Published by Persephone too!

mary said...

Hello, Verity - nice to see you. I don't often read short stories but I do like Dorothy Whipple's and I've read that Persephone collection. I've never been able to find any of the original books of short stories - three, I think? But some day in a charity shop ... if Rachel doesn't get there first!

Rachel (Book Snob) said...

Can you imagine my facial expression? Shock horror Mary!! I do see what you mean though I couldn't possibly criticise my beloved Dorothy. I do agree that her mid career novels lack the power of her earlier and latest ones but they are still excellent! I think her plots do suffer a bit from having slightly unrealistic elements (to us, today) - Young Anne, for instance - and characters that can be a bit weak - so I can understand why she fell out of favour. But regardless I still love her.

I'm glad I have been able to share my rarer copies with you Mary! I'm just sad you didn't love them as much as me!!

mary said...

I was wondering if you'd still be speaking to me, Rachel! I did enjoy it, of course I did. Even a B-list Whipple is a Whipple! But I was so hoping that my last one would be another Someone at a Distance or a Greenbanks. Dorothy has very high standards to maintain!
But I loved Young Anne. How could you not like Aunt Orchard ... 'Ordinary jam for best visitors; jam with a bit of water in for them for them as is not so best!' That's definitely one I'll want to read again - but I don't think I'd really want to read the Lockwoods again.
Come on, admit it, Rachel ... that last scene with the revolver!
But thank you so, so much for sharing your rare Whipples ... I'd never have managed to find all of them on my own! You are the best Whipple-detector in London!