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Every Good Deed and Other Stories

by Dorothy Whipple
Persephone book no:

117 118 119


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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781910263082

272pp

Persephone's second volume of Whipple short stories (the first was The Closed Door and Other Stories) consists of a novella  – Every Good Deed, originally published separately in 1944 –  and nine short stories.

The point about reading Dorothy Whipple is that there is an intimacy in her writing. But naturally this intimacy does not appeal to everyone. We feel that it appeals to people who like Elizabeth Taylor and yet this is not always the case: we have a friend who adores Elizabeth Taylor but cannot love Dorothy Whipple (yes, there are people). Yet one cannot but suspect that the younger novelist learnt a great deal from Dorothy Whipple. Take the short story in Every Good Deed and Other Stories called ‘Boarding House’ (written in about 1940, just when Elizabeth Taylor was beginning her career as a writer). It is about a rather deplorable woman called Mrs Moore who ruins things for everyone else when she arrives at a small hotel – because she is bored and lonely. ‘“It’s cutlet for cutlet,” she thought bitterly. “I can’t entertain, so no one entertains me now. To think that I should have to come to a place like this. After the life,” she thought, “I’ve lived.”’ The last sentence is pure Elizabeth Taylor. A lesser writer would have put ‘After the life I’ve lived,’ she thought. Why it is funnier and so much more expressive to put ‘she thought’ in the middle of the sentence is a mystery; but it makes all the difference. And why ‘It’s cutlet for cutlet’ is funny is also a mystery, but it certainly is.

The novelist Harriet Evans has written memorably about Dorothy Whipple. She said in her Preface to Because of the Lockwoods (wishing its author was in the pantheon of great twentieth-century British novelists) that one reason she isn’t is that although she depicts ‘solid, normal lives’, the ‘cultural tide of opinion is, these days, against her.’ She says that Whipple is an ‘intensely moral writer’ (this also does her a disservice) and that ‘there is something about the clarity of expression and calm curiosity of her prose which is hugely pleasing. She never employs excess to drive her point home but uses each word carefully and simply.’ Finally, there is the ‘readability factor: perhaps that is what mostly damages her reputation, the fact that she is so damned unputdownable. The thinking is the same as it has been for years: shouldn’t real literature be hard to read?’ The world at large may think so; Persephone readers know better.

Endpaper

Taken from a 1950s dress fabric in a private collection

Picture Caption

The Critics (1922) by Harold Harvey


Read What Readers Say

Rebecca Wallersteiner, ‘The Lady’

Dorothy Whipple is adept at convincing, unpleasant and manipulative characters, and situations spiralling out of control. Her stories ring true with acerbic wit and subtle observations. She vividly evokes an era when middle-class women had pretensions, household staff and time for tea: a world of dance halls, boarding houses, fish knives and smog. Unputdownable.

Cathy via Goodreads

Another collection of stories by Whipple, written in her exact and confident style - so very evocative of a time that feels very much in the past. These stories set in the earlier twentieth century tell of lives compromised by misfortune, status and poverty. Yet at the heart of each story is good and warmth of human living. No matter how downtrodden a character may appear, the reader is left feeling there must be a better future for them. So, despite harsh circumstances, one feels a character is forever growing beyond the story. It is Whipple's attention to detail, telling just enough, that gives her an edge as a short story writer. She can conjure up an entire character by describing a hat, for example.

Categories: Family Humour Short Stories Woman and Home

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