Well, this one was so good that I knew I d have to find a copy of my own so that I could finish it Happily, my hostess had a spare copy ofrecent vintage, and she gave it to me as a gift So Here s a 1939 novel from England, featuring faded aristocrats running out of money, a moldering manor house, penniless heiresses looking for love and or financial stability, social climbers, and servants who, to the surprise of their employers, have lives of their own.
So, perhaps, think of this as The Cherry Orchard by way of Downton Abbey What delighted me, not having heard of the novel or the author before I started reading, was how truly first rate the book was going to turn out to be Whipple is, first off, simply an excellent writer, sentence by sentence But what I was most taken with was her subtle and complex presentation of her characters People who you think are well meaning and put upon and thus you re rooting for them to succeed turn out to have hidden reserves of cold selfishness people who you think are simply selfish evolve past their adversities and become thoughtful and admirable No one is quite who you think they are, and yet every character in the book is persuasively him or herself throughout This one was really a lovely surprise.
With every Dorothy Whipple book I read, I seewhy Persephone books are so fond of her The Priory is a seemingly simple story of a house and of the family who live in it As it opens, Major Marwood has decided that he must marry again, as his spinster sister Victoria and his two daughters, Penelope and Christine, simply aren t interested in running the house or in organizing the cricket games and weekends which are the delight of his life, even though they use up scarce money at an alarming rate Whipple also includes the house s servants in her story, in a love triangle among the Major s right hand man Thompson and two of the maids, sharp Bertha and pretty Bessy.
With the introduction of the Major s new wife, earnest, graceless Anthea, things start to change at The Priory, in ways its inhabitants never imagined, and everyone must come to terms with life in a changing, modern world The ending jars a little, because it s full of misplaced hope for a war the characters think has been averted World War II, in reality soon to start , but the rest of the book is beautifully understated, quietly absorbing, and engaged with examining the role of women, as all of Whipple s books are.
This was my first time reading Dorothy Whipple and I enjoyed it very much The Priory of the title is Saunby Priory which became a residence after the dissolution In our story it is inhabited by the Marwoods, who have lived there some generations, and it is their stories that we follow in the book The owner, Major Marwood has little idea how to manage the property, and its earnings have been falling regularly All he does is put off bills and economise, except when it comes to his own comforts and cricket, no expense being spared on the latter In The Priory also live his two grown up daughters, Christine and Penelope, who continue to stay in the nursery since no one has bothered to bring them out though they are part of social life in the village , and his spinster sister Victoria, an artist, who is in charge of the house, but simply lets it run itself Life for them is far from ideal but each is comfortable and happy in their own way Then the Major decides to remarry, and the diffident Anthea enters their realm Soon after Christine finds love in Nicholas Ashwell, a cricketer from a wealthy family but whose father is far too controlling even if good intentioned Marriages take place, babies are born, life for The Priory and its inhabitants changes far too quickly, as they and those that come into their lives have different ideas of marriage, love, family, and life itself There are misunderstandings and tiffs, and as in real life some are resolved while others lead to different outcomes than one expects When starting the book, I wondered if this would turn out to be a feel good happily ever after kind of story, but while it was partly that, it largely very real, and the paths that their lives take, the choices they make, and indeed they themselves are that too While the book largely concentrates on the personal stories of the characters, the year being 1939 when it was published as well , the shadow of war looms large especially in the second part The book stops at the point where the threat seems to have been averted and the characters breathe a sigh of relief, but one can t help thinking of what really happened, and how the plans they make and the hopes they have may never have come true This was a very good read, which certainly kept me engrossed, but does leave one feeling a touch melancholy because of what did happen at that point in time 4.
The story revolves around the residents of Saunby, a crumbling estate in the Midlands, being run into the ground by Major Marwood who has no idea of how to run the estate and is only willing to send money on cricket He lives with Aunt Victoria, who is an artist and paints boldly and badly , and his 2 grown daughters, living still in the nursery and keeping themselves to themselves Major Marwood decides to marry Anthea, who is the catalyst for change at The Priory Meek at first, she comes into her own as time goes on and we follow the trials and tribulations facing the family I loved the characterisation in this book and watching how the various characters grow, for better or for worse, as times change for them and war looms in the background.
