Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple

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…

38 comments

  1. I haven't read any Whipple yet, but I have The Priory in my TBR. I love your book swap story. Book blogging has definitely improved my quality of life!I like the painting for this post and I also like the Image of the Season. Very sweet.

  2. I really identify with your post Rachel. It is funny how real life friends don't understand our passion for books or think we're talking about something else when we say Virago or Persephone. I remember how someone in LT mentioned how when she said Virago, her husband got confused and thought she was talking about a certain drug. So we must be careful when we say, 'I really love Viragos!' So funny! But it is wonderful that I've realised my reading tastes are not so bizarre after all since meeting you and other book bloggers.P.S. I'm so envious that you've read Greenbanks and have a copy of Young Anne!

  3. I also really identify with your post – I have made some fantastic blogging friends and love reading about other people's love of the same books as me. I hope Persephone will reprint Greenbanks – I managed to get a copy from the library store and enjoyed it hugely. Thank goodness for libraries retaining old books! Hopefully Whipple will be resurrected to some extent due to her popularity amongst the Persephonists.

  4. I haven't read any Whipple yet either, but I'm not sure this sort of book is for me – I think I would need a bit more action. It takes a lot for me to enjoy a book which has little going on. I may try another Whipple first, but thank you for letting me know about it!

  5. I hope Persephone will decide will decide to publish this one – it sounds wonderful! The story behind the book is also lovely, and makes me happy to be part of this community of book bloggers!

  6. Isnt it awful when you have to give a book back that you have utterly loved. I have had that very thing recently with The Shuttle. I do love how this book swap came about though. Book bloggers are the best.I have yet to read any Whipple but this sounds wonderful and is giving me hope for my reading of Someone At A Distance in the not to distant future. Lovely, lovely, lovely review and thoughts as ever,

  7. Thomas – Dorothy will change your life. The Priory is wonderful and you will adore it. Isn't book blogging just wonderful? It's enriched my life too in lots of ways. Thank you for the compliment on the pictures – I thought they were both lovely too!Mrs B – That's such a funny story! My friends all know what Persephones are now I harp on about them so much! Yes I am very lucky to have been able to get hold of those out of print Whipples…they are both lovely. Hopefully one day Persephone will be able to reprint them all!Verity – I'm glad you feel the same way about blogging, Verity! I'm glad you managed to read Greenbanks but like you I hope it is republished as a library copy has to be given back as does a borrowed one and I desperately want a copy to keep and treasure!Jackie – Yes, if you want action packed, Dorothy probably wouldn't become a favourite with you! I'd advise you to start with Someone at a Distance, that's the most action packed one I've read. JoAnn – I hope they do too! I'm surprised they published High Wages over Greenbanks if I'm honest. I'm glad you liked the story!Simon – Thank you! Yes, yes it is. That's one reason why I've given up on the library now – the pain of returning a book is just too much! You must read Whipple soon Simon, you won't be disappointed! Once you start though you won't be able to stop reading her!

  8. I've been perusing your blog and I think you and I share a taste in books — enough that I'll read this one. (Anyone who prefers Anne Fadiman to Susan Hill gets to make recommendations to me.) Thank you for the lovely review!

  9. I love internet friends! They are entirely responsible for introducing me to virago and persephone books. And now I am one of the loyal devotees that runs around chatting about them whenever I can, to whoever will listen. Though sadly I've not come across a fellow fan in the flesh. Which is just exactly why blogs and librarything etc are so important! Another Whipple added to the list! I just ordered High Wages from Persephone and am anxiously awaiting its arrival. Of the two I've read (They Were Sisters and The Closed Door and Other Stories) I enjoyed the short stories the most. She has an incredible descriptive power that pulls you in immediately to the story and the characters' lives. Each one felt like a novel, so much was imagined about background and possible futures of characters. I couldn't quite believe she had accomplished it in so few pages.

  10. Sharing, discussing and learning more about the sort of books that I love best with people who blog about them has been such an uplifting experience for me. I was seriously feeling like an island as everyone else around me would laugh at my love of 'old lady books', it was rather depressing! I'm so excited to hear about another wonderful Whipple out there and hope that it finds its way back onto the printing press soon.

  11. Jenny – Hello! Thank you so much for reading and for commenting. Hehehe I think my dislike of Susan Hill's writing has made itself quite known! I often frequent your blog and I think Greenbanks will indeed be right up your street. I hope you can track down a copy.Heather – I love internet friends too, but I must say, since I started blogging my book piles seem to have gone off the radar – they are a bad influence on me! I'm glad you have discovered the joys of Virago and Persephone, though – they are such wonderful publishers. YES I felt just the same about her stories. They are so remarkable aren't they?! I think The Priory is the best Persephone Whipple though I am yet to read They Knew Mr Knight. Darlene – the people who laugh at you the ones to be pitied as they are missing out on the joy of so called old lady books!

  12. I've only recently discovered Dorothy Whipple, and, like you, I wonder why her books fell out of print. It's baffling. I'm so glad Persephone is fixing that, and I really hope they chose to publish Greenbanks as their next Whipple.

