Every Good Deed

A slender, first edition volume of this book came wafting through the Interlibrary Loan system from Dartmouth College to San Francisco. First published in 1946, this story played the one-note chord hard, over and over, the (dis)chord of two old maid sisters whose lives are turned upside down by a girl who comes to stay from the orphanage. Gwen is a bag of trouble, luring the old aunts into her web and deceiving them mightily. Various escapades ensue, and she eventually runs off with a man and gets married, only she gets pregnant and he dies before they marry. So back to the aunts’ home, the baby is born, Phillip is taken under the aunts’ wings and Gwen sits back and is waited on hand and foot. She eventually escapes again, goes to America and tells the aunts they can have Phillip. He’s raised in the lap of luxury, nothing denied him. Twenty years later, she returns with a new husband and son in tow, demanding the money to buy up a business to run. The aunts give her £3,000 and find that once you tap into the capital, your interest payments go way down. Instead of the bookshop she claims to buy, Gwen opens a dance hall, and Phillip goes to play piano there. One treacherous night, Phillip drives his half-brother and the girl they’re fighting over home, swerves to avoid hitting a man on the road and topples the car, killing his passengers. The aunts’ brother James arrives to help sort out all the mess and becomes friendly with Philip, helping to keep him out of trouble and preparing the whole crew for a move to London where living will be cheaper.

I didn’t like the pull pull pull on the heartstrings so heavy and hard, the reader wild-eyed with warning about Gwen trying to tell the sisters to boot her from the house. Very manipulative, and what I didn’t like about her other work, Someone at a Distance.

Young Anne

Dorothy Whipple’s first book, pub’d in 1927, so of course we can make a few excuses about the tender shoots of talent that show through the general muddling. Anne is precocious, raised by a stern father who (just like Whipple) sends her to a convent to study, then she discovers she needs to work when her father dies and the family is broken up. Her maid, Emily, sticks with her through a rough patch of living with her psychotic Aunt (caught, gratifyingly, grabbing Emily’s hair when the Vicar arrives unexpectedly during the middle of one of her violent fit). Anne borrows money from Emily to learn typing, gets a job in an office and falls for the boss, Richard, who asks her to marry him. Meanwhile there’s a passion from young ages with the slightly underclass George Yates who eventually grows into a respectable citizen with “prospects.” She takes up with George after he returns from the war and when Richard refuses to attend social events and dances. Eventually she decides to stick it out with Richard, the end.

Because of the Lockwoods

Another tasty tale by Dorothy Whipple to remove me from the nightmare of real life, where self-driving cars are unleashed to run red lights near unsuspecting pedestrians of this city and jaw-dropping Cabinet picks are made by the president-elect. Thanks to Interlibrary Loan, I got this volume sent here from Omaha, Nebraska, where it appears to be in such pristine condition that I suspect no one has ever touched it there.

First sentence(s) gold: “Mrs Lockwood decided to invite Mrs Hunter and her children to Oakfield for New Year’s Eve. It would be one way of getting the food eaten up.” In this first burst, the smug self-congratulatory donation of charity from Lockwood to Hunter is laid out, the rich neighbor taking pity on the widow who’d been torn from her own wealth when her husband died and left their affairs in a sorry state. It turns out that Mr Lockwood swindled the widow Hunter out of some property when he lied about a debt not having been repaid to him. Of course this all comes out later, and contributes to the Lockwood’s necessary downfall. But first, we see the poverty of the Hunters, oldest daughter Molly put out to pasture as a governess which she hates, son Martin installed in a poor-paying position at a bank, and youngest daughter Thea boldly making her own way, pushing herself into France as a teacher but then being sent home in pseudo-disgrace after being caught kissing a French man in a field. Oliver Reade is a self-made man who loves Thea and who rescues her sister Molly from teaching, putting her in a bakery where she thrives. Reade starts producing the headache powders that Mrs Hunter had the recipe for, hiring Thea to do office work as an escape from her supposed downfall. Of course Thea eventually sees that she loves Oliver, and of course the Lockwoods tumble down in their own disgrace. Thea rescues Mr Lockwood from suicide, strangely, perhaps as a way to prolong their downfall.

Charlotte Brontë’s Villette is referenced, and rightfully so, because the French teaching story line is obviously influenced highly from that book.

