Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Team Whipple

Endpaper for High Wages by Dorothy Whipple, 'Farm Scene', a 1930 dress fabric by Crysede Ltd. Copyright V&A Images

To use Darlene from Roses Over a Cottage Door's phrase, I am a fully-fledged member of Team Whipple. For the one person on Svalbard who does not know to whom I am referring, I will explain. Team Whipple refers to the author Dorothy Whipple who Persephone Books has resurrected and republished after she shockingly fell from favour somewhere between young men who got angry and modernism going postal.

On Christmas Day I jumped out of bed to see if Father Christmas had brought me the one thing, the only thing that I really wanted; the latest Whipple offering from Persephone Books - High Wages. As I rumpaged through my stocking so lovingly put together by my mother, I was after one thing. My fingers reached something smooth and book-like. I pulled out a delightful, grey book with shining endpapers.

The thing is, I couldn't read it straightaway. I had to save it for the perfect moment so I read a couple of other books before settling down on a snowy day with the tabby cat on my lap, a slice of my mum's delicious Christmas cake and, of course, a pot of steaming tea.

Jane Carter is ambitious, resourceful and intelligent. She loves to read, she loves clothes and she loves success. When she enters Mr Chadwick's draper's shop to ask for the job of assistant she sees the chance to escape her stepmother and make a better life for herself. Mr Chadwick hires Jane and very quickly she becomes his best worker. Jane soon befriends Maggie, who also works in the shop, and Maggie's young man Wilfred who works in the library. Wilfred falls in love with Jane as she is interesting and reads, unlike Maggie, and he quietly yearns for her as he knows she does not love him.

Mr Chadwick's business improves with Jane's expertise, he is a wealthy man yet the high society in Tidsley do not accept him into their social circle. He is after all, a shopkeeper. So, when Jane befriends Mrs Briggs the honest wife of a partner in the local cotton business she secures tickets for herself and Mr and Mrs Chadwick to attend the Hospital Ball. The social event of the year oganised by the social queen of Tidsley, Mrs Greenwood.

Mrs Greenwood makes it clear that she disapproves of their attendance and when Jane is assaulted by a young and wealthy man, Mrs Greenwood purposefully implies that Jane is of 'loose' virtue and threatens that she and her daughter, the beautiful Sylvia, will not take their custom to Mr Chadwick's any longer.

Mr Chadwick is beside himself as he respects the social strata and regrets ever trying to ignore it. When Jane tries to defend herself his position is very clear,

""What happened at the ball was no fault of mine, placed as I was. Mrs.
Greenwood has no right to speak like that; she oughtn't to be in a position to
speak like that...'
'Now, Miss Carter said Mr Chadwick, wriggling. 'No
socialistic notions here, please.'"

Despite this incident Jane manages to keep her job and continues to bring good business to Mr Chadwick's. Jane frequently looks outside of her position and sees things that people like Mr Chadwick will never allow themselves. She sees the local eligible bachelor, Noel Yarde and daydreams about him. She watches as he courts Sylvia Greenwood and thinks about what it would be like to move in those social circles. But, after all, she is just a shopgirl.

When Maggie finds out that Jane and Wilfred shared a quick, meaningless kiss she forces Jane to leave Mr Chadwick's. This turns out to be a triumph of fate as she receives a loan from Mrs Briggs to set up her own shop. Jane becomes incredibly successful but more importantly she is an independent businesswoman and Noel Yarde, now married to Sylvia, finally notices her.

As the First World War comes and goes Whipple manages to capture the slow but pervading change that took place in small towns like Tidsley. She examines a moment in British history when social boundaries were shifting, women were emerging from the shadows and shopping would become a whole new experience with the introduction of 'ready to wear'. Clothes are still, to some extent, an indication as to your wealth or social standing. In the early twentieth century they were even more so - they were clear social signifiers. With the introduction of ready made clothing, these clear signals started to wane and the image of the regal, corseted Mrs Greenwood would disappear.

High Wages absolutely lived up to my expectations - Whipple has once again captured the minutiae of everyday life, of the conditions for women and the fact that life does not always go to plan. I like Jane, I easily sympathised with her even when she was so obviously getting it wrong (as we all do). Jane is inspirational - she receives knocks, she is caught in a changing world which is as hard for men as it is for women and she is, to some extent, a slave to fortune. But, through hard work, effort and internal struggle she develops into a competant and liberated young woman.

So - another win for Team Whipple. For the person on Svalbard, Persephone Books deliver. For Whipple-lovers, you won't be disappointed.


  1. Brilliant :)

    I can't wait to read this! Team Whipple is a select band and our heroine never disappoints! x

  2. We must be kindred spirits Bloomsbury Bell! I should have known you were a Persephone Booker by the name of your blog:) You must love all things Bloomsbury too! I look forward to coming back often for your book reviews. Thank you for this brilliant blog!

    Jeanne x

  3. Rachel - I will lend it to you asap! Am so looking forward to our next book club and They Knew Mr Knight!

    Jeanne (Cottage Garden) - I am so pleased you like my blog. Yes - I LOVE all things Bloomsbury. Lambs Conduit Street is my favourite street in London.

  4. Team Whipple sounds comforting, like it is endorsing an afternoon snack of gingerbread and hot tea. I really must read Someone at a Distance.

  5. I like the sound of Team Whipple. And I really like the sound of that book. I've only read The Priory, so I feel quite thrilled to know I have so many wonderful books to look forward to.

  6. Aren't you lucky?! I'm fully signed up to Team Whipple too, especially since I read her short stories. Would have loved to have a Whipple in my stocking.

  7. This Whipple really appealed to me when I first read about it - I do like books which explore the relationship between women's clothing and their social status/femininity - and your review makes it sound even more appealing!! Maybe after payday I'll treat myself! I'm sure I deserve one...

  8. I'm really looking forward to getting to know Whipple better. So far I've only read Someone at a Distance, which I loved, so must get another one soon. Your review was great -- it's really made me eager to reading High Wages at some point soon!

  9. There will be more Whipple in my future, too! Someone at a Distance was among my favorites last year, and I loved the short story "A Lovely Time" that was in the Persephone Biannually. Hurray for the Team!

  10. I think this Team Whipple concept has wings!

    So glad that you found High Wages in your stocking and it lived up to your expectations...how could it not? You made me smile when you wrote about saving its reading for just the right moment, I totally agree.

  11. My GOODNESS, I need to get on this Persephone bandwagon! They seem so pretty and no one seems to read a BAD story. I adore the small press publishers!

  12. Must read more Whipple. Only read Someone at a Distance and loved it. Nice review.

  13. I've not read any Whipple and feel that I am defintely missing out. Must remedy this situation soon!

  14. I love her too. I have High Wages but I'm waiting for the right moment. Probably soon as my online reading group are reading HW next month. Whipple is my favourite Persephone writer.

  15. all my daughter wanted for Christmas was book tokens .... she is dyslexic so this is amazing.

    Sorry - I have not read any of the above.

  16. I want to join Team Whipple! I've never read any of her books. I might actually pop to Persephone this weekend to rectify this rather glaring problem...

  17. I am Team Whipple all the way! Ah, how I wish I had accrued some Whipple in my recent Persephone haul... perhaps if I am good the birthday fairy will bring me some.

    I love your description of the perfect afternoon and, of course, cake is the perfect accompaniment to a Persephone!

  18. I've been thinking about picking up a Whipple. There are 3 waiting in the library for me but my TBR list is extensive. They keep calling to me though...

  19. I have been a member of Team Whipple now for some nine years since reading Someone at a Distance when Persephone had only just started publishing. I think she is simply unbeatable.