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Young Anne

by Dorothy Whipple
Persephone book no:

126 127 128

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781910263174

Young Anne (1927), PB No. 127, was Dorothy Whipple’s debut novel. It is about the first twenty years of a girl’s life: she lives at home mostly looked after by the kindly Emily, goes to school, falls in love and finally marries someone else. So far, so unoriginal. Yet it is original. There is something about the description of Anne’s life which is quite simply superb. It is also (and this is a plot spoiler) a little bit heart-wrenching. Anyone who has read DW’s previous books will know that the young man she loved, George Owen, was killed in WW1. This is a tribute to him and must have been written with many tears. (The young man in the novel is even called George.)

DW could not be explicit about Anne’s marriage because it is so much based on her own. For there is among her unpublished papers a poignant fragment of diary dated September 21st 1917 (she had married Henry Whipple, 24 years her senior, six weeks beforehand). It says: ‘I want to write, I want to express myself somehow. I want to live – to live hard – and life offers me nothing but an endless round of meals, interminable evenings, and eventless days... Liberty depends on wealth... a woman is a slave even though unmarried...married she is always a slave. I have given up freedom, youth, health and solitude and companionship and for what?’ (But after having written this she adds, ‘I feel wonderfully better for having written all that!’)

As Lucy Mangan says in her Persephone Preface: in the novel DW’s ‘unmistakable voice is already there. The book that would start her on her career as a novelist is written with all the sense of command and restraint that her fans (then and now) would come to know and love so well. The temptation of the debut author is to overwrite – to show all that you can do, all at once and repeatedly, so that people Get The Message. We have all read them and been exhausted by them. But Whipple, from the off, keeps her ego and her insecurities in check. As in all her later, more experienced works, she is not a showman but a patient, disciplined archaeologist at a dig, gently but ceaselessly sweeping away sandy layers of human conventionality and self-deception, and on down to deeper pretences to get at the stubborn, jagged, enduring truths about us all beneath.’

There is a passage among DW’s surviving diaries that reads: ‘The proudest moment of my life was that in which I put on a new sailor suit, brown kid gloves and a high school hat. I would have exchanged it for no crown on earth or in heaven either. I had reached the zenith of my baby ambitions. I was then ten years old, and I felt I had started on life.’ (The photograph of her looking proud and happy has survived and is above.) It is the fifteen years of life between this momentous event and her marriage that is at the heart of Young Anne, and although it is not an overtly ‘feminist’ book, like so many of our novels it is deeply feminist in its description of what does not happen to women and what should happen. DW should have gone to university or at least had a career: the description of Anne receiving her first wages is touching and unforgettable. Lucy Mangan writes: ‘The dignity offered by work and the liberation of a personal pay packet is of course explored in far more depth in High Wages, but it has its first celebration here in Anne’s delight at her first job...These are the Whipple moments I most love: the recording of women’s experiences and revelling in their triumphs. As Anne peers in at her four pound notes I feel I am peering down the line of distaff history, connecting those first moments of independence (even when your dependence had previously been invisible to you) wherever women have found them, and finding a link through the ages.’


The endpapers are taken from a machine-woven silk and linen furnishing fabric originally designed by George Walton in the 1890s and marketed in 1925 as 'Summer Flowers' by Sundour. In a private collection.

Picture Caption

Dorothy Stirrup (later Whipple) aged 10.

Read What Readers Say

Becky Barrow, ‘The Sunday Times’

In her day Dorothy Whipple was was one of the best-loved novelists in Britain. Plot and action were not her forte. What she did excel at was ordinary, recognisable relationships lived by ordinary, recognisable people. Her female characters are loyal, loving and reliable; vain, flighty and selfish; weak, scared and cowardly; but all of them are thoroughly believable. She often placed her middle-class protagonists in low-key situations, but the emotional truth that she wrung from them make her novels achingly poignant and involving. Yet the very qualities that made her so popular in the 1930s and 1940s also led to her precipitous decline. By the late 1950s she had fallen out of Today, however, she is experiencing a gradual revival thanks to Persephone, which has been steadily republishing her since 1999. ‘Young Anne’ (1927) is the last of the novels being brought back into print, and now surely is the time for this immensely addictive writer to be rediscovered by a wider reading public.

From First Page to Last via Instagram

‘Young Anne' follows the life of Anne Pritchard from a young girl of five to a grown woman in her early twenties. There are highs and lows dealt with compassionately and with a deftness of hand that makes the story feel all the more true. This is a story about a life. There are no great reveals, action scenes or taut moments. It could be said that nothing much happens but Dorothy Whipple wrote in such a way that she made the reader invested in the characters. She wrote about growing up, about finding your feet, about first love and relationship issues in such an engaging, often lively, way that the reader can’t help but be drawn into the story. Later there are moments of quiet, under-stated romance, of expressions of feelings that could almost pass the young protagonist by, but which are told by an older, perhaps wiser woman in a way that shows the underlying intentions of the person behind those acts. They lend weight to the story, one which becomes more apparent as the tale progresses. There are flashes of humour throughout, with some standout lines of prose that hint at the strength of work that could still be expected after this debut novel. Some of the text is so brilliant in its simplicity of manner that it requires an immediate re-reading to take in the insight and wit at work, and which resonate still today. The story is filled with simple, yet not simplistic prose, a character study of people and of a time still relevant and interesting today. ‘Young Anne’ was my first foray into the writing of Dorothy Whipple. It will not be my last. Highly recommended.

Caroreadsbooks via Instagram

‘Young Anne’ is my first Persephone read of 2022. To eke out my collection of Dorothy Whipple’s books, I allow myself to read only one a year. They appear to be cosy early-to-mid century fiction but they are much more than that. They are feminist novels in my opinion. Her protagonists tend to need/want more from life than being only a housewife of good social standing welcoming the local ladies for At Home
tea parties. Dorothy Whipple too was not a snob and always illustrates the cringe-worthy class consciousness of England during the last century. ‘Young Anne’ is a coming of age story and Anne faces a lot of upheaval in her short years. We see her, strong willed and exuberant, lose her way a bit but she reins it in for a hopefully ever after happy ending.

Categories: Childhood Education Family Love Story

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