Random Commentary (compiled from note-books and journals kept from 1925 onwards)

The queen of middle-brow returns to her throne with this collection of tidbits from 1925-1945; a vast improvement over the childhood autobiography (The Other Day) that I did not like. In this book I was gratified to read how that autobiography came about, how she was pressured to do it and never really liked it. The excerpts she’s chosen for this volume are delightful, showing her utter joy in the success of her books, surprise at being chosen for book prizes, and the roller coaster of confidence and lack thereof that go with writing. It seems like she’s always grousing about having company around that she has to prepare for and then entertain, when all she really wants to do is dive into her writing. “A neighbor came and interrupted me all morning, by mending the wireless set. We didn’t ask him to. I stood by in feminine politeness, but fuming. Women are too polite to men. They (including, alas! me) will put up with anything from them—endless supposedly funny stories, dull speeches, etc.”

With the first book she gets published, Young Anne, she chastises her self for not going deep enough. “I wonder if I am any good at all? One thing I know, and that is, I don’t work hard enough. I don’t dig deep enough.” She revisits this idea in another entry when she quotes Katherine Mansfield reviewing a book by Hugh Walpole: “Nothing is deep enough. The risk has not been taken.” Whipple then whips herself: “I must take my risks. I must say what I have to say with all my heart.” Again back to the deep in a later entry: “I haven’t dug deep enough. It’s no good trying to get away with it without effort. I must make the necessary effort now.”

More whipping of self: “It is a nuisance having to write everything before I can know if I am going to be able to make anything of it. I waste time. I am a bad workman. In work, I am half-hearted. I am only enthusiastic when I am sitting in a chair doing nothing or lying in bed in the early morning.”

Still, she’s confident in her powers. After enduring a horrible driving lesson with her brother-in-law where he lost his temper, she looked at him and thought to herself, “Can you do what I can do? No, you can’t. So why be contemptuous because I can’t do what you can do? Soon I shall be able to drive a car, but will you be able to write a book?” Daaaaaaamn.

While preferring to be a homebody with husband Henry, sometimes she accepts an invitation to a fancy London party. At one, she gets a good look at Aldous Huxley: “I found him a beautiful young man. I don’t much like his books, though. He has a hatred of the female principle. He makes women seem disgusting. Does he think men are any less so?”

Occasionally she copies scraps of paper into her journal, including this bit that she’s not sure of the source: “The study of other men’s works is the surest manner of killing the power to do things for oneself. Doing is the sole parent of doing, and creating a little is the only way of learning how to create more.” Whipple calls this the best advice to any writer she’s ever come across. Essentially: write. Do the work.

The Other Day – an Autobiography

My least favorite Dorothy Whipple book yet, a brief stab at her childhood autobiography. I dislike these biographical looks that start at the first memory; I can’t think of a single one I’ve ever enjoyed, first recollections of table-legs and other things that a child notices. She grows a bit, goes to school, has vindictive teachers who humiliate her for not being able to do math or accuse her of lying when she claims to have written a story all by herself. Eventually she flees to a local school at the Convent, a Protestant standing out amidst the boarders who are all Catholic. Her family gets a country home for the summer, and she forces herself to learn to swim. Proving to her cousins that she can now do it, she swims in the pond, and they approve then ignore her, leaving her to almost drown. Pedaling home from this on her bicycle to an important lunch with a visiting dignitary, she proceeds to belch water out of her mouth, nose and ears at the table.

The Closed Door and Other Stories

I was reluctant to finish reading this book of short stories by Dorothy Whipple, because that leaves me Whipple-less for the moment, a state that I fear in this post-election darkness since it means I lose one method of escaping. Her stories are as great as the longer novels.

