I chose Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple for my “Classic by a Woman Author” for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate. This is the third title that I have read by Whipple after The Priory and Someone at a Distance, both of which I just now realize I read for the last two Back to the Classics Challenges!
I own all three of these books in the Persephone re-issue editions. Whipple was a very popular author in her day, but fell out of favor (and print) until many of her titles were resurrected by Persephone. I believe she is currently the author with the most titles re-published by Persephone; they currently offer seven of her novels and one short story collection.
Greenbanks is primarily the story of Louisa Ashton, the mother and grandmother of a large, middle class family whom she raised in the family home of Greenbanks somewhere in northern England. The book is set in the first quarter of the 20th century and there is a very definite theme running through the book regarding the options and restrictions placed on women across the generations, since Louisa grew up very much a Victorian while her granddaughter Rachel comes of age post WWI. While Louisa’s grown children and their wives and husbands often mystify her, she has a very special relationship with granddaughter Rachel.
There isn’t much of a plot, but it is easy for the Whipple-loving reader to become immersed in the world of Greenbanks without it because she wrote so well and her characters are so exceptionally well-drawn. Outside of Louisa and Rachel, who are very sympathetic characters, it is worth mentioning Ambrose, Rachel’s father and the insufferable husband of Louisa’ daughter Letty. Most of the time reader just wants to slap him, but occasionally there are small glimpses into his interior and his genuine incomprehension of other people and their motives and behaviors. I did actually feel a bit sorry for him from time to time.
I find there to be something comforting about the way Whipple writes and the kinds of stories she tells, even though she doesn’t shy away from unpleasant subjects or characters. There is a smooth quality to her writing style, if that makes any sense, that keeps me turning the pages and I very much look forward to trying one of the further 4 Whipple titles from Persephone in future.