Book Review: High Wages by Dorothy Whipple


Today begins Persephone Reading Week being hosted by Verity at The B Files and Claire at Paperback Reader. I am afraid I must kick-off my celebration of Persephone Reading Week with a stern warning to this niche publisher.

Dear Persephone Books:

Dorothy Whipple wrote 18 books. You have only reissued 6 of them. To those of us who have read even some of Mrs. Whipple’s work, I think it is safe to say that we are unwilling to countenance this unacceptable situation. It shouldn’t be too difficult for all of the good folks at Persephone to sit down and work out a schedule for the timely reissuance of the rest of Whipple’s oeuvre.

Whether intended or not, by reintroducing the discerning reading public to the wonders of Dorothy Whipple, Persephone has entered into a serious commitment akin to the sacred covenant between God and her chosen people. Well, you have made us believers, now please don’t leave us in the desert for forty years. Some of us, and perhaps the printed publishing world itself, may not last that long. And I doubt that a Whipple would smell as good on a Kindle as it does in a Persephone paperback.

Believe me to be, very truly yours,

Thomas at My Porch

Seriously folks, Whipples aren’t easy to find this side of the Atlantic, and I don’t want to run out once I finish the six that have been reissued so far. Perhaps I have already read the only two decent books Whipple ever wrote. But I kind of doubt that. First with The Priory and now with High Wages I am totally smitten with Whipple and would love to sit down and read them all in one sitting.

High Wages
Dorothy Whipple

Unfortunately, I absolutely hate trying to synopsize book plots in my amateur reviews. I just don’t have the patience to try and condense the action of a book in a way that won’t put you all to sleep. I read other bloggers’ plot summaries and am amazed at their skill in doing so. It is rare that I can pull it off, so I am not going to try too hard…High Wages is about Jane Carter, an 18-year old Lancashire woman who manages to secure herself a bit of freedom by snagging a job in a drapers’ (fabric) shop thus enabling her to move out of her stepmother’s house. The action begins in 1912 so you can imagine the limitations on employment and advancement available to Jane. But advance she does. She soon becomes indispensible to her employer and a favorite of customers and co-workers alike. Over time she chafes at being kept in her low-wage position and manages to open her own shop—much to the chagrin of her former employer. Whipple expertly sets this tale in the context of the social transitions of the times and changes in the world of ladies garments as custom clothing began to give way to ready-to-wear.

I loved this book for its subject, setting, and prose style. It is a true “coming into her own” kind of story that I really didn’t want to end. I can’t wait to read the remaining four Persephone Whipples.

23 thoughts on “Book Review: High Wages by Dorothy Whipple

  1. verity May 3, 2010 / 7:24 am

    I am quite agreed with you about the rest of Whipple – I have been lucky and managed to get some from the library but it would be easier and nicer if there were Persephone editions!


  2. Paperback Reader May 3, 2010 / 7:28 am

    Oh, Thomas, I adore your letter! Too true indeed.

    For a chance of winning one of Ms. Whipple's books then please link to your review on either my or Verity's welcomes posts and we shall enter you into the draw for The Closed Door and Other Stories.

    I have read other Whipples from you: Someone at a Distance and They Were Sisters and can testify that they are heartrending in their brutality (in the depiction of the everyday) but wonderful.


  3. Nadia May 3, 2010 / 7:49 am

    Thomas, I loved your letter – right on!

    As far as your reviewing skills go – don't sell yourself short. Loved your succint review of High Wages! Made me want to go out and buy it and I've never even read any Whipple. Although from what you have described about her writing, I think that situation can be changed with a trip over to the Persephone online catalog. Hope you have a great week reading your Persephones! Cheers!


  4. Amanda May 3, 2010 / 7:51 am

    I am planning on reading my first Whipple this month — the Priory. I had to get it via Interlibrary Loan.

    I, too, lack the ability to construct amazing and succinct plot summaries.


  5. JoAnn May 3, 2010 / 8:12 am

    What a perfect letter – perhaps it should be made into a petition and all the Persephone Week readers can sign it!!

    I love Dorothy Whipple, even though I've only read one book (Someone at a Distance). Wish they were easier to find here…I'm sure I'll be placing an order when the week is over. They Were Sisters will be next for me.

    PS – the word verification is “rants” :-)


  6. ramblingfancy May 3, 2010 / 8:40 am

    Laughed at your letter and can so imagine the delights of having a schedule for more Whipple releases! What did I do before I discovered Persephone books?! Spent too much on abe and paypal is probably accurate! Very much looking forward to more reviews by you – you did a brilliant job!


