|Thanks again to Rachel at Book Snob for the photo.|
I couldn’t believe my luck in getting a copy of this out of print Whipple. I thought that I would hold onto it for a while–save it for a rainy day if you will–but I think I had it for only about a week before giving in. As with all Whipples, Because of the Lockwoods is a wonderful book and a wonderful read. I ended up staying up to almost 2:00 AM (on a work night!) to finish it.
The story centers around the Hunters (mother and three children) and their diminished circumstances after husband/father passes away. The Lockwoods, the Hunters’ previous neighbors, appear to be, and certainly think of themselves as a benevolent force in the lives of the Hunter family. Mrs. Lockwood insists that Mr. Lockwood help Mrs. Hunter make sense of her husband’s estate. In the process Mr. Lockwood perpetrates a swindle upon Mrs. Hunter that further diminishes her circumstances. The swindle, however, is not appartent to Mrs. Hunter and she lives her life in perpetual gratitude and obesiance to the Lockwoods. With very few resources to fall back on, the two eldest Hunter children are eventually forced into accepting jobs they abhor because the seemingly munificent Lockwoods insist that they have no other prospects. But Thea, the youngest, manages to pursue her dreams both despite and because of the Lockwoods. In the process she finds herself a social pariah and her hopes for the future dashed. That is until working class neighbor Oliver Reade manages to provide opportunities for the upper class Hunters that they never would have expected or contemplated.
As much as I love them, there is a certain deus ex machina aspect to most of Whipple’s novels. Chapters and chapters of privation are wiped clean with a fairly quick succession of fortuitous events. Perhaps this tendency in her fiction is one of the reasons Whipple never moved beyond being just a popular–and now largely forgotten–author. While my literary expertise falls squarely into the “I know what I like” school of thought, I think if one is going to critique Whipple’s fiction one certainly has to at least acknowledge her joyously ham-handed approach to making everything turn out. Having said that, while things end up looking rosy for the Hunters there is in the final pages of Because of the Lockwoods perhaps the darkest thread that I have yet to find in Whipple. I don’t count too much on the darkness in Someone at a Distance because the characterizations in that novel just don’t ring true to me as they do in her other works. (In fact the more distance I have from Someone at a Distance, the less I like it.)
Still, I loved Because of the Lockwoods. I am chuffed to note that I have a copy of Every Good Deed coming from an ebay buy in Australia and that Persephone will be reissuing Greenbanks soon.
And by the way, has anyone else noticed a superficial similarity between Because of the Lockwoods and Barbara Comyns’ The Skin Chairs? Diminished circumstances, telling off the snooty folks who were supposedly their benefactors, the self-made man rescuing the family from drudgery?