Friday, February 22, 2013

"The Priory," by Dorothy Whipple

The fiction of Dorothy Whipple was one of my big “discoveries” of the past couple of years. I have posted about several of her novels already, when I went on a sort of Whipple binge (1/24/12, 1/30/12, 2/10/12, 7/24/12, 8/14/12), and now have just finished reading “The Priory” (Persephone, 2003; originally published 1939). As with the other novels, this one focuses on life in England circa the 1930s amidst the upper class, or aspiring-to-the-upper class, but often struggling characters and families. Also, even more than in some of the other novels, this one focuses on, and sometimes explicitly discusses, the dilemma of women’s being completely dependent on men for their living. Poor Aunt Victoria still lives with her widowed brother, “the Major,” and his family, and is resented for the money it takes to keep her, especially by the Major’s new wife Anthea, who wants to be sure of support for herself and her twin babies. One of the Major’s young daughters from his first marriage, Christine, marries Nick, a man from a well-off family who is completely dependent on his wealthy father; the father, although he is generous, uses his money as a way of controlling Nick. Matters become worse for Christine when she feels the need to separate from him, and refuses to be dependent on his father or on her own family; she soon finds out how very hard it is for an upper-class but poorly educated woman to find a job and support herself and her baby. Whipple conveys well the desperation women felt when they saw no way to be independent, all because of the way society raised and treated women at the time. This theme is a powerful one in “The Priory,” but I don’t want to give the impression that it is a didactic novel. The main attractions of this novel, as with Whipple’s other novels, are her insightful portrayal of her characters and their relationships with each other, and her accomplished writing. Oh, and there are those gorgeous Persephone endpapers…

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