  7. tea lady May 3, 2010 / 8:45 am

    I hear you about the fear of boring readers with plot summaries but you avoided that pitfall admirably!

    I have only read one Dorothy Whipple short story but I want to cry every time I think about it, it was so affecting.


  8. fleurfisher May 3, 2010 / 11:19 am

    I can but agree with you and hope Persephone are listening.


  9. Thomas at My Porch May 3, 2010 / 2:06 pm

    Verity and Claire: Thanks for co-hosting this fun event. I've decided to make Whipple my highest value used book quarry. So rare over here it might be fun (or futile) looking for the needle in the haystack.

    Nadia: Thanks so much for the kind words.

    Amanda: Can't wait to hear what you think of the Priory.

    JoAnn: I love that your word verification is rants. Sometimes I marvel at the words that pop up.

    Rambling Fancy: I original had a really long alliterative sentence with lots of Ps.

    Tea Lady: Thank you so much. So far my Whipple in take has been pretty lighthearted. I am interested to see what she does with something more serious.

    Fleurfisher: Me too.


  10. Nan May 3, 2010 / 2:47 pm

    Well, Thomas your synopsis sold me! And what a great letter to P. I think you should send it. Really.


  11. Nymeth May 3, 2010 / 3:56 pm

    I love your enthusiasm for Whipple. I know she's a big Persephone favourite, but I have yet to read her myself. I suspect that if there's one thing I'll take away from this week, it's that I must rectify that as soon as possible.


  12. Aarti May 3, 2010 / 4:17 pm

    I have NEVER read Whipple and now I blame Persephone for this lapse in my reading. I am sure I would prefer the 12 books NOT reissued to the six that were ;-)


  13. Frances May 3, 2010 / 4:19 pm

    There is so much Whipple love to be found! I have one lined up for this week and must admit that I am very curious now to have the reading experience myself. Clever letter!


  14. skirmishofwit May 3, 2010 / 7:15 pm

    Haha, I love your letter and agree heartily! 'We Want More Whipple' sounds a good chant ;) So glad you enjoyed High Wages.


  15. Book Psmith May 3, 2010 / 7:30 pm

    You mean I am not the only one walking around sniffing my Persephones:) I have only read one Whipple, so thankfully have the other five to look forward to but, in the interests of my future Whipple reading, I second your letter.


  16. Darlene May 3, 2010 / 8:34 pm

    You are a kindred spirit! If there existed a Team Whipple t-shirt, I would buy one.


  17. Thomas at My Porch May 3, 2010 / 9:23 pm

    Nan: I am glad the synopsis piqued your interest.

    Nymeth: When I first approached ordering some Persephones my contrarian nature kept me from ordering more than just one Whipple because of all the blogosphere hype about her. Thankfully I got over that.

    Aarti: I have yet to find a Whipple naysayer.

    Frances: Have fun with your Whipple this week.

    Skirmish of Wit: Imagine the riot on Lambd Conduit street with that chant.

    Book Psmith: I sniff every book, but not every book is worth sniffing.

    Darlene: Your talk of Whipple T-shirts makes me wonder when someone is going to produce a Persephone T-shirt.


  18. Tara May 4, 2010 / 11:51 am

    Do add my name to your letter! I haven't read the same 2 Whipples you have but I've read 2 others and I think you'll like them just as much. Oh, and I hate doing summaries too. Am crap at it.


  19. Thomas at My Porch May 5, 2010 / 11:04 am

    Tara: I think I may have two of the lighter Whipples out there. It will be interesting to read something a little more serious.


  20. mary May 7, 2010 / 4:21 pm

    Thomas, I've read nine Whipples, plus the short story collection published by Persephone, and so I can promise you that the best and meatiest are still ahead of you. And I completely understand why you'd want to ration them as I shall be heartbroken when I've read them all. Anyway, I don't really count the children's books – do you? – so that brings the total down to 14. Of course, I'd love to see the children's books if I got the chance but can't imagine that little tortoises are going to be quite in the same league as Someone at a Distance or Mr Knight.


  21. Thomas at My Porch May 7, 2010 / 9:16 pm

    Mary: How exciting that the best is yet ahead. And you have read 9 Whipples. Yeah, I can't say that the children's books would be too high on my list, but would be interesting to see.


  22. Mrs. B. May 10, 2010 / 10:14 am

    Wonderful post Thomas. I can't believe I missed this. I've read 7 Whipples…all the Persephones and Because of the Lockwoods (still out of print). I definitely want more!


  23. Thomas at My Porch May 11, 2010 / 7:25 pm

    Mrs B: That is good to know. It makes waiting to read more all the more exciting.


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