Just as in the years since 1973 when Virago Books first brought a different kind of [feminist] publishing to our attention and introduced many of us to new and previously 'forgotten' authors, Persephone Books have been doing a similar thing for a number of years. This extract from the 'mission statement' on their website explains the sort of authors Persephone publish:
Persephone Books reprints neglected classics by C20th (mostly women) writers..........
Just as I know when picking up a Virago book I am in for a good read, the distinctive Persphone book covers offer the same 'temptation'! So when I recently bought Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple I settled down for a 'good read' and I wasn't disappointed!
I suppose that because I also taught Social History as well as English Literature this novel is a real 'double whammy' for me! It is a snapshot of England in the years just after the second world war, an England that has faded away and probably will not be recognised by anyone under thirty five! An England that had definite divisions between those that had 'daily women' and those who were the 'daily women'. It looks at the social mores and how society looked at divorces and the divorced and how women regarded their place and positions in society.
In the preface to the book, the novelist Nina Bawden describes it as a
a fairly ordinary tale about the destruction of a happy marriage
does the writing an enormous injustice if taken out of context. Bawden goes on to add
it makes compulsive reading
with which I certainly agree! Elsewhere in the preface Whipple is compared to Mrs Gaskell and to me the minutae of the North family life as written by Whipple is as fascinating as that of the Cranford villagers as written by Gaskell!
Apparently, although Dorothy Whipple had been a successful novelist, this was her last novel and her least successful - probably because post war Britain was on the cusp of the big changes that were to come and thus the book was notthen considered modern enough. But perhaps to us sixty years later this novel moves into a different genre, maybe into the 'historical novel' mode? I loved it and have already looked into finding more novels by Dorothy Whipple, to add to my list of loved authors of this time and earlier: Mollie Panter-Downes; Marghanita Laski; Elizabeth Taylor; Winifred Holtby and more. Thank goodness for Virago and Persephone Books!
Picture of the Persephone edition courtesy of amazon.co.uk. The book can also be purchased directly from the Persephone website.