One of the reasons why blogging is so amazing is that it connects you with people who share your interests, and who you most probably would never have otherwise met. The internet is considered by some to be a force of evil, encouraging us to stop communicating through normal channels and waste endless amounts of time looking up trivia on Wikipedia, but in my opinion, it is a wonderful resource to enable people from all over the world to enter into discussions that no one in their real life acquaintance can have with them. My friends are wonderfully indulgent of my book loving habits and they do listen to my witterings about Persephone and Virago and Dorothy Whipple and Wilkie Collins etc but none of them particularly wants to sit down and chat books for hours on end; therefore, my blog and the people I have met through it give me a much treasured outlet for all things book related. I can get ideas, inspiration, recommendations and real joy from reading other people’s blogs, and from the comments and emails people are so kind to write to me too, so, to everyone who reads, comments, emails or writes a blog that I enjoy, thank you for providing me with such a fun way to spend my idle hours! It is much appreciated, and nothing beats the little buzz of delight I get when I see that someone has left a comment on my posts. It’s lovely to know that people are interested in what I have to say!
Well now, what does all this preamble have to do with Greenbanks and Dorothy Whipple, I hear you cry? Well, I got a lovely email from a lady called Sandra a while ago, and she is a fellow Dorothy Whipple fan who had read my post on Young Anne and was interested in borrowing it. In return she said she would lend me a copy of Greenbanks, as it is ridiculously expensive to buy and I hadn’t read it yet. So we happily swapped books and I have now had the pleasure of reading this wonderful novel, which I read whilst away in lovely Arundel for the weekend.
Dorothy Whipple is at the centre of what is, for me, one of life’s greatest mysteries. How someone who wrote so brilliantly, with such perception, with such insight, with such feeling, with such sympathy, and with such truth, has fallen so completely by the wayside, I simply cannot fathom. She was immensely popular in her day; her books were Book Society Choices (incidentally, if there were so many produced, why are they now so hard to get hold of?!), and two were made into films. She would have been, I imagine, the ‘housewife’s choice’, books women juggling the tasks of being the perfect wife, mother and housekeeper would have enjoyed borrowing from Boots’ circulating library and reading during stolen moments when the children were at school and the dusting had been done, revelling in the stories of ordinary lives, nodding with enthusiasm and understanding at the descriptions of the fear, desperation, contradiction, disappointment, love, hope, dreams, and joys that make up suburban life. She is realistic about the often thankless task of having children; of the disappointment many of us face when our real lives don’t live up to the dreams we had; of the pain of marriages that are held together by habit rather than love, peppered with bitterness and resentment. She is also marvellous at showing the rays of light, the moments of ecstasy, the passions and dreams and delights that life holds, making the world such a wonderful place to be. And these aren’t sensational; they are not about having lots of money or being carried off to a desert island by a handsome knight in shining armour. They are as simple as watching children playing in a garden, of curling up by the fire with a good book and a cup of tea, of falling in love unexpectedly, of crunching amongst autumn leaves, of letting a snowflake melt on your tongue. Dorothy Whipple doesn’t do melodrama, or fantasy; she deals in reality, in mundanity, and in the enduringly beautiful quality of the indomitable human spirit. No matter what life throws at her characters, they manage to still find the strength to face the day ahead. What could be a greater inspiration than that?
Greenbanks is about the extended Ashton clan; Louisa, the head of the family, much loved, but also much taken for granted, is the focus of events. She has five children and a plethora of grandchildren, as well as an embarrassingly adulterous husband who she can’t help but love anyway. Her life is centred around the warm, cosy family home, Greenbanks, and Louisa’s loving heart seeks to do good and care for the demands of her now grown children and her grandchildren, especially her granddaughter Rachel. Each of her children has very different personalities, and she struggles to understand them; she can only really fully relate to her son Charles, the one she loves best, but who is the least promising. As life goes on and her children choose partners and have their own children and make mistakes and leave her behind, Louisa has to learn how to cope with loss, and grief, and the emotional demands of children she will always love, but has to let go and allow to live their own lives. She clings on to little Rachel as a way to keep having someone to care for and to anchor her, and in this new generation Louisa finds the hope and purpose she feels is starting to slip from her grasp.
Not a huge amount happens; this is a quiet family saga, full of the private emotions, events and battles that go on in all of our lives. But even so, this is a profoundly beautiful novel that celebrates the generosity of parental love, that explores the pain and grief of thwarted dreams and disappointments, and that demonstrates the power of the human spirit to overcome, to love, to hope, even when there seems to be no reason to. I adored it, and I hope that it will be republished soon, as I think this may be my favourite Whipple yet. I wish I had my own copy, because this may have just entered the top ten list…