“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. 🙂