  • The Closed Door – The longest story, parents who don’t want a child and then deal with their daughter by restricting everything she can do, pulling her away from her adventurous friend Lucy, forbidding her marriage to Jimmy. She marries an old doctor just to escape the house, but when her father dies, the doctor insists that her mother come live with them and she turns everything gloomy again. “Until she was within a few days of her fortieth birthday, Stella remained in bondage to her mother. Then Alice, in her turn, died and Stella was free at last. But it was too late, she told herself.” Lucy comes back to rescue her at the end.
  • The Rose – Widowed husband marries a woman who henpecks him, finds fault with everything he does, discovers he has a rose under his hat and is suspicious that he’s having an affair with his secretary, only to be dashed to find that he puts the rose on his wife’s grave. “I’d rather it had been the typist. You can’t fight—that.”
  • Youth – Spinster aunt takes her niece into London, lets her do whatever she wants in the afternoon, which is to go to the dances. When a man asks her to dance, her aunt refuses to let her, but then the niece walks across the room and asks him to dance.
  • The Handbag – Old woman is gradually eased out of her husband’s life, discovers a package sent from a hotel containing the handbag of his lover sent back to “Mrs. West” because they registered under that name. She goes to an event they’re both at and draws the handbag out onto the table, causing the woman to rush from the podium and her husband after her. Mrs. West remains and is pleased to hand out prizes in their absence.
  • Family Crisis – Another story about a daughter worked like a slave without wages, she escapes and runs away with a married traveling salesman who actually won’t leave his wife. The parents find her, bring her home. Interesting detail of the proper neighbor, Miss Martin, who they catch stealing their tomatoes.
  • After Tea – Yet another story of a beleaguered daughter. Christine is worked to the bone, fetching things like a servant but unpaid. She’s refused permission to take nights off to attend French lectures. Her parents say they have something to tell her, after tea. “Mr and Mrs Berry always fixed the time for everything. They arranged life in time-tables. Perhaps because nothing of importance happened to them, they liked to make unimportant things important. By fixing a walk, say, for three-thirty, the walk and the hour were made significant. One could look forward to 3:30, refer frequently to 3:30, get ready for 3:30, announce that it was just 3:30 and with satisfaction set off.” After tea, they tell her she’s adopted, and she’s delighted, just packs up and leaves.
  • Wednesday – Sad story of a mother who’s lost custody of her children after an ill-advised 3 day affair for which her husband hired a detective and divorced her. He’d been waiting for the opportunity, was able to ditch an aging wife and get a younger model. The kids were devastated at first, but now used to the monthly visits and unkind to their mother, demanding treats and food and toys. “It was perhaps as well that she was not allowed to see the children oftener; she couldn’t afford to.”
  • Summer Holiday – the children’s nanny accompanies them to the seashore but allows a strange man to come to her room. The kids spill the beans to her boyfriend when they get back home, and she’s banished.
  • Saturday Afternoon – Husband who usually spends Saturday afternoons out is reluctant to leave, but wife and daughter push him out so they could have the day to themselves as usual. A police inspector comes by later to talk to him, the women find that he’s kept a lover in town for 15 years and broke up with her recently, and she killed herself.
  • Cover – Man marries the girl who jilted him for an American and had a baby with him but the American died and so did the baby. He “saves” her reputation by marrying her, but lets everyone know it. She’s mortified by the gossip, and later when they move to town and her husband starts carrying on with one of her friends, thinks it’s her fault when her friend is no longer allowed to come over. “I suppose she’s heard about me,” she said. The husband gripped the newspaper tightly, looking sideways at her, then relaxed. “Yes, I suppose that’s it.”

The Tale of a Very Little Tortoise

It is truly Dorothy Whipple/Shirley Jackson month around here. I’m reaching the end of the available Whipple books I can find, so ordered up this children’s book which contains a delightful story about a tiny turtle rescued by a kind Person after running away from a family that didn’t take care of it well. Little, as it’s called, injures its toes when trying to dig into the ground for winter to hibernate, but Person comes to the rescue and provides a box of hay for sleep. When spring comes around, Big Tortoise also shows up, and Little attempts to make friends. Big gets Little to try eating a strawberry and even though it’s delicious, Little insists that Big finish it off. Big wanders outside of the garden for a few days and Little goes to rescue it; later they’re both rescued when a neighbor discovers them.

The Priory

Another gem from Whipple. Despite the name, nothing religious in this one, except the fact that the ancient manor had some ruins from medieval times when pilgrims used to swing through on their way from Canterbury. She does a marvelous job with characters and descriptions, sucking you in from the beginning with a view of the individuals in the darkened manor, waiting for their father/brother to get home and turn on the lights because money was scarce. The two sisters, Christine and Penelope, are grown adults but linger in their nursery since they take pleasure in each other’s company more than that of their father and his sister, the formidable Aunt Victoria.