  13. Hey, I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I just wanted to say – it has been like finding a kindred spirit! It is so nice to find someone who is of a similar age and has very similar tastes in books and literature!! As with the others who have commented, I have only a few friends who I can discuss my love of Viragos/Persephones/general amazing women's writing – most roll their eyes when I make a beeline for the green Virago covers in the Oxfam Bookshop!!So now, I can read your thoughts on books I've read – often when I finish a book I really want to see what other people think of it – and get ideas of new books to read. So many thanks! And I love the Whipples I've read so far – I always save my Persephones for trips and weekends away to make them extra special, and will be taking Someone at a Distance away next time!

  14. Another kindred spirit here! I did not know that Greenbanks was ruinously expensive – I have an incredibly battered old copy that I found in a jumble sale about ten years ago for 5p!!! Anna is one title I am hunting for as that one has passed me but I think Dorothy Whipple is simply wonderful. I hve all the books republished by Persephone and many others besides which I have tracked down in second hand book shops and sites

  15. It always annoys me when I read the Carmen Callil quote about Virago being the type of publishing house that would never publish Dorothy Whipple. Her characters are so authentic and the emotion raw and that's only after having read two of her novels.So, have you emailed Persephone about Greenbanks (with a link to this review)? Swaps like yours and other wonderful occurrences are the things that make blogging such an enriching experience. I love having a place to gush about my love of Persephones and Viragoes and women's literature to my heart's content!

  16. Alison- Hello! Thank you so much for reading, and for commenting! I'm so glad you are another kindred spirit and flattered that you like my blog! I hope you will comment more often because I'd love to hear more of your thoughts.Elaine – You lucky thing getting Greenbanks so cheaply!!! All of her out of print books are so expensive now it's just totally not possible for me to buy them – the cheapest Greenbanks I could find was nearly £50. I'd love a copy of my own but at least I've had the chance to read it so I am thankful for that! I have Every Good Deed to read next…snagged that cheaply from ebay which was delightful!Claire – Yes, I know – can't believe that she has been treated with such misguided snobbery. No…I tried doing that with Illyrian Spring and got kindly rebuffed – apparently Ann Bridge is not ready for a renaissance yet. So I am reluctant to suggest again!

  17. What a wonderful post! Especially enjoyed it because I am new to Persephone titles but have recently signed on for the holiday gift exchange. In shopping for my secret recipient, I realized that I hope my first title from the publisher is a Dorothy Whipple. And you have intensified that hope here. Funny how things come together sometimes.

  18. Dorothy Whipple is a huge seller for Persephone so I think that Nicola is more than happy to reprint, but likes to leave a gap in between. High Wages, just out, will keep us going until say, 2011, when it might be time to suggest Greenbanks.I have a battered old copy of High Wages – story of a shop girl who decides to set up her own ship. It is, as always, so easy to read and so insightful and a fascinating insight into the world of drapery, braiding and trimming before 'ready mades' became the norm. Sheer delight from start to finish.Lovely to meet so many kindred spirits on this blog which is rapidly becoming one of my favourites.And thank you Rachel for sending me your dissertation on the Brontes which i am looking forward to reading!x

  19. "story of a shop girl who decides to set up her own ship"I did, of course, means SHOP not Ship or else the book would have been High Seas…'sigh'

  20. Frances – Hello! Thank you for reading and for commenting. I hope that you get a Dorothy for your secret santa present – all of them are wonderful in their own way!Elaine – I can't wait to read High Wages! I am hoping to get it for Christmas. Yes I think you're right about leaving intervals…I'll save the recommendation for a bit! You are very kind and complimentary Elaine!! You make me blush.I hope you enjoy the dissertation!Desperate Reader – Thank you very much!

  21. I have just discovered you, and I just wanted to say that you have a great blog. I have never ead any of Dorothy Wipple, but I may keep my eye out for her books, Thanks for the great blog!

  22. Hi Beth! Thanks for coming by and for commenting, I really appreciate it! I'm glad you like the blog and I hope you'll find a Dorothy to read very soon!

  23. I have never read any of her books but really enjoyed reading this post. By the way I love that picture of the child reading – who is it by?

  24. OhSoVintage – Thank you! You should try a Whipple, they're all magnificent!The picture is by the American illustrator Jessie Willcox Smith – she specialised in drawing children and her illustrations are just beautiful.

  25. Having somewhat of a split reading personality, I *love* being able to read blogs by people who share my very varied tastes without having to walk a very wobbly line between my love for Virago & Persephone & their ilk & my adoration of all things Euro – crime – eek!!!
    I’ve yet to discover Dorothy Whipple but this blog has certainly encouraged me to look out for her.
    Haven’t been reading your blog for very long but I think it’s beautiful & it brings me great enjoyment.

  26. And I forgot to post about my latest and best book serendipity: I found a hardcover of Greenbanks on Amazon for $3.18. I can not wait for it! For the price, I hope all the pages are there!

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