“A gem of a book” – reading Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages for the #1930club

This week, Karen and Simon have been hosting one of their reading club events, this time focusing on books published in 1930.  It has been great fun seeing what everyone has chosen to read – by all accounts 1930 was a bumper publishing year.  My contribution has been to read High Wages by Dorothy Whipple.

I have previously read and very much enjoyed four other Whipple novels:  Because of the LockwoodsGreenbanksThey Knew Mr Knight and Someone at a Distance. So I had high expectations for High Wages.  Happily I was not disappointed in any way.  Once I started it, I could hardly put it down.

The narrative style of High Wages is classic Whipple:  seemingly light and frothy from the beginning, while gradually drawing the reader in through incisive social observation, humour and wit, and brilliantly rendered characters.

Knowing that I would be writing this review for the 1930club, I started to mark up potential references, as you can see, but soon realised that I might end up noting the whole book. On every page is a fascinating socio-economic comment, a hilarious exchange of dialogue and/or a passing reference which makes one think ‘I really must get back to that/read up more about that’.  As such, this is a novel packed full of interest on all kinds of levels.  And as a bonus, the story is an absolute cracker!

High Wages is about shop-girl Jane Carter, working in a draper’s shop in a fictional Lancashire town.  We first meet her and her fellow townspeople in 1912 and through Jane’s eyes we learn about how society and life were changing for working class people, and women in particular.  There is a super essay with more analysis about the novel on the Persephone Forum. Persephone also highlights the origin of the title, which is based on a Thomas Carlyle quotation: ‘Experience doth take dreadfully high wages, but she teacheth like none other’.

As Jane Brocket notes in her introduction to the Persephone reprint, quoting Jane Carter herself:  “High Wages is a gem of a novel, ‘a perfect thing clear and simple’.”  I loved reading this book and look forward to my continuing journey through the Whipple catalogue. 🙂


28 thoughts on ““A gem of a book” – reading Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages for the #1930club

    1. They are such a brilliant combination of good story-telling and interesting social history. There are some kindle versions if you can’t get hold of the physical books.


    1. I devoured it! Perhaps it would be interesting to do a DW reading week – I enjoyed your DDM week so much. What do you think?


      1. That’ll be lovely to do DDM again. And I’m encouraged that you like the DW idea. I shall give it some further thought….. 😀


  1. I’m so glad someone read this for the club! I don’t think this is QUITE top tier Whipple, for me, but it is very high second tier. All the shop descriptions are so interesting in evoking that era.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s such a pleasure to read a good story, while also absorbing some social history. Thanks for hosting the club – already looking forward to the next one.


  2. Isn’t Dorothy Whipple just the best? Every one I’ve picked up has been unputdownable – and I haven’t read this one, so a treat in store. I love all your coloured post-it’s, it’s true every line is quotable! And I must do some exploring into the Carlyles, they turn up so often and I know nothing about them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your enthusiastic review, Liz! You wrote about Dorothy Whipple before and I had meant to try her out but of course, forgot all about it. I have just bought They Were Sisters on my Kindle app ( it was the first one I saw ) and am looking forward to reading it once I have finished Elizabeth Edmondson’s ‘A Question of Inheritance’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Edmondson series sounds delightful. I have yet to read They Were Sisters but hope to get to it soon as I work my way through the Whipple catalogue – it will be interesting to check out the film too if it is still available (but only after reading the book of course – book first, film second is the law!!). 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have loved all of Dorothy Whipple’s novels. Does anyone have any recommendations of writers with a similar genre/ style as I am feeling a bit bereft now that I have finished them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know why I didn’t click through to read this at the time. Anyway, I love your festooning with post-its; my Iris Murdoch reads are certainly like that and others get a fair few, too. And a lovely review. I really enjoyed this one, read a few years ago: I very much enjoyed the little details of everyday life. I have just the one Whipple left to read now, Young Anne, which saddens me greatly, though I can then go and read them all over again, of course …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Liz, that’s lovely to hear. And I feel your pain, approaching the last of your DWs – I am trying to read them spaced out over time to put off that end point as long as possible!

      Liked by 1 person

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