Their father, the Major, decides to remarry, someone needs to take the house in hand and help him ignore the bills that stack up in his desk drawer. The only thing he takes pleasure in is cricket, and he spends exorbitant sums fielding a match at his estate each summer. He marries Anthea, a neighboring old maid who he thinks will give him little trouble, which she does until unexpectedly getting pregnant and giving birth to twins. She welcomes Nurse Pye into the fold, a soon to be bosom friend who seems to be the only one to help her with the babies. Christine marries the handsome Nicholas and quickly has a baby before she discovers one of his infidelities after the woman mails her a copy of the hotel bill. Penelope marries a man that she met at her father’s wedding, a rich fat man who adores her and frees her from life at Saunby. Aunt Victoria is packed off to the village inn once she’s asked by Anthea to contribute money to the household expenses; she continues to paint on the grounds of the estate and is quite happy.

Christine leaves Nicholas and his rich father, takes Angela, the baby, to Saunby, only to find that Anthea asks her to leave soon. Nicholas and his father arrive to demand that she return to him, and she refuses, saying it would be like being forced to eat something that had just made her sick. She gets rescued by Penelope and installed in their house, but finds that she must get a job and she’s uneducated and unqualified for work. She gets a job in a salon in London as a receptionist and lives in a boarding house during the week while Angela is coo’ed over by Penelope, who shocks Christine by saying she wants to adopt her. Furious, Christine refuses, but then must let Angela go for a month vacation to Cornwall while she works for £2 a week in London, not enough to cover her expenses plus train fare for the weekend trips to see her daughter (so she pawns things). Coming back from the Cornwall trip, Angela gets pneumonia and nearly dies, shaking Christine to her senses and enabling her to reach out to Nicolas’s parents for help. Nicholas, too, has left, trying to find a job and make something of himself. He returns as the country is on the threshold of war, and his father comes up with a plan to save Saunby (it’s for sale) by buying it, installing tenants who will help work the land and create industry, keeping Christine’s father in one part, plus Christine/Nicholas/Angela, plus the father and mother.

Happily ever after and all that. From penniless gentry chaos, weddings, learning to earn your own living (lots of emphasis on how her daughter would be educated and learn to make her way in the world), to saving the old manor.

They Were Sisters

I’ve come to the end of my stack of Dorothy Whipple novels for the moment, with a few more winging their way towards me. Perhaps due to overexposure, I wasn’t as enamored with this one. A tale of sisters driven to various conflicting ends: Lucy, the oldest, helped raise Vera (the youngest, most beautiful) and Charlotte, seeing them make disastrous marriages before settling into a very happy one herself with William. Lucy continues to try and save her sisters and then her sisters’ daughters: Sarah and Judith. Charlotte drinks herself into a coma and dies, Judith escapes to Aunt Vera’s house but unfortunately falls in love with Vera’s lover, Terry. Confronted by Vera, Judith flees with Sarah to Lucy’s shelter. The descriptions of the horrors endured by Charlotte and her children at the capricious hands of her husband were vivid–practical jokes, plus killing their dog, whimsical fake heart attacks, etc.

They Knew Mr. Knight

My Dorothy Whipple addiction continues apace, finishing two of her books within the last few hours. This is a lovely well constructed tale of a family that rises to then falls from prosperity. Each character is fleshed out in splendid detail and Whipple is a marvel at creating images you can see in your mind. We first meet Thomas Blake waking up beside his wife Celia, vaguely worried that the engineering works he’s employed at are going to be sold. Celia luxuriates in bed, having a rare half hour to herself before she has to return to being a wife and mother of Freda, Ruth, and Douglas. The children’s character is varied; Freda is frivolous and cares about outfits and wealth; Ruth is curious and daring and lighthearted and wants to become a writer; Douglas is being groomed to take over his father’s company but secretly wants to be a scientist, not an engineer. There’s a gossipy neighbor next door, Mrs. Greene, who thrills to witness their eventual destruction when Thomas cooks the books to save his plant, ending up in jail for a year. Celia has a bit of “God” nonsense throughout, crises of faith and whatnot, although when it returns at the end it seems more like Spirit than religion. Solid fiction plotted along a well-worn path of rise and fall with happy ending.

