Forgotten authors No 31: Dorothy Whipple

JB Priestley once described her as "the Jane Austen of the 20th century". Dorothy Whipple (née Stirrup) was massively successful in her day, joining the ranks of Waugh and Greene with her second novel, Greenbanks. Her popularity was no doubt helped by the grace and unostentatious simplicity of her prose, but – it's becoming a litany in this column – she fell out of style after the war.

One of eight siblings, Whipple was born in 1893, just off the Edgware Road, to a respectable family of manufacturers. She married a director of education 24 years her senior (a fact that wormed its way into her writing), and wrote Young Anne, the first of nine increasingly successful volumes. Her novels are nuanced tales in which families face social readjustment after becoming "victims of the turbulence of the outside world". Her characters discover that the tenacity of the spirit and the innate goodness of ordinary people help them to face life's shortcomings.

Two of her novels were made into British films: a family climbs the social ladder then faces disgrace in the noir-ish They Knew Mr Knight, while James Mason starred in They Were Sisters. The latter is a rather menacing tale of three siblings, their choices and the various levels of domestic abuse they suffer. Whipple's final novel, Someone at a Distance, concerns midlife crisis and infidelity, and is considered by many to be her best. Whipple described it as "a fairly ordinary tale about the destruction of a happy marriage". If you want to see her style encapsulated, read its opening line.

Once again, Persephone Books has done an excellent job of rescuing these lost books, which have committed no greater sin than being unsensationally written and beautifully constructed. There's no simple answer as to why Whipple fell from favour. Her characters are drawn from recognisable realities and prove highly capable of making their own decisions. It's not as though post-war female readers stopped believing in them. It was Whipple's curse to be writing about ordinary lives at a time when the world started to crave adventure. The everyday grind of managing at home during the war radically transformed readers' appetites.

Is it possible to read books like these now and still find pleasure in them? Absolutely, because our emotional centres remain unchanged, so Whipple's novels and short stories are as valid as they ever were.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before