Monday, June 21, 2010
The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
Christine and Penelope Marwood have grown up in the nursery at Saunby and are now in their late teens. Once a thriving country home of aristocratic splendor it is now in a state of disrepair. Farms are being sold to finance the Major's cricket matches and to put food in the larder...the lights are only turned on in the evening. A slightly eccentric Aunt Victoria has a room in the house and loves nothing more than to paint, she's also a spinster and quite happy in the situation.
The Major's wife has been dead for some time and feeling the need for a woman's touch about the place he decides to propose to Anthea Sumpton. Since he's dashing, athletic, distinguished and aristocratic, Anthea is beyond thrilled. What her intended fails to inform her about is that he's also broke.
Soon after the wedding...and a fainting spell, Anthea is found to be pregnant. This is devastating news for the Major as the mouths to be fed are increasing (someone missed the lesson on the birds and the bees). Not only that but Anthea insists on having Christine and Penelope out of the nursery (and about time too) so that it can be completely made over. Since it simply will not do to be aristocratic and care for your own baby, a Nurse must also be hired. By now Anthea has discovered the desk drawer in the study stuffed with overdue notices. Things are going from bad to worse.
Enter Nicholas Ashwell, who arrives to play in the annual cricket match at Saunby. Christine falls in love with this handsome fellow who just so happens to come from an extremely wealthy family. Hmmm, big money meets aristocratic family name...perfect! Or is it?
The staff working at Saunby provide further drama at Saunby. Thompson is the handyman/chauffeur and both Bessy and Bertha find him rather attractive. We all know three is a crowd and someone is going to end up in tears.
Dorothy Whipple was sending a huge message in this book, published in 1939, about the fate of women who are uneducated and that the world is run by the whims of men. When Penelope asks a male friend to help her inquire about jobs she is laughed at and told she won't be good at anything. With no education and no training she's just to look pretty until the right man comes along. The way Whipple writes a character telling her daughter that things will be done differently for her is so vehement. There is no doubt that Dorothy was a progressive woman.
At 528 pages, this is a longish book but I was truly sad for it to end. I turned the last few pages with tears in my eyes because darn it...Whipple knows how to get you completely absorbed into her characters. This is a wonderfully engrossing story so please don't leave it to languish on your shelves!