'Seated Woman' by Rose Hilton, 2002
PREFACE BY HARRIET EVANS
This is our seventh novel by our bestselling writer. It was published in 1949 and was her penultimate book. (And we only have one more novel to republish – Young Anne – and a second volume of short stories, to be called Every Good Deed and Other Stories.) The novelist Harriet Evans has written a polemical preface to Because of the Lockwoods from which we are pleased to quote at length.
‘If, like me, you are one of the thousands of readers who discovered Dorothy Whipple through Persephone’s reissues, you know well that feeling of resigned bewilderment suffusing the sigh of satisfaction you utter after finishing one of her novels. Why isn’t she better known? Why is she not acclaimed more widely, when so many of her less talented contemporaries are still in print?
'For the case does need to be made for Dorothy Whipple’s entry into the pantheon of great British novelists of the twentieth century. Not just because she can so deftly spin a cocoon of a story around you, swiftly rendering you transfixed (the art of which is severely, crucially underestimated by reviewers and readers alike) but because she wrote books quite unlike any others, for all their seeming “ordinariness”. One might say the time is long overdue for a Barbara Pym type rehabilitation. I am as ambitious [for this to happen] to Dorothy Whipple. Her scope is larger, her own ambition grander, the results hugely satisfying, often thrilling. For me, she is more substantial a writer than someone like Pym or Elizabeth Taylor (both of whose novels I nevertheless adore) in not merely that aforementioned ambition, but in her control of material and characters, her eye for detail and most importantly, the mirror she holds up to twentieth- century England, showing good and bad, light and dark and, crucially, the lives of normal people, where she makes the ordinary extraordinary.
'However, the obstacles in Dorothy Whipple’s way are not insignificant. ‘The titles of her novels are not especially memorable; and I wonder if the name Whipple doesn’t help the cause; added to which, the worlds about which Whipple wrote so perceptively and engagingly were always firmly rooted in her own life and interests and surroundings, and so we arrive at what is for me the central issue. The world of literary London, for want of a better expression, is today perhaps more sexist and snobbish (especially geographically snobbish), almost unbelievably, than it was when she was writing and the cultural tide of opinion is, these days, against her. Another reason why Whipple has been disregarded by the literary mainstream is that we still live in a sexist world and, in addition, one where appreciation of writing from the North of England is undervalued.
'Dorothy Whipple is, when one breaks it down, an intensely moral writer. Yet morality never appears to drive the plot: always character. She never preaches, merely lets us think she is observing and conveying information. There is something about the clarity of expression and calm curiosity of Whipple’s prose which is hugely pleasing. She never employs excess to drive her point home but uses each word carefully and simply. Then there is the readability factor: perhaps that is what mostly damages her reputation, the fact that she is so damned unputdownable. The thinking is the same as it has been for years: shouldn’t real literature be hard to read?
'Because of the Lockwoods is one of my favourites of her novels. The story is deceptively simple: the entanglement of two families in a northern town called Aldworth. One, the Lockwoods, wealthy and powerful, in a position to patronise and help the second family, the poor Hunters, who have been left fatherless with a weak, ineffectual mother.Though the thudding heart of the story draws the reader inexorably along, hoping for the meek to conquer the strong, it is a surprising book in many ways, not least for its subversive portrayal of family – the children are often the adults, the parents the untrustworthy, unwise ones, and Whipple makes it clear that what we call today the nuclear family is not the answer to happiness. But what may be most satisfying about the book is how the climax is reached as a result of character.This is twentieth-century British fiction at its very best.’
'Chesnut', a 1949 fabric design by Mary Bryan for Edinburgh Weavers.