Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple

Well, after all the excitement of my recent news (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look here), I’m going to calm things down by taking you into the cosy, relaxed world of Dorothy Whipple. Much like Jane Austen, Dorothy is an excellent balm for a troubled soul, and I picked up Because of the Lockwoods, sent to me by the same lovely reader who sent me The Last Station, last week when I was particularly anxious about my New York plans and also was off work with a nasty cold. Curled up on the sofa, feeling sorry for myself, I was rapidly gripped by the world that opened up before me, and helplessly emotionally involved with the characters Whipple had created. Because of the Lockwoods, sadly out of print, is remarkably good, and easily on a par with, if not better than, the four Whipple novels Persephone have reprinted. I could hardly bear to put it down, and it left me in awe of just how well Dorothy Whipple manages to weave a canvas of human life so vivid, so realistic, so unbearably, brilliantly, alive. This is a book not to be missed.

It tells the story of the Hunters and the Lockwoods, neighbours in a Northern, provincial mill town, whose lives take very different paths after the early death of Richard Hunter. Originally on the same par financially, and with children of the same age, after Richard suddenly dies with hardly any money saved, Mrs Hunter and her children are reduced to much humbler circumstances (the Hunters can’t even afford a maid – you know it must be bad when that happens!), and the families’ friendship changes from one of equality to one of patron and patronised. As a favour to her friend, Mrs Lockwood asks her husband, a solicitor, to deal with Mrs Hunter’s papers after her husband’s death. Ineffectual and helpless without her husband, to whom she deferred to in everything, Mrs Hunter is immensely grateful for the rather selfish Mr Lockwood’s grudgingly given advice, and accepts everything he suggests without question. Unbeknownst to her, Mr Lockwood takes advantage of her ignorance, and pretends that her husband never paid him back a loan he borrowed shortly before his death. As a result, he defrauds Mrs Hunter out of a good deal of money, and his way of atoning is by continuing to reluctantly and inadequately advise her on monetary matters as the years go by.

Mrs Lockwood continues her ‘friendship’ with Mrs Hunter despite her fall in social position, and patronisingly invites her to her large, comfortable home regularly to boast of her wealth and generosity, gives her presents of used clothing, and generally enjoys using her as a vessel to brag about her life and make her feel that she is a wonderfully kind person. Mrs Hunter, in her gentle hearted good natured way, feels grateful and honoured by Mrs Lockwood’s patronage, but her youngest daughter, Thea, develops an intense resentment for the family that she feels downtrodden and bullied by. The Lockwood’s twin daughters, Muriel and Bee, bully Thea and let her know just how insignificant and poor she is. Thea is jealous of the girls’ nice clothes and comfortable lifestyle, while the Hunters have nothing and have to scrimp and save for everything they can get. To make matters worse, Mr Lockwood, who controls the family finances, forces both Martin and Molly, Thea’s older siblings, to finish school early and take jobs they hate, because he can’t be bothered to help Mrs Hunter work out her finances to get them the jobs they really want. Thea lives in fear that she too will be forced to leave school early, and she determines that she won’t have her life ruled over by the patronising and snobbish Lockwoods.

Thea decides that she wants to go to France after she finishes school, but so do the Lockwood girls, and Mrs Lockwood is incensed at the idea that Thea should be allowed to go too. The Lockwoods are adamant that the Hunters should remember their inferior place at all times, and the thought that any Hunter should have the same advantage of one of their own precious children is anathema to them. However, Thea is a determined, ambitious, and proud girl, and she pushes for the new start she is desperate for. Thea’s courage and hard work pay off, and she soon finds herself in France, though unlike the Lockwood girls, she has to work for her keep. French life agrees with Thea enormously, and she blossoms, but a romance is misunderstood, and before she knows it, she has been shipped back home with a broken heart and an unjustly sullied reputation. However, an unexpected find in the bottom of her father’s old bag and a hand of kindness extended by a neighbour soon change the balance of power between the two opposing families, and the Lockwoods are finally forced to realise that wealth and status are as easily lost as gained, and true worth lies not in how well others think of you, but of how well you think of others.

