Friday, February 13, 2015

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

My second choice for the Back to the Classics 2015 challenge hosted at  is Someone at  a Distance which ticks the box for  the “Forgotten Classic” category.  In order to determine a forgotten classic, Karen suggested using goodreads to find books that have less than 1000 ratings or looking at the publishing catalogs of imprints such as NYRB, Virago and/or Persephone which specialize in re-publishing books and authors that have fallen into obscurity. From a Distance is a twofer, since it has under 700 ratings on goodreads and was re-published by Persephone in 1999. This is the second Whipple novel I have read, the first being The Priory, which I read last year and simply did not want to end, it was so enjoyable and I was entirely caught up in the story.  Someone at  a Distance wasn’t quite as fantastic as The Priory for my tastes, but it was nonetheless good.

I don’t want to get too much in to the plot, since I don’t want to spoil anything.   Whipple wrote domestic dramas and Someone at a Distance falls more on the side of melodrama.  However, it was a real pleasure to read even if the story isn’t too original. The book opens with the elderly widow Mrs. North who has been accustomed to being catered to her entire life. Now in her dotage, she is rather bitter and bored, even though her son and daughter-in-law live only a short distance away.  So she takes on a young French woman, Louise, as a companion for a few months. It is Louise's introduction which establishes most of the conflict in the novel, as she inveigles her way in to first Mrs. North's life and then into the rest of the family's, all the while neglecting her own doting parents back in France.

I loved Louise, even though she was detestable. And that is really a testament to Whipple’s writing, because  all of the characters, even if their actions were deplorable or unduly self-sacrificing, were understandable and fully rounded, I thought.

Someone At a Distance also has a slight feminist slant, which I think was also discernable in The Priory.  In both books certain female characters are faced with the dilemma of having to support themselves outside of marriage, a situation which offered few feasible solutions for many women in the early and mid-20th century.

1 comment:

  1. So nice to find another Whipple fan! I've read nearly all the Dorothy Whipple books that Persephone has published, and loved all of them (I still have Greenbanks, but I'm saving it for a rainy day.) Someone at a Distance is probably my favorite, though I also loved The Closed Door and Other Stories and Because of the Lockwoods, which they just published in the fall. I've heard they're going to publish another volume of her short stories soon and I'm really looking forward to it.

    Thanks for linking up your post to the Back to the Classics Challenge!