This was the last Persephone in the little batch I had put aside to read in August and managed to get to; I do love a Whipple and I’m very conscious that I only have this and one more to read “Because of the Lockwoods”), then I think that’s everything she wrote and certainly everything Persephone has published by her. But it was a good and absorbing read, and you can go back to her tales of middle-class life and small subversions.
Dorothy Whipple – “Greenbanks” (Persephone)
(25 December 2014 – from Bridget)
As hinted at above, this is rooted firmly in Whipple’s domestic, middle-class world. Its opening was reminiscent of Mary Hocking’s “An Irrelevant Woman”, as we meet Louisa, formerly the head of a bustling household, taking more and more leaves out of her table as her children grow up and the family dissipates around the Midlands and the South. Her children are almost all immersed in their own affairs, and she’s left with her maids, who are marvellous characters, and one elderly aunt.
But dissent and subversion creep in, unaccompanied by too much mental turmoil in Louisa’s case – although in fact it’s hard to tell her true mental state, as the Vicar discovers when he tries to visit and discuss the Church with her. Her grand-daughter, Rachel, finds an alternative bedroom at the family house that gives the book its title; Laura yearns and strains towards a happiness an earlier generation would not perhaps have sought so strongly; and Letty’s dissatisfaction with her husband starts to move from her inner to her outer world.
Only Charles seems satisfactory to his mother, and elicits her true emotions, and he’s resented by his siblings and shipped off all over the world, and scandal threatens the little household when Laura takes on a companion they all remember from poring over the photo albums, because secrets, however buried, have a habit of coming out, don’t they.
The men, from bumptious George and his portly dog to meddling, controlling Ambrose and a man who is weaker than his looks suggest, do not come off well, and the women quietly and firmly get on with collecting a bit of control here, a bit of agency there, just as they put aside the housekeeping money to make spaces for themselves.
A quietly interesting book with an acerbic eye for detail, and a satisfying read with enough ends left untied at the close.
This was Book 15 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and the last of my All Virago and Persephone / All August reads.
This book would suit … Whipple fans and anyone who likes an absorbing family saga.