I’m getting on nicely with my 20 Books of Summer now, with this charming little volume representing Book 15 and I’ll probably be on my second D.E. Stevenson by the time I publish this review. This counts for All Virago (and other publishers reclaiming lost women writers) as published by the lovely Persephone Books.

Ali of Heaven-Ali fame gave me this book for my birthday this year (I met up with her a bit late, or did she even have it sent to me? That’s lost in the mists of time already! I wonder if I bought it for her birthday or Christmas).

Dorothy Whipple – “Random Commentary”

(28 January 2021 – from Ali)

On Thursday I was a writer being interviewed by a publisher, a creature soaring to the seventh heaven. Today I am to be found doing fires, boiling a chicken and sweeping the front steps. But I am so happy I don’t care what I do. (p. 11)

As the Publisher’s Note that introduces this volume explains, the beloved author Dorothy Whipple (all of whose novels republished by Persephone I own – use the search function to find my reviews) compiled this book in 1965, picking out what she thought readers would like to know about her writing life. So we have notes about writing and publishing all the novels up to “They were Sisters” as well as one volume of memoir and on the reaction to these books, and dealings with her publishers, plus snippets on her short story writing and publication (goodness, she could bang out a short story in no time!) and then bits about her family, her life with her husband, their dogs and their beloved country cottage.

As the Publisher’s Note also makes clear, this is a facsimile edition, and what Whipple didn’t do was really divide it up at all or date her entries. So you kind of get a new day / topic per paragraph, with some notable dates like the first day of the year (but which year?) or the end of WW2, but otherwise feeling a bit jumbled and hard to find a place to stop for a bit. However, the text itself is charming and enlightening, really spelling out the realities of a woman writer’s life, when, as she mentions often, if there are hostessing or other house duties to be done, the notebook is closed and the novel in progress put aside:

If I were a man, i should be able to shut myself up in a study with never a thought but for writing, but as i am a woman anybody, anything, can interrupt me – without even a faint apology. (p. 120)

I loved the little details of where she got her ideas, characters and settings – she’s not averse to peering through an open curtain to see the inhabitants inside, for example, especially young married couples. There are other little details about her books which she adds with hindsight, for example when Cape turn down “High Wages”, she can add that the book went into ten editions and was still selling well 30 years later – delicious!

I also love the little glimpses of other beloved writers. Winifred Holtby reviews “They Knew Mr Knight” but seems not to have finished reading the serialisation in Good Housekeeping as she misses an important point. And she’s as thrilled as I was to find that, to find that E.M. Delafield (“so much admired by me” (p. 117)) mentions “The Priory” in her “The Provincial Lady in Wartime”. Finally, Noel Streatfeild rather confusingly invites her to visit a Home for Blitzed babies. She also meets and is friends with various male writers, but these were the details I cherished.

A writer’s diary is always a fun thing to read, and this is a lovely addition to the genre. And, naturally, it made me want to go back and re-read all the novels!

This is Book 15 in my 20 Books of Summer project and Book 2 in AV/AA