“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. 🙂

 

Six Degrees of Separation: From Three Women to The Braid

It’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation post. This is a fun monthly meme hosted by Kate, who picks a starting book from which we can each plot our own unique paths using six more books.

October’s starting place is Three Women by Lisa Taddeo…..

 

Once upon a time, there were Three Women.  But which three could they be?  Were they the aristocratic yet tragic Three Sisters suffering a decline in circumstances in pre-revolutionary Russia, trapped in an endless longing for Moscow?

Perhaps there was some confusion about which high-born women were related – it was certainly the case that Three Sisters, Three Queens were often spoken of as a group, though only two (Margaret and Mary) were kinswomen, albeit kindred spirits with Katharine of Aaragon in their mutual quest for power.

Enmity can forge curiously close relationships, just as friendship can bind through thick and thin, as the Three Daughters of Eve found out when one of them took desperate action to save herself.  And yet a story of betrayal and survival such as this is sadly one for the ages, as the Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China found to their cost across the generations.

Those beautiful swans each lived in different times yet their stories were profoundly linked.  The same can be said of the three women who passed The Hours in their respectively varying ways, each possessing an unknown affinity for the other through their laments for lost beauty in all its forms.

Suffering loss with dignity and hope requires great courage, as the three women linked by The Braid were destined to discover.  They join all the heroines of this tale in deserving our attention across the pages.  Though we cannot necessarily say that they all lived happily ever after, I nevertheless commend them to you. 💜

 

Tune in next month, when we forge our six degrees chains with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as our starting point. 🙂