Tuesday, June 14, 2011

They Knew Mr Knight by Dorothy Whipple

 "Mr Knight smiled to himself.  Five hundred a year!  And they sat down with it, these men.  They put up with it.  And the world was full of money.  They never even put out a hand towards it.  Poor chaps, they'd no guts or no wits, he didn't know which it was.  Mr Knight pulled down his waistcoat and settled himself more comfortably in his comfortable seat." 

Oh the delight of a Dorothy Whipple novel!  As cosy as a rainy Saturday afternoon spent watching a nostalgic film cuddled up in your favourite comfy sweater.

The Blakes are a typical family with the usual concerns about making ends meet.  Their three children are on the verge of adulthood and have their own ideas about the future.  Freda is a snob, Douglas lives to create science experiments and Ruth is a bit of a mess but does has an affection for writing.  There is also Uncle Edward who embarrasses the family with his inability to hold down a job due to problems with alcohol and laziness.

Poor Thomas Blake works day in and day out to earn enough money to provide for everyone, even his mother who hates to say thank you.  Things could have been so different if his father had been a better businessman but now Thomas is 'a servant where he should have been master'.

A chance encounter with Mr Knight, a wealthy financier, presents an opportunity for Thomas to step up in the world and he grabs it eagerly.  His daughter, Freda, is thrilled to be able to socialize with the richer set and can finally allow her snobbery to reach its full potential.  The oh-so sophisticated Mrs Knight kindly offers to show Freda around the best shops and even takes her to get a permanent wave against her mother's wishes.  The resulting scene is unforgettable and why I chose a related image for this post.

As the Blakes wealth increases, those left behind can't resist making comments about the high and mighty.  None more so than Mrs Greene, the quintessential net-flicker with a penchant for the negative.  And as Thomas spends more time with Mr Knight, Celia wonders if she has been a poor replacement for the men's club all these years.  Right on schedule, Uncle Edward turns up demanding an opportunity now that the Blake name is back over the factory door.  I couldn't help but enjoy the mortification of the family when Edward resorts to a form of blackmail in order to secure a position.  If he is refused a job at the factory then he will have to apply to a vacancy in staffing at the Knight's residence.  Can you imagine the shame!?

As any fan of Whipple knows, her characterization is excellent.  In my humble opinion, in They Knew Mr Knight it is sublime.  Pin down an opinion of a character and then ask yourself a few chapters further along if you feel the same way.  How she does it without being even remotely unsettling is quite fascinating when you think about it.  Waiting to discover whether Mr Knight is either scoundrel or saviour certainly kept me riveted throughout.

During the climax of the story I was pouring tea with one hand whilst not taking my eyes off of the page, trusting my ear to tell me when the cup was full.  The sign of a good book I'd say.

13 comments:

  1. One author I never could find anything of in Melbourne and certainly not here in Sri Lanka. Just enjoying the posts on her.

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  2. I too loved this book. Hooray for Whipple! Thanks.

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  3. Everywhere I read there are rave reviews always of D Whipple ... must put her on my List!

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  4. I have this on the TBR shelf, I'm saving it for a cranky day (since we rarely have rainy days here in S. Texas). I've read three Whipples so far and loved them all, I'll be so sad when I've finished them and there are no more for me to read.

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  5. Wasn't this wonderful?! I remember reading it for book club and we were all just entranced. When Greenbanks comes out from Persephone this Autumn I am going to have a Whipple FEST and re-read all of her books in one indulgent week of magnificence. I can't wait!

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  6. Mystica, DW is not an author I stumble across here in Ontario either, such a shame. Thank goodness for mail order!

    harriet, I discovered a website that teased me with the opening credits of the movie, I'd love to find it in its entirety. A big bowl of popcorn would be a must!

    galant, Ooh, you definitely do! Her short story collection published by Persephone is stunning as well.

    Karen, A cranky day...I love it! Oh the delayed gratification of having an unread Whipple or Elizabeth Taylor on your shelf! Every bit as wonderful as chocolate don't you think?

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  7. bookssnob, Whipple creates the best cinematic visuals while you're reading her books, no wonder this one was made into a movie! You must miss your bookshelves in England so, so much. And I bet there were loads of interesting things said about Freda during your book club meeting!

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  8. I really enjoyed this one as well. But then is there a bad Dorothy Whipple novel? :)

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  9. I loved this too. I's really interesting to compare Mr Knight to Mr Lockwood in Because of the Lockwoods. I don't want to say anything more in case you have not read it, or to be a spoiler, but I'm a Whipple fan as well and those 2 books work well together. I do wish her books weren't so hard to come by.
    sherry

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  10. I've only read Someone at a Distance by Whipple and very much enjoyed it. I will be checking this out when I go to the Persephone bookshop in July. I thought maybe the Susan Glaspell as well ...

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  11. Danielle, We've yet to hear of one!

    Sherry, That's one that I don't have...yet, but a trip to London in September will have me on the lookout for it. The edition with a charming outdoor scene for its endpapers is so pretty!

    Nicola, That was my first Whipple...oh that Louise! You will really enjoy They Knew Mr Knight then and her short stories are fantastic! Don't let the slim volume fool you, there is loads of great reading to be had in it. Enjoy your trip to the shop!

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  12. Lovely review. The only Whipple I haven't raved about was The Priory but I'm inclined to blame myself rather than Whipple. I probably need to read it again very soon!

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  13. Thanks for this review! I have loved the Whipples I've read so far but I confess this one did not appeal to me until I read your thoughts on it here... so now it's back on my list of Persephones I want!

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