What cannot be made better by reading a Dorothy Whipple book? A classic hot-water-bottle author, becoming engrossed in a Whipple means becoming enveloped in a warm and captivating story of wrong-doing, good vs bad and, more often than not, women triumphing over men. A Whipple is not necessarily well-written in the sense of an accepted literary classic, but it is definitely well-written in the sense of an immediately gripping and compelling story - which, to my mind, is far superior to the former idea. A Whipple is a guarantee of a good book.
So thank goodness that Persephone Books has been making it its business to diligently re-publish every single piece of Whipple writing it can get its hands on. (For clarity, Persephone publishes lots of other forgotten women writers as well - but Dorothy Whipple remains one of their consistent best-sellers). And having just read their latest collection of her short stories, Every Good Deed, I am now up to speed on their Whipple offerings so far. Which puts me in a good position to reliably inform you that Dorothy Whipple has never written a bad book.
The story that lends this latest collection its title, Every Good Deed, is actually a novella, coming in at just over 100 pages and occupying most of the first half of this volume. It’s a classic Whipple construction: two elderly and kind spinster sisters live in luxury in a nice English village. And then their home is overtaken by an outsider: an adopted wayward teenage girl who exploits their kindness and bank balance. Being good eggs, the sisters won’t give up on the girl, no matter how tempting it must be, and time and again they show how good triumphs over bad. Until the girl pushes them one step too far… Brilliant! Classic Whipple!
The remainder of this collection is filled with short stories that also follow the classic Whipple vein: a husband who tires of his exhausted wife and demanding kids so plans to run off with his mistress (the twist in this is magnificent); a middle-aged spinster who runs away to show her cruel relatives just what she’s capable of (triumph over adversity); the kind couple persuaded to run a boarding house that is then destroyed by one overbearing guest (the snowball effect of fate). And I defy you not to be broken-hearted by the bitterly cruel hand dealt in the grossly unfair story Susan, which i found the most powerful story in this whole collection.
Whether in her short stories of her long novels (and I delight in the great length of novels such as The Priory, They Were Sisters and Greenbanks), Whipple has a talent for cuckoo-in-the-nest stories: an outsider comes in and upsets the previous harmonious home with disastrous consequences. And nine times out of ten, that dastardly outsider will be a man (boo, hiss!). It’s wonderful, it’s compelling… it’s exactly what I want to read.
If you are yet to read a Whipple (and oh, how I envy you, how I would love to have all those books to read for the first time), then I urge you to start with Someone At A Distance (also published by Persephone). It was the book that got me reading again after a period of ill-health where I had been unable to focus my attention on any book at all for six months or more. I picked up a copy of Someone At A Distance, and was hooked within pages, finishing the entire book within days. A classic Whipple about the fragility of the family, the superficiality of the male psyche, and - of course - an interloper in the home.