I just love Dorothy Whipple. Reading her books gives me the same feeling of cosiness as Sunday evenings in Winter, sitting in my pyjamas in front of the (gas) fire, with a cup of tea, some hot buttered crumpets, a stack of chocolate biscuits, and some form of BBC literary adaptation on the TV. It’s complete comforting bliss, but with the nagging feeling of something just around the corner that is going to be unpleasant…this would be Monday, ready to make you get up at an ungodly hour and board a train to a job you’d rather not be doing. And that’s exactly what Whipple’s books are all like, in my experience…a warm, cosy, comforting world threatened by an external, uncontrollable and unstoppable force just lingering around the corner.
And this is great stuff. I suppose if Dorothy Whipple were writing today her books would have pastel covers and be read by people who also like Jodi Picoult and Cecilia Ahern, because between the 30’s and 50’s Dorothy W was a very popular lady indeed, with her books being Book Society choices, being read by every war hardened romantically starved housewife, and even being made into long forgotten films. I intensely dislike chick lit but somehow if it’s 50 years old and comes in a musty smelling hardback, it’s alright with me. Kind of like bodice ripping soft porn yarns; I’d run a mile from that sort of book if it were modern, but somehow, Grace Metalious I’m talking to you, I don’t mind a bit of sexy sex from the days when ladies wore suspenders if it’s wrapped in an original dustjacket and looks respectable on my shelf.
Carmen Callil at Virago might have turned her nose up at Whipple and refused to republish her because she thought her books were too lowbrow and terribly written (the rudeness!) but thankfully Nicola Beauman saw sense and has republished some of her novels under the Persephone imprint, of which my only complaint is – why hasn’t she published them all?? Since discovering the wonderful world of Whipple I have been hunting down all the ones Persephone doesn’t reprint, and trying to find them at a reasonable price to boot, so I was delighted to snag Young Anne from ebay for 99p a month or so ago. I just got around to reading it this weekend, and I thought it was marvellous.
It tells the story of Anne Pritchard who lives in a fairly well to do Northern town with her unsatisfactory family and beloved servant Emily. We are briefly sped through Anne’s childhood in the first couple of chapters, and then Anne becomes 18 and lovely and falls in love with her best friend Mildred’s cousin George Yates. But of course these things are never simple and while Anne and George love each other with an intense passion, Anne finds she can’t carry on after a nasty revelation from her cousin (which was a bit unrealistic I thought, but it must be one of those things you have to understand from a mid century viewpoint) and she gives George up…then war gets declared and Anne becomes a secretary. At work she meets Richard Soames, who is much older than her but intelligent and funny and eventually they marry. Anne thinks everything will be lovely and she will be happy once she is married, but then the 1920s hit and Anne is beautiful and loves to dance and wants to have a sparkling fun life like her other young friends…but Soames wants none of it and Anne’s life becomes increasingly lonely. When George comes back after the war, Anne realises just how dissatisfied she is with her life, and everything gets turned upside down…I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to ruin the plot, but it all ends in characteristic Whipple style, with a nice bit of self sacrifice and hope for the future, which reflects her Christian moral stance that is clearly evident throughout all of her books.
It wasn’t the best Whipple I’ve read, but as a first novel it’s really very good. It is also interesting from the respect of being able to see the starting point of her talents and how she developed them over her career. Like her later novels, Young Anne is well characterised, involving, realistic and simple yet engrossing in its way of telling the story of small town life and all of its secret disappointments. It is definitely worth a read if you can get hold of a copy, and if you’d like to borrow mine, email me as I’m happy to send it out to people. I know how rare it is so it would be rather selfish of me to just let it sit gathering dust on my shelf. You would have to promise to send it back though!!