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The Other Day

by Dorothy Whipple
Persephone book no:

143 144 145


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A Well Full of Leaves
Regular price £14.00
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256pp
ISBN 9781910263341

The Other Day was commissioned in 1935. The literary agent Michael Joseph told Dorothy Whipple that ‘he was going to set up as a publisher and wanted me to write a book – an autobiography – for him to publish. I kept on saying I couldn’t do it and he kept on saying I could’ (Random Commentary p. 60).

Despite her misgivings – a few weeks later she wrote ‘I hate my autobiography. How can I drivel on like this for 80,000 words?’ – she had finished by the New Year of 1936. Michael Joseph was delighted. ‘He says The Other Day is far the best thing I have done yet [she had by then published Young Anne, High Wages, Greenbanks and They Knew Mr Knight]. He says I don’t know what a good book I have written. I glowed with sherry and happiness.’

It is indeed a delightful book, describing in a charming and insightful way DW’s first twelve years (she was born in 1893). Each chapter describes her at a different age, from three years old to twelve, with her large and very happy family in the background and foreground. Her parents were sensible and loving, her siblings affectionate and rumbustious, her grandmother kind and understanding (she is evoked in Greenbanks).

In her Preface to Young Anne, Dorothy Whipple’s first and most autobiographical novel published in 1927, Lucy Mangan writes: ‘Like Dorothy Whipple, Anne is the youngest child of a respectable, middle-class Lancastrian family, sensitive yet unsentimental, and alert to the nuances of human behaviour, even if she struggles at times to understand their full meaning.’ It was this theme of the sensitive child trying to understand and adapt to the tyranny of grownups, of adults and children living side by side in mutually inaccessible worlds, that would be explored in even more depth in The Other Day a decade later.

A very ‘noticing’ child, from an early age DW had the acute eye for domestic detail which would be used to such superb effect in her novels; because one of the most extraordinary things about The Other Day, especially for those of us who do not remember much about our own childhoods, is DW’s total recall. Here is the passage about the death of Queen Victoria in 1901: ‘A bell tolled. The bell tolled again. “She’s gone,” said my mother in a strange voice…I leaned against the sofa, listening. The air was like a jelly slapped by the bell. At each slap the jelly wobbled violently; then less and less; it merely quivered; but before it could set into stillness the bell slapped it again. I waited for each bell. “The Queen is dead,” I said to myself. It had a solemn sound. The bell was solemn too. It was the most majestic solemn moment I had known. I was conscious of it, but I was also conscious that the Good Queen had died just in time to save Mrs B’s baby from falling into the coal-box, and me from a severe scolding, or worse.’

Dorothy Whipple was clearly an outstanding and admirable person – perceptive, funny, kind, lacking in vanity, someone whom every single Persephone reader would love to have known. The Other Day will tell Whipple admirers a great deal about her as a child and how she became the adult and the writer that she did. And now we have published and adored every single one of her books and with great sadness we must accept that fact and that there is nothing more to come.

Endpaper

The Other Day endpaper is a 1900 printed linen textile with stylised tulips and ogee leaf frames.


Read What Readers Say

Amy Watson via Goodreads

This is a glorious collection of autobiographical tales of Dorothy Whipple’s childhood in Pendle and Blackburn in the early 1900s. It’s a beautiful, relaxing, beguiling and well-written book about a kind of childhood that I would imagine just doesn’t exist anymore; adults are remote, awe-inspiring and vaguely terrifying, roaming the neighbourhood, hills and parks is what you do all day and hair-brained schemes are seen through to their end. This is also a fascinating historical document, fixed in its particular time through references to friends who would go on to die in WW1, servants who stay with the family for thirty years, and younger siblings succumbing quickly to childhood illnesses that have now been nipped in the bud by penicillin. Sad, happy, funny and affecting, this has a universality that plugged me right back into my child-brain. You think as your small self did whilst reading this book and access your inner child. Would recommend to anyone looking for something light.

A Persephone reader by email

Feel sort of bereft that this is the last time I’ll read a Dorothy Whipple for the first time, if you see what I mean, but it’s certainly a worthy one. Fascinating.

Categories: Biography Childhood

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