First a confession – and an unusual one for a Persephone lover – before this week I had never read anything by Dorothy Whipple!
I have collected her novels but, because they all seem to be long books and because I have heard so much good about them ,I have been saving them for a quiet, stress-free period that never seems to come around.
A few months ago I found a shorter, early Dorothy Whipple novel in an orange Penguin edition and I snapped it out without hesitation.
Later it was announced as one of this autumn’s three new Persephones, and so Persephone reading week seemed like the right time to read it.
I am delighted to report that High Wages is a joy. And that Jane, the heroine, is certainly the jewel in the crown.
I was charmed in the opening paragraph when, visiting town to see the shops on her half-day off, she finds herself looking more at the open sky.
“The whole expanse of heaven was covered with minute clouds, little abrupt things, kicking up their heels, flying off into nothing. They were so madly inconsequent that Jane laughed. And then, as if someone had said to them, “Come on now! Quietly! Quietly!” they stopped rioting and settled down. They were merged and gradually were lost to sight. A majestic gold arose and suffused the sky, leaving a pool of green in the east.”
Jane is alone in the world, but she finds a way forward through a combination of intelligence and hard work. And also because she is what my mother would call “ a people person”. Jane likes people, talking to them, understanding them and trying to help them when she can.
And she meets some wonderful characters. Dorothy Whipple’s depiction of the small Lancashire and its inhabitants is spot-on.
Jane pays for her success. She works hard, she is frustrated by the prejudices of the class system, and she has to deal with some difficult relationships. But she remains positive, and that spirit suffuses her story.
“Jane got up from the chair at last. Her mind was made up on one point; Mrs Greenwood was not going to get the better of her so easily. She would not let her living be taken from her without a fight. She walked into the shop to begin it.”
I was completely engaged and I was right behind Jane through all her ups and downs, willing her on. I was very sorry to have to leave her to go to work this morning. And needless to say, I shall be thrilled to share a name with such a wonderful Persephone heroine!
High Wages is a lovely story well told. I deliberately haven’t said too much because it really is the kind of book you must to sit down with and enjoy the story unraveling first hand.
So please do order a copy – and raise a glass to Persephone for this wonderful addition to their list!
And one last thought – with a heroine who works in a draper’s shop, I have high hopes for some wonderful endpapers based on a beautiful fabric!