05 February 2010

Book Review: The Priory by Dorothy Whipple

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The Priory
Dorothy Whipple

First it was the not-so-small band of book lunatics—I mean bloggers—who were constantly raving about Persephone. Not being one to miss out on book lunacy I got the catalog, ordered 12 of them, joined the Pesephone Secret Santa, got the Persephone logo tattooed on my shoulder…okay I really didn’t do the last one but it does have a certain appeal, the logo would make a good tattoo.

Then I began to notice that the Persephone Pack was raving about one Persephone author more than any other. It was all “Dorothy Whipple this”, and “Dorothy Whipple that”. And the Persephone catalog did seem to have a lot of Whipple in it. Being a sucker for an anachronistic sounding name, I felt myself being drawn in and wishing I had a Whipple to read. When lo and behold, I realized that I had actually included a Whipple in my original Persephone order.

By the way, I defy any American to claim that they don’t think of Charmin toilet paper when they hear the name Whipple. And even for those outside the US who use toilet roll rather than toilet paper and have no idea who Mr. Whipple is, thinking of Ms. Whipple just might make you think of some sickly sweet dessert with a ripple of something running through it. And if there are any fans of "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" out there you can probably even hear Reggie (brilliantly played by the late Leonard Rossiter) talking about Sunshine Desserts latest flavor, Strawberry-Lychee Ripple.

But I digress. The real question is, how do I feel now that I have read my first Whipple? Did the Whipple Wing of the Persephone Pack lead me astray? Let me put it this way, I have had to hide all the credit cards lest I go on a Whipple buying spree.

The Priory was an amazingly good read. Its 528 pages joyfully flew by. A book where you are dying to see what happens next but at the same time you don’t want it to end. The plot revolves around the decaying Saunby Priory somewhere in the British Midlands and the decaying lives of the cash poor family who inhabit it. In the make it, invest it, and lose it progression of wealth common in so many moneyed families, the Marwoods are deep into the third stage and don’t have a clue what to do about it. Widower Major Marwood lives for cricket. His young twenty-something daughters have never bothered to move out of the nursery and are not equipped for much of anything (life, work, or love) outside the expansive grounds of Saunby. The somewhat potty aunt who spends all her time painting despite not having an ounce of technique or talent. And then there is a cast of servants, outside elements are introduced into the story, the focus shifts, etc. I am not going to say much more about the plot, except that there is a lot of it and that it is fascinating and compelling.

And like most good novels, the characters have dimension and never fall strictly into hero or villain categories. Just when you think one of the characters is bad they show some redeeming quality that makes one not hate them after all. I have a little quibble over one part of the story line that never gets fully developed (Penelope refusing to have kids), and the fact that the novel’s wrap up leaves Penelope’s fate somewhat unknown. But when I said it was a quibble, I meant it was a quibble. This is a fantastic book.

My joy in reading The Priory was accompanied by a desire to see it dramatized for TV or the big screen. Which made me think of all the great books that would make for great TV or a great film. Which, in turn, started to annoy me a bit. I mean do we really need 172 filmed versions of Emma? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good period Austen film, but c’mon, there is a world of literature just waiting to for period costumes and Emma Thompson. (Given Ms. Thompson’s current age, I would probably cast her as Anthea or Aunt Victoria, but neither role seems meaty enough.) But I guess that doesn’t matter too much. Movie or not, you will enjoy The Priory.

See what other members of the Whipple Wing of the Persephone Pack have to say about Ms Whipple:
Bloomsbury Bell
A Book Sanctuary
Book Snob
Dovegreyreader Scribbles
The Literary Stew
Paperback Reader
Skirmish of Wit
Stuck In A Book


  1. Excellent news - I would also count myself part of the Whipple wing. Can I recommend Persephone's book of her short stories?

  2. Thanks for including a link to my blog! I love Whipple so much - I think my favourite is Someone at a Distance although they are all good!

  3. So glad you enjoyed your first Whipple! I can't wait to read The Priory myself.

  4. I really miss my book club group and am ready to start reading again! I will read the Priory next!

  5. Verity: I am not much of a short story person, but given how much I liked this book I would definitely consider it.

    Bloomsbury Bell: I can't wait to discover other Whipples.

    Skirmish of Wit: You will love it.

    Karena: This is a good one to restart your reading.

  6. Thomas, I'm so glad you enjoyed the Priory and have joined Team Whipple! Also, thanks for the link!
    The good news is there's still quite a few more of her books to enjoy. I agree with everything you've written...they are a joy to read and you don't want them to end. Yes, they should definitely film one of her books and make it a long mini-series.

  7. Welcome to Team Whipple! I can't wait to read another - maybe for Persephone Reading Week. You'll be joining in the fun, right?

  8. I'm not sure if I'm on Team Whipple or if I'm still a Wanna-be cheering from the sidelines, but I did really enjoy the first of her novels that I read (They Knew Mr. Knight). Also enjoyable was her Random Commentary (only available second-hand now, I think), jottings about her writing and reading: I love that kind of thing!

  9. I am Team Whipple all the way! I am also contemplating that Persephone logo tattoo ;).

    There is a film adaptation of They Were Sisters starring James Mason but I haven't seen it yet. I am currently rationing Whipple books out and haven't read The Priory yet but have to echo previous comments to say that whatever you choose, it is bound to be good. Furthermore, I have to testify that Verity raved to me about the collection of short stories despite previously not being a fan of short stories herself. The short story of Whipple's that featured in the last biannually was wonderful.

    The next Persephone Reading Week is the first week of May!

  10. Mrs B: It is rather exciting that she was fairly proflific.

    JoAnn: I am not sure what it is exactly but I will be raring go.

    Buried in Print: I've now made Whipple my used bookstore holy grail so I will keep my eyes out for the Random Commentary.

    Paperback Reader: Thanks for the info on the They Were Sisters being on film. I will have to look for that.

  11. Ah, you didn't join in the fun last Persephone Reading Week (can be found under Persephone Books and Persephone Reading Week tags on my blog or by looking at the end of August). Verity and I co-hosted the first week where many bloggers celebrated this publishing house we have all grown to love by reading their books all week and posting about them. It was a fabulous week and we are hosting another this May.

  12. Despite having two copies of this (one signed by Ms. Whipple! Not the Persephone ed, of course) I still haven't read The Priory. I can whole-heartedly recommend Someone at a Distance - that's brilliant.

  13. So glad you loved Whipple! Isn't she wonderful? This is one that I own but haven't read yet, or should I say that I am hoarding? I hope Persephone pubishes more of her particularly her autobiography/biography that I heard of somewhere.

  14. Paperback Reader: I am very excited for Peresephone week.

    Simon T: I know I am envious of your signed Whipple.

    Tara: I know what you mean about hoarding. I have another Whipple that I don't want to start yet even though I am dying to.

  15. You just reminded me that I received the new Persephone catalog but for fear of the kids getting to it, I put it somewhere safe and now I cannot remember where.

    I remember Mr. Whipple and I do think of him when I hear references to Whipple, the author.

    I have only read two Persephone books so far and neither one was by Whipple. I must pick up The Priory.

  16. Ti: Besides the Strachey, what other Persephone have you read?

  17. I'm a recent convert to Persephone Books too. I'm about to make you jealous though... there are 4 Persephone Whipple books in my local library. After your glowing review I might have to hurry up and check them out. Then I'll probably have to go buy them anyway :)

  18. I can't imagine finding Persephones at my public library.


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