One From the Archive: ‘Because of the Lockwoods’ by Dorothy Whipple ****

I revisited this beautiful novel for mine and Yamini’s Fifty Women project, dipping in and out at will.  Below is my original review, which was first published here in February.

Because of the Lockwoods is Persephone’s 110th publication, and the eighth Dorothy Whipple book upon their list.  First published in 1949, Whipple’s penultimate novel focuses upon two very different families living in a small town in the north of England: ‘One, the Lockwoods, wealthy and powerful, in a position to patronise and help the second family, the poor Hunters, who have been left fatherless with a weak, ineffectual mother’.

The preface to the volume, which is at once well-developed, coherent, and very nicely written, has been penned by author Harriet Evans.  She begins her introduction in a marvellous way, by showing her love of Whipple’s work as follows: ‘If, like me, you are one of the thousands of readers who discovered Dorothy Whipple through Persephone’s reissues, you know well that feeling of resigned bewilderment suffusing the sigh of satisfaction you utter after finishing one of her novels.  Why isn’t she better known?  Why has she been so neglected, when every time someone picks her up for the first time they almost always become a fan?’

Evans goes on to write that Whipple – ‘an intensely moral writer’ – ‘wrote books quite unlike any others, for all their seeming “ordinariness”‘.  ‘She never preaches,’ Evans tells us, ‘merely lets us think she is observing and conveying information…  She is so damned unputdownable…  You are desperate to read on, to know that good, as personified by the heroine, Thea, and her family will prevail; that the world is not as dark as Whipple shows us it can be so often’.

As well as the well-evoked northern landscapes which the Lockwoods and Hunters live against, part of the story takes place in a beautifully drawn French town named Villeneuve.  Whipple is an incredibly perceptive author, who reveals the standings of both families almost immediately: ‘Mrs Lockwood decided to invite Mrs Hunter and her children to Oakfield for New Year’s Eve.  It would be one way of getting the food eaten up’.  All of her characters are deftly and distinctively built; Whipple gives one a vivid picture of each of her protagonists, and then follows one or two of them during each subsequent chapter.  This is a wonderful way in which to demonstrate the contrast and differing priorities between the two families, as well as allowing the story to unfold in a natural manner.

Because of the Lockwoods is a compelling read, filled as it is with beautiful writing and wonderfully drawn characters.  Whipple is an intelligent and rather fascinating author, whose plot stays with the reader long after the final page has been absorbed.  I, for one, am definitely a new convert to Whipple’s work, and can only hope that this reprint allows even more readers to discover her.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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