Monday, 16 May 2016

Persephone: Greenbanks - Dorothy Whipple

I love Persephone publications, bringing back books which are worth the trouble to republish.  I was in at the beginning, when someone bought me their first book.  Every so often I treat myself to a couple of those lovely grey paperbacks, all with matching covers and a bookmark to match the endpapers, again a treat, as every book has endpaper from a fabric or wallpaper issued at about the same time as the original publication of the book.

Dorothy Whipple is (or was) a lost author, that is until Persephone republished her,  but I have never read one of hers that wasn't worth reading, and Greenbanks is a gem.  Telling the story of a house and the family that live in or just pass through it, along with in laws, friends  and acquaintances sounds pretty mundane.  Not a bit of it, for Louisa, the mother and grandmother is the glue that holds this book and the characters in it together.  How she feels about her errant husband colours her views on others' mistakes in life.  Her love for Charles, her youngest son is, I guess, how lots of mothers feel about their youngest child.  Her childrens' choice of partners worry her somewhat, but in keeping with the times, her view is that at least most of them actually have partners.    There are some loathsome characters too, but I wonder if they were just a result of the age they were living in, for if we take Ambrose, one of Louisa's son-on-laws as an example, he thinks that women are at their very best when listening (hard) to a man explaining something to them, and looking a little confused.... Actually, I found the man odious for many reasons, but mainly because he was always right even when he wasn't.   And of course there is the grandchild, Rachel, who loves Louisa and is loved back unquestioningly - both of them understanding each other and the rest of the family.

This is an observation of a middle class family in the early part of the 20th century, but with a few tweaks, this could be any class, any house, any time.  Dorothy Whipple had an"eye" for characterisation, and although a reader might at first think her style old fashioned, think again - and if you want to read her, this book wouldn't be a bad place to start!