Can I just mention again how much I am enjoying The Persephone Book of Short Stories? I've yet to read one I haven't liked, and while this is a large book chock full of stories my interest hasn't waned in the least which happens occasionally with short story collections. If anything I tend to want to keep reading rather than wait until the next weekend to proceed to the next story so am contemplating reading two a week and writing about both of them on Sunday. And hopefully I'm not boring everyone too much by writing about each and every one. Honestly, they're a treat--like choosing a truffle out of a box of chocolates, so often exquisite and nearly always satisfying.
This week's story, "A Lovely Time", is by Dorothy Whipple who Persephone Books has championed. I am sure I would never have found her had it not been for them, and she is certainly someone worth discovering. Dorothy Whipple published something like eighteen books, of which Persephone has reissued eight. So far(and note the phrasing since I have every intention to keep reading through her work) I've read three novels and have a further two on my bookshelves. Now that I've had a taste I'll be adding her short story collections to my wishlist as well. Hard to say which novel is my favorite as Someone at a Distance and Greenbanks were for me equally good. I enjoyed They Knew Mr. Knight much more than I expected and now am thinking maybe I should pick up one of my unread books by her (since I want to read more Persephones this year...) now rather than at some distant point in the future. I'm always happy for any excuse to pick up a new book from my TBR piles.
Hopefully Litlove won't mind me quoting from one of her posts, but she called Dorothy Whipple the "high priestess of domestic fiction", and I know that's meant in a complimentary light, because let's face it, Dorothy Whipple tells a cracking good story even though that dreaded label, "women's fiction", has no doubt been applied to her work. When a man writes about family drama, it's literature, when a woman does, well, we all know what happens. There is always some little nugget of truth in Dorothy Whipple's stories and that moment or moments of epiphany. I suppose they are often melancholic, but there is nothing contrived or artificial about her characters.
In "A Lovely Time" it takes only one night on the town to dash a young woman's hopes and dreams. That sounds so final, almost brutal really, but Whipple is much more subtle than that. It's the slow realization that life is not going quite as expected and that people don't always behave in the most honorable of manner. Alice Barnes has come from the country to live in London. At least one of her dreams fulfilled, she's just about to have another one come true. Alice, or Alys as she's refashioned herself, has been invited out to dinner and a nightclub. Rather Dinner and a Night Club, as this is just the entrée into the sophisticated London world she's been waiting for, why she's even come to London.
"She smiled to think what commotion she would make in a tram at home in a pink satin cloak and no hat at seven-thirty in the evening."
In London, however, no one bats an eye. It's a fellow roommate in her boarding house that has invited Alice out to make up a foursome. Sheila is smitten with a young man, whose friend needs a partner for the evening. To Alice everything and everyone is elegant. She's filled with awe and has stars in her eyes, so clouded are they it would seem that she doesn't see what's really before her or understand what an object of ridicule she is. The appraising looks and consternation at her less than refined appearance, her lack of witty and sparkling conversation. Did she not even realize she was second choice and that another friend would have been invited had she not been under the weather? It's a night so filled with hope and aspirations which turns bittersweet for Alice.
As Litlove says, "give me Whipple’s astute and compassionate evocation of the immense drama that is everyday life any time." The story is pure Dorothy Whipple at her sensitive best.
Next up is a story by Edith Wharton, a reread for me, but one I am happy to revisit. If I continue on Edith will be paired with Irène Némirovsky.