Of all of the authors I thought about when I was compiling my Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors, I think that Dorothy Whipple is the one whose long neglect is most inexplicable and the one I would be most confident in putting in the hands of a devoted reader who doesn’t know how wonderful books from the recent past can be.
She wrote such absorbing and compelling novels, filled with beautiful writing, with characters who live and breathe and happenings that ring so very true. Her books are so alive that it impossible to put one down without spending a great deal of time thinking about what had happened and what might be happening in the world that she brought to life after her story ended.
In this book, she tells the story of the Hunters and the Lockwoods, who are neighbours in a Northern mill town. They had been peers, with children of similar ages, but that changed after the sudden death of Richard Hunter. His practice as an architect had suffered during the war, he had hoped that business would improve when peace came, but he didn’t live long enough to find out; and so Mrs Hunter and her three children must adapt to much humbler circumstances, and the relationship between the two families must change.
The situation would always be difficult and it was exacerbated by the characters of the two women, who were friends but not close enough to be anything other than Mrs Lockwood and Mrs Hunter to each other; the former inclined to be grand and gracious and the latter inclined to be accepting and appreciative …
Mrs Lockwood asked her husband, a solicitor, to help Mrs Hunter to deal with her late husband’s papers. He was reluctant to get involved, and utterly graceless, but after relying on her husband to deal with everything and having no idea what to do, Mrs Hunter was so grateful for his advice, and accepted it all without a moment’s hesitation.
She didn’t know that Mr Lockwood had taken advantage of her ignorance, and let her believe that her husband repaid a loan that he had granted after seeing that his receipt was missing. The way he suggested he should recoup the loan cost her a great deal, and his advice, which was inadequate but authoritative, would cost her a great deal more over the years.
Mrs Lockwood continued her to visit Mrs Hunter, even after she moved to a less desirable part of town. She enjoyed having someone who was always ready to listen to stories of her family and what they had been doing, who she could make presents of clothing that she had been seen in enough times, and somebody who would always be grateful for an invitation. Mrs Lockwood thought that she was being kind, and Mrs hunter was grateful.
Thea, the youngest of Mrs Hunter’s three children, came to bitterly resent the family that she saw was patronising hers, the family that had so many things she would have loved and took them for granted.
Her feelings grew stronger when Mr Lockwood arranged for her older siblings, Martin and Molly, to leave school at the earliest opportunity and take uncongenial jobs because he didn’t want the trouble of helping to find a way for them to follow the career paths that they wanted. She wanted to make sure that the same thing wouldn’t happen to her, but she didn’t know how.
When Thea found out that the Lockwood girls were going to school in France for a year she was desperate to find a way to go to. It seemed impossible, but a teacher who saw that she had a great deal of potential found a way for her to go to the same school and work for her keep. The Lockwoods were horrified that she didn’t know her place, that she should think that she could have the same advantages as their daughters; but she took to the new school and life in France in a way that they never would.
Thea’s sojourn in France ended in tears, but an unexpected find in the lining of her father’s old bag and the generosity of spirit of a new neighbour would be a catalyst for change for the Hunters and that Lockwoods …
Endpapers of the Persephone Books edition of ‘Because of the Lockwoods’
I felt so much as I read about them.
I was angry at the Lockwoods completely unjustified sense of superiority, but at the same time I could see that they were oblivious and that they really did think that they were doing the right thing.
I was moved when Mrs Hunter was shattered by the loss of her husband and unable to face the future, but there were times when I thought that she really could have, should have, done a little more to help herself and her children.
Thea was a joy to read about. I loved her spirit and her ambition for herself and her family. I worried when she made mistakes, when she wouldn’t listen to anyone, but I appreciated that her heart was in the right place and that she would learn.
I appreciated the intelligence of the writing, the very real complexity of the characters and the relationships, and the wonderful emotional understanding of everything she wrote about that Dorothy Whipple had.
There is so much more than I have written about, but I can only – I should only – say so much.
I loved what the author had to say.
She said that families who looked in on themselves – and both the Lockwoods and the Hunters were guilty of this – would not thrive and grow as families who looked out to the world could and would.
She spoke of social injustice and of how society was changing after the war.
And she wove this into her story quite beautifully, so that you could think about how cleverly she wrote or you could simply enjoy the drama, the romance, the suspense ….
Mr Lockwood’s misdeeds hang over this story, until it comes to a dark and dramatic conclusion.
I loved all of the book but I think I loved the final act most of all, because it was so profound and so emotional.
The ending was sudden, I was left wondering what happened next. I would have loved to have been told, but I think I know, and sometimes it is nice to be able to speculate …