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.”