Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"They Knew Mr. Knight," by Dorothy Whipple

I have now written about several of Dorothy Whipple’s novels, thrilled with having “discovered” her work. (See my posts of 1/24/12, 1/30/12, 2/10/12, and 7/24/12.) I seem to be slowly working my way through her fiction, feeling fortunate that the USF Library has several of her books. The most recent I have read is “They Knew Mr. Knight” (originally published 1934 by John Murray; Persephone republished version, 1968 – and once again, I thank Persephone for these republishings of Whipple and other women writers who would otherwise have faded into the woodwork of the past). This novel tells the story of a robber baron type, Mr. Knight, who seems to succeed at everything he touches in business, and who becomes a benefactor to Thomas and Celia Blake and their family. He helps them prosper, and they are grateful. But, well, not to give away the ending, things change…. This novel was published at a time of a problematic economy (in the U.S. and in England too), and reading it now in another time of a seriously struggling economy is chilling. Mr. Knight prefigures the same class dominating the economy and the news today: a ruling class of businessmen (and I use the term “men” advisedly, although of course there are a few women involved as well) who think it is acceptable to do anything that benefits their businesses and profits (or simply don’t care about the ethical or even legal aspects of what they do, or about whom they hurt along the way). Such names as Bernie Madoff spring to mind. But this novel is not simply a polemic; there is much more in the story, regarding the psychology of the family that gets drawn into the world of Mr. Knight, and regarding the relationships among all the characters, as well as regarding the place of money and class in England and in its people’s lives. In this, as in her other novels and short stories, Whipple’s writing is so very good that the reader luxuriates in reading it.

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