I have only just started this, but every page offers another small reason to like Dorothy Whipple s writing Take this She painted in oils Not mildly as befitted a maiden lady of fifty three years, but boldly and badly.
Last summer I read my first Dorothy Whipple, Someone at Distance 1953 , a thoroughly compelling novel on the systematic destruction of a marriage a timeless theme rendered with real insight and attention to detail This year I m returning to Whipple with one of her earlier novels, The Priory 1939 , in a post for Jessie s Perspehone event running from 31st May to 9th June.
The Priory is something of an Upstairs Downstairs story, revolving around the residents of Saunby, a crumbling old estate in the middle of England in the years leading up to the Second World War The estate is home to the Marwood family Major Marwood, a widower his daughters, Christine aged twenty and Penelope nineteen and the Major s unmarried sister, the somewhat eccentric Victoria Also present in the house are various servants, most notably the ineffectual cook, Mrs Nall, the mismatched maids, Bertha and Bessy, and Major Marwood s trusty right hand man, Thompson.
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This book most definitely won t appeal to everyone for most of the 500 pp the events are all very small the drama is the interior life of the characters The Priory contains the most selfish, self centered, narrow minded group of people one could ever expect to encounter How they sort out their small lives evolved into a fascinating read for me.
I keep gravitating to the novels of the 20 s, 30 s and 40 s because I enjoy reading about women s preparedness to face the world or not This book paints a very dramatic picture of the challenges uneducated women face, as well as their efforts to be self sufficient It won t surprise you to hear that character and determination win out.
The Priory is a book that GoodReads kept recommending to me and which I kept ignoring.
Well, GoodReads, you win I read it I liked it.
The Priory is about a family, consisting of a widower father and his two 19 20 year old daughters Over the course of the book everyone decides to get married And then everyone has problems Some of them are quite serious.
Normally, I don t like a book where people s personal lives get off track and they fail to communicate or make good decisions In the end, things are bound to be either sad or else unrealistically resolved for a happy ever after.
BUT, in this book, just about everyone gets redemption They genuinely learn from their mistakes By the end of the book, I believe in their ability to do better and be happier in the future.
Further, by the end of the book, even the characters that I thought were unsympathetic had been ever so slightly altered in aspect It is a skillful author that can convey to you that even difficult people can be kind when they don t feel threatened, that most people are not horrid all the time, and that it doesn t do to put people in a box and never see them as anything other than what you think they are.
Note It s a surprisingly PG read for the era it was written in there s some extramarital stuff As I said, mistakes are made.
The Setting For This, The Third Novel By Dorothy Whipple Persephone Have Published, Is Saunby Priory, A Large House Somewhere In England Which Has Seen Better Times We Are Shown The Two Marwood Girls, Who Are Nearly Grown Up, Their Father, The Widower Major Marwood, And Their Aunt Then, As Soon As Their Lives Have Been Described, The Major Proposes Marriage To A Woman Much Younger Than Himself And Many Changes Begin I was so suprised by how much I loved this book I picked it up in my local charity shop, fully expecting it to be a gentle but unsatisfying read How wrong I was Dorothy Whipple writes beautifully and with love about the residents of Saunby, a priory somewhere in depths of the English countryside The story centres around the Major, his new wife Anthea and two of his children, Christine and Penelope alongside Thompson, the valet and two maids, Bessy and Bertha And of course the incorrigible Nurse Pye Throughout the course of the novel it charts the fate of the fading estate of Saunby and the relationships of the characters to the house All the while, the Second World War looms overhead It is somewhat of an Upstairs, Downstairs novel but covers some fairly large themes, such as the class system and women s education But what most impressed me about this book was the fact that the characters change and develop and characters who may seem odious are able to redeem themselves Whipple, has the very almost Victorian British philosophy that reminds me of my grandmother about the redemptive powers of struggle and work and this also remains a theme throughout the novel This book left such a deep impression on me that I am now going to buy the rest of Mrs Whipple s cannon also what an extraordinarily wonderful name, Whipple and add some of the other books that Persephone publish to my to read list The Priory is now undoubtedly an unexpected favourite of mine and I can t wait to readof her work.