High Wages

I’m overdosing on Dorothy Whipple with pure delight. She is a master of manipulation, pulling your heartstrings along with the story. Jane is orphaned and works as a shopgirl for six years for a too-careful man (Chadwick) who begrudges all of her suggestions that end up making him money. She works alongside Maggie, who fancies the librarian, Wilfrid. A love triangle springs up when Wilfrid finds a kindred reader in Jane, thrusting books into her happy hands, his love unreturned. She prefers Noel Yarde, a dashing young man of the upper class who rescues her hat from being crushed by a car when it flies off her head. WWI intrudes, and all the men go off to war. Noel happily marries the vapid Sylvia before he realizes what he’s gotten into. Wilfrid kisses Jane and she feels guilty but doesn’t tell Maggie, who finds out as he’s about to head off to war, causing an ultimatum that it’s either Maggie that leaves the shop or Jane does. Jane’s friend Mrs. Briggs whisks Jane off for a weekend vacation and has the brilliant idea of staking her a loan so she can open her own shop, which Jane does and it is wildly successful, turning a £150 investment into £1000 within a few years. This ends up saving Mrs. Briggs when her husband is ruined by the tax evasion of his partner, Sylvia’s father Mr. Greenwood. Noel and Jane fall in love as armless Wilfrid watches in the wings, but the financial ruin means Noel must stay and earn for his young family. Jane has prepared to sell her shop so she could run away with Noel, and now is left with no plans. Wilfrid to the rescue, advising her relocation to London to start again.

Someone at a Distance

I’m continuing to self-medicate from post-election trauma by inhaling fiction. Dorothy Whipple’s last novel is a roller coaster of emotions, but the characters are too extreme: the doting, loving wife Ellen; the handsome and charming and rich husband Avery who co-owns a publishing firm; precocious daughter Anne who loves her horse and goes to boarding school; son Hugh off in the Army. Avery’s mother hires a French woman as a companion to help her with her French, and enter Louise, the viper, the poisonous snake who lures unsuspecting Avery into her web and breaks up his marriage. Of course, she hates him as he ends up drowning his sorrows in drink because he never wanted to leave his wife and family. Of course, he hates her. Louise’s motivation is to get over the heartbreak of a lover, Paul, in her native village, who marries a rich woman instead of her, the daughter of a bookseller. She gets a moment of flaunting her firs and pearls and rich English husband in front of Paul and his wife, but her parents are horrified to find that she broke up Avery’s marriage and married a divorced man. In the end, Ellen finds strength by breaking off completely, obtaining work at the local hotel which includes a home and a stable for Anne’s horse. One day after Christmas, Avery comes rolling up in the car with Louise, not knowing that Ellen was there. He sees that she still loves him and may forgive him, and determines to get his life back on track. Poor Ellen must then live a double life of secretly caring for her ex-husband while never telling her children about it because they cut him out completely.

Greenbanks

Beautiful understated story of a family and all the various things that can go awry. Louisa, the matriarch, overseeing everyone’s comfort from her estate of Greenbanks, sees her husband die from a carriage wreck with his mistress. She doesn’t much mind being left alone, since she has her favorite son, Charles, nearby, until his brother and brother-in-law chase him away to South Africa because he won’t work. He returns, and is sent off to Malay. He comes back, joins the soldiering for WWI, and dies, of course. The other son, Jim, is a hard-ass who just cares about making the family business run. Louisa considers him “just a lodger.”

Daughter Letty married Ambrose, a real prig who loves things to be orderly. Their daughter Rachel wants none of that, yearns to be educated like her brothers, and when she earns a scholarship to Oxford she is denied by her father. Letty herself submits to Ambrose’s nonsense until her aunt leaves her a fortune, and then makes her own plans.

Louisa’s daughter Laura has the spark and gumption in the family, marrying a rich man and then leaving him when she realized how boring her life would be, running off with the love of her life from when she was young, having to beg for a divorce which is finally granted when the husband realizes that she might return with a squalling child and demand to be taken care of, ruining his solitude and comforts.

There’s also the mysterious Miss Barlow (Kate), who has a child out of wedlock and is reduced to a life of shameful work, acting as a companion. Louisa runs into her one day in town and offers her a position, thinking to bring her some peace, but Kate is prickly, wants none of it. She falls in love with the new preacher who turns out to be a celibate priest. Kate’s bastard son returns, Rachel falls in love with him, happily ever after.