This book made me so angry in places I wanted to leap in and smack the Lockwoods for their nastiness, pride and despicable treatment of the Hunters. Mrs Lockwood’s odious attitude of patronising ‘generosity’ and belief that the Hunters should be grateful for whatever they are given disgusted me, and the fact that Mrs Lockwood and Mrs Hunter never called each other by their first names demonstrated how shallow their relationship was. Mrs Lockwood is friends with Mrs Hunter merely to make her feel better about herself, and the kind and gentle Mrs Hunter indulges Mrs Lockwood’s vanity by being pitiably grateful for any crumbs of aid she can get. Mrs Hunter’s bewilderment at being poor and losing her status is terribly sad, but I also wanted to shake her and say ‘get a backbone, woman!’. Her ineffectual, vague nature infuriated me at times, and provided a perfect case study for why women should never allow themselves to become dependent on their husbands for everything. It made me quite upset to think of the thousands of women like this in the early 20th century, who were left helpless and unable to support themselves when their male protectors had died. Thank goodness for feminism!

Thea was a magnificent character, and her strong will, courage and pride were marvellous to behold. She makes plenty of mistakes, but her heart is in the right place, and her determination to not let her family’s social status prevent her from living the life she wanted was a real inspiration. There is much more in this novel I could describe, but I don’t want to give it all away. All I can say is that this is another masterpiece from the pen of Dorothy Whipple, and I urge you all to read it; it is a wide and dramatic canvas that provides a stark warning to those who value status and material things over all else, and cannot see beyond a person’s circumstances to the value of the heart within. Because of the Lockwoods is absolutely fantastic, and fingers crossed that it will be reprinted soon. For some reason, it seems to be far more readily available second hand in the US than in the UK; I have seen several copies available cheaply, so do take advantage of that if you can – you won’t be disappointed, I promise! Below is a photo of the beautiful endpapers; worth buying the book for alone I think!

27 comments

  1. I have never read any Whipple but you guys make her sound so fantastic that I really, really want to. It’s just difficult to find copies of some of her rarer books!

    Congratulations about your move to New York! I know you will fit right in. You are just (book) snobby enough.🙂

    1. She really is so brilliant, Constance! Once you start, you won’t be able to get enough! Persephone reprints aren’t TOO expensive so try and get hold of one and you won’t regret it, I promise!

      Thank you so much! I shall have to try and get myself invited to some literary soirees!😉

    1. Wasn’t it fantastic?! I am amazed every time I read a new Whipple that they are so consistently brilliant. She can’t fail to write a good book!

  2. I also think this is one of Whipple’s best. Now if we can only convince Persephone to issue new editions of Lockwoods and Greenbanks, the rest of the world can enjoy them as well. I would give up, oh I don’t know, something important, to get my hands on a copy of Greenbanks.

    1. Oh goodness yes. Greenbanks is like the holy grail for me – I loved it but unfortunately had to borrow a copy, and I’ve never found a copy for myself. I actually dreamt about finding one last night, that’s how obsessed I am! I have heard that Persephone do plan on reprinting all of Whipple’s books eventually so fingers crossed this will happen!

  3. That sounds like one of her best, Rachel. And a nice long one, too, after Every Good Deed. Love those endpapers.
    But does that mean you’re at Whipple’s end, and you’ve read them all?

    1. It is! Yes – a good meaty chunkster – more The Priory’s length I think. Aren’t the endpapers lovely?!

      No! I still have High Wages to go. It’s ready and waiting for me…but I don’t want to run out of Whipples so I am reluctant to read it, though I know I must!

  4. I love this book (and all of DW’s!), but, like you, I really wanted to do something violent to the Lockwoods. Nasty people! I really suffered throughout with Thea. DW makes you care about her characters. Although these are what I call ‘cosy books’ and perfect for a miserable, wet day, cuddled up by the fire, everything in the garden isn’t always rosy and when her characters suffer, so do we…

    I’m lucky enough to have her books in old hardbacks, including Greenbanks – oh, how I suffered with that one! I sometimes wonder why I do this to myself!

