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They Were Sisters

by Dorothy Whipple
Persephone book no:

55 56 57


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A Well Full of Leaves
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PREFACE BY CELIA BRAYFIELD
464pp
ISBN 9781903155462


First published in 1943 and set in Manchester and the surrounding area, 'They Were Sisters is a compulsively readable but often harrowing novel by one of Persephone's best writers, who always manages to make the ordinary extraordinary,' writes Celia Brayfield in her preface.

This is the fourth Dorothy Whipple novel we have republished and, like the others, it is apparently gentle but has a very strong theme, in this case domestic violence. Three sisters marry very different men and the choices they make determine whether they will flourish, be tamed or be repressed. Lucy's husband is her beloved companion; Vera's husband bores her and she turns elsewhere; and Charlotte's husband is a bully who turns a high-spirited naive young girl into a deeply unhappy woman. This is the story of how those marriages shape the sister’s lives, the consequences of their decisions, and the sisterly love that hopes to save them from tragedy.

In 1945 They Were Sisters was made into a film starring James Mason.

Also available as a Persephone Classic, a Persephone Audiobook and a Persephone eBook.

Endpaper

The endpaper is 'Pattern of Anemones', a 1935 printed cotton crepe dress fabric manufactured by Calico Printers' Association, Manchester. It was thus manufactured in the part of the world in which Dorothy Whipple lived and wrote; and could have been worn by any of the three sisters but perhaps most especially by Vera.

Picture Caption

Still from the 1945 film of They Were Sisters


Read What Readers Say

Elizabeth Day, ‘Stylist’ magazine

It is the most extraordinary and brilliantly subtle but moving look at three sisters, and the interplay between them as they grow into adulthood. ‘They Were Sisters’ is the kind of book that doesn’t get published much anymore, because it doesn’t seem very high concept or thrilling. But it’s such a wonderful character study – and for women who are sisters, as I am, it’s got a particular resonance.

Rebecca Lipkin via Instagram

If you enjoy a family drama this 1943 novel is for you!… One of my favourite books of the year, Whipple is a revelation. It’s thrilling when you discover an author whose writing is like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Her work is electrifyingly sensitive & although she writes ‘kitchen sink drama’ her skill at characterisation & realism transforms the mundane into something incredibly powerful and emotive. Please get this book!

Charlie Lee-Potter, 'Independent on Sunday'

Eexerts a menacing tone from start to finish. I eavesdropped on the lives of Lucy, Charlotte and Vera, compelled to go on but with a sense of simmering dread.

Female Scribbler via Instagram

‘They Were Sisters’ is a domestic emotional drama centring on middle-class life in the 1930s. The afterword by Celia Brayfield really hit the nail on the head when she commented on the mastery of middleness. Undramatic, unsensational, and yet Dorothy Whipple so clearly evokes, and engenders acute emotional turbulence. There were points in all sections of the novel where I expected someone to hit someone, a hint of insidiousness to be brought to conclusion, to sexual assault, or romance to lead to total redemption. But nothing is so extreme in Whipple. She can leave things. Loose ends abound. Usually authors aren’t very good at just leaving (un)well alone. But it is glorious.The strength of the emotional drama lies in Whipple’s skill for inciting empathy for all her characters. Different, faulted and frustrating, there is empathy for every sister, every one of their children, every husband, every servant.

Categories: Family Woman and Home

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