    1. Ha! I know, you just want to leap in and throw some punches, don’t you? I really rejoiced at Thea’s spirit and loved how she wasn’t prepared to be treated like dirt just because she had no money. DW totally knows how to tug on the emotions and I love how involved I get every time I read one of her books! You are so right – while her books are cosy they also raise real meaty issues and life is often difficult for her characters – but everything comes right in the end and that is what makes them such heartwarming reads.

      You lucky, lucky thing! You don’t know what I would do to get my own copy of Greenbanks – it’s my favourite Whipple and the only one I don’t own!

  5. I’ve not read the book, but, your review is so good and gives me such a feel for the novel that I am sitting here, enraged, wanting to shake Mrs. Lockwood. Just shake her up and see if there is anything redeemable about her nastiness. I cannot repeat what I would like to do to her husband. Not ladylike at all, so I won’t.

    Thea. She sounds like that spirit and spunk that keeps us captivated throughout the pages, Rachel. Thanks for another great review.

    The endpapers are beautiful and just the sort that would, indeed, lead me to buy the book, even if I knew nothing of the pages!

    1. Penny, you made me laugh with that comment! This is just the sort of book where you do feel like doing something violent – I know that you would love it!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the review and I hope you manage to find a copy – this really would be just up your street, I am sure!🙂

  6. I must try some Whipple, I have a feeling I would rather like her. My book reading plans over the next few months are about to be blown out of the water by something a little bit exciting so maybe Someone At A Distance can be put back until the flight to Brazil, oooh I bet thats a good book actually to calm my flying nerves.

    This one sounds lovely, it shocks me how many marvellous books are out of print considering some of the new books that seem to fly out of publishers doors.

    1. Simon have you never tried a Whipple? Shocking! You must try her, I know you’d love her. Yes, any Whipple is good for flying nerves though personally I’d go with The Priory more than Someone at a Distance as the latter is a bit upsetting!

      I know! Thank goodness for Persephone and Virago otherwise I would have missed out on so much reading pleasure!

  7. Another wonderful Whipple! I’m really hoping that Persephone reprints this but oh the endpapers in your copy…they’re fantastic! Love the hat on the lady in pink.

    Fabulous review, Rachel!

    1. Oh I am certain Persephone will reprint this, Darlene – it’s a real meaty saga so just up their street! I know, aren’t they amazing?! I think when (not if!) Persephone reprint they should reproduce these endpapers as they are so spectacular! Also very evocative of the era.

      Thanks Darlene! Glad you enjoyed it!

  8. I have this one waiting on my bookshelf, though sadly without this endpaper and cover… you’ve made it sound irresistible, although perhaps Mr. Lockwood will be too horrible for my sensitive soul… (!) And since I am largely ineffectual and vague, I shall read it as a Cautionary Tale.

    Lots of similarities with They Knew Mr. Knight, it seems? That was the first Whipple I read – I’ve since added Someone at a Distance (my favourite), Greenbanks, High Wages, The Closed Door and other stories… I think that’s it…

    1. Waiting? You need to read this straight away, Simon! Mr Lockwood is a nasty piece of work but he is redeemable so he shouldn’t be too much for your senstive soul! Ha! A cautionary tale indeed!!!

      Yes, in a way, but it’s perhaps a sequel to it in that it looks at what happens when you lose your money and have to rely on others to manage it for you…

      Greenbanks has been my favourite so far but DW is like Jane Austen for me…all her books are so good it’s difficult to choose any particular favourite!

    1. It’s gorgeous – and American! There are usually several copies on ebay of Because of the Lockwoods, based in the US – though it depends on how much you want to pay, of course. I hope you find a copy, as I’m sure you’d love it!

  9. Your review captures the book perfectly (I managed to track down a John Murray publisher’s ‘Cheap Edition’ [don’t you love it! No pretty endpapers for the plebeians who couldn’t afford the ‘First Edition’] through my local library system, having heard that Persephone Books are bringing out a reprint this autumn). I completely agree: it’s unputdownable. The Lockwoods are so vile that you are delighted almost without compunction at their downfall. And the depiction of how the steadfast Oliver Reade brings the family out of penury into a self-supporting state where they no longer have to be dependent on the condescension of Lockwoods is a triumph.

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