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High Wages

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  349 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
A 1930 novel by Persephone Books' most popular writer about a girl who sets up a dress shop.
Paperback, 316 pages
Published 2009 by Persephone Books (first published 1930)
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Fiona MacDonald
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-books
Such a wonderful roller coaster. I continue to be delighted by Dorothy Whipple and her easy, accessible and fabulous way of writing and throwing together a story filled with characters that I really care about. Jane Carter's ascent from shop girl to shop owner is fascinating as well as heartbreaking. Along the way she meets lovesick Wilfred, melancholy Noel, drippy Maggie, kind Mrs Briggs and the snobbish Mr Chadwick. If Charles Dickens wrote a story like this I imagine his characterizations to ...more
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful story.
We see Jane develop and gain confidence and realise her dream.
But who is Jane going to share her life with, Wilfred loves her and so does Noel.
Then a change in circumstances changes everything.
Love Dorothy Whipple.
May 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
A while back I had the opportunity to visit the Persephone Books shop in London. I went there with a purpose--to buy all of the Dorothy Whipple books they had in stock. I the proceeded to carry four novels around London all day. My back hurt, my arm hurt, and I vowed to never again buy books on vacation.

All of that was made worth it when I read High Wages. It is delightful to read, yet thought provoking. I am always interested in period women's literature that discusses the true lives of women
Sep 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I have become a great fan of Dorothy Whipple - and have loved each of the novels re- published by Persephone that I have read. Although prehaps not quite as powerful as Someone at a Distance, or They were Sisters, this 1930 novel is still brilliant. Dorothy Whipple's portrayal of a northern mill- town around the time of the first world war is wonderful, full of believable characters and social commentary. The central character is Jane, an ambitious young girl, now alone in the world who arrives ...more
Kim Kaso
Jun 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
A solid 4.5 for me. I loved this quiet story of Jane's trials and tribulations, her hard work and determination leading to what the world would see as a small triumph but which in its time for a single woman was nearly revolutionary. Just the ticket for me right now. I am so happy Persephone is re-issuing these books, they are so full of everyday life.
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
This is the second Persephone Book I read, and I was once more touched by the aura of feminine culture and community surrounding it. High Wages deals with the life of a shop girl in the 1910s and leaves nothing out; the happy Sundays off, the boredom of rainy days in the shop, the meanness of employers and the support of workers among one another. Though Jane's life certainly goes uphill in the novel, it's not a glorified rags-to-riches story, and attention is paid to the less pleasant sides of ...more
Beth Bonini
Oct 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Author Jane Brocket wrote the Preface to this Persephone reissue, and it describes - rather brilliantly, I thought - what makes this book such a fascinating bit of social history. It's the story of an ambitious 'shop girl' called Jane Carter. Orphaned as a young teen, Jane has the intelligence, taste and work ethic to transcend the rather narrow role that she has been cast in. Through her own devices, she rises from an assistant at Chadwick's - an old-fashioned haberdashery in the Lancashire tow ...more
Kim Bishop
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Interestingly, I didn't enjoy this as much as some other Whipples - not sure why, except that I didn't really engage with the main character. However, there were still some wonderful lines which I wish I'd written down...
May 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: persephone
A modern reader could easily dismiss 'High Wages' as saccharine and shallow. I am sorry for this reader - they have missed the subtle feminism, triumphant self-definition, and realistic disappointment with which Whipple liberally embroiders her 'shop girl' story. In fact, one could argue that the 'shop girl' is simply a loom for the story's fabric of social change, woman's independence, class distinctions, and man's relationship to war and post-war roles. Written in 1930, Whipple's book is an en ...more
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Loved it. And the best line in the book? "Tidsley was a-seethe"!
Published in 1930, the book opens in 1912 and spans about ten years. It tells a shop-girl-made-good story, but the "made good" development has nothing to do with a man. Rather, the shop girl with the excellent work ethic, keen business sense, and energy and ideas makes good by opening her very own dress shop and being in charge of her own life at last.

Full of period detail and a competent while relatable protagonist, the book explores many ideas of women and young people in the work place that a
Dec 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: persephone
My 2010 reading is off to a good start with this latest from Persephone, about a pre-WWI girl who goes to work in a shop. Whipple hands the reader work issues, women-at-work issues, class issues, love conflicts–all wrapped up in a story that, by the final third of the novel, I could not put down.

Mrs. Briggs was one of my favorite characters and I loved seeing her in action in Blackpool. More than anything, I was impressed with Whipple's way of showing how, for better or worse, we humans are so a
Oct 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Quite an enjoyable read, in spite of the tiny font used for the book. Persephone books are meant for people with good eyesight, which is not, unfortunately, my case.
I have downloaded another Dorothy Whipple book and will enjoy it on my kindle.
Alice Lippart
Oct 08, 2016 rated it liked it
A delightful read, filled with the everyday life of the early 1900's. Not overly fond of the romance aspects, but reading about Jane and her work was wonderful.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm taking a week's staycation and binging on persephone books. Couldn't put this one down!
Katey Lovell
Oct 04, 2013 rated it liked it
I read High Wages for the Sheffield Persephone Book Group, and we last Thursday we met at Bird's Yard Sheffield to discuss our latest read. Here are a few of my thoughts about the book.

High Wages had appealed to me for a long time, mainly because everything I'd read about it indicated it was the story of a young woman starting a business and making her way in the world. Although written in 1930, the book is set from c1912 into the 1920s, and I'd expected Whipple's novel to offer a good insight i
Dec 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, fiction
High Wages is one of three novels I recently purchased from Persephone Books', who reprints forgotten female authors of the early to mid 20th century. First of all the books are beautiful, the covers are exteremly smooth and fall open perfectly. The endpapers are so striking and unique to each book - in this case a 1930 Cryséde Ltd. dress fabric called Farm Scene is showcased. Inside, the words were just as aesthetically pleasing. Whipple introduces us to determined and ambitious Jane Carter alo ...more
Jul 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely not high literature, but a pure pleasure!

After her father's death the very young Jane has to earn her own living, but she takes to it with gusto and finds her vocation and avocation working in the early 20th century fashion industry. The focus of the book is not on the ; she's smart and tough and thus makes as many enemies as friends, often inadvertently. Members of her own class find it hard to forgive her determination to succeed, and members of the middle class find her intelligen
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who enjoy social history & women's history
High Wages is about a young woman, Jane, who leaves home to work as a draper's assistant in a small northern town, eventually saving enough to set up her own shop. As with other Dorothy Whipple books I've read, it's an interesting, enjoyable, but undemanding read. I especially loved the detail about life in the shop, the petty meanness of the shop owner and his wife, and Jane's friendships with other women. I found the romantic elements a bit unconvincing and the ending felt a little rushed and ...more
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: persephone
Jane Carter embarks on life as a shop assistant in a small town in Lancashire after the death of her father, around the time of the First World War. With guts, skill and intelligence she claws her way up to having her own business, making enemies as well as friends along the way. I found this a very enjoyable and involving story.
May 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
I thought this was going too fast and would betray my trust in the pacing and in Jane's growth in the last 20 pages - but nope! It remained as resolute and determined toward the future as it had throughout.
Jan 26, 2012 added it
Maybe not the best Dorothy Whipple (for me, that's Someone at a Distance), but I loved the setting--a small-town dressmaking shop in England in the teens--and she pulls of that great trick, as ever, of creating characters I feel I would recognize if I met them on the street. How does she do it?
Jun 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Jane, Jane, Jane. *sigh*
The vibrant, fresh main character of HIGH WAGES is fully human, moral warts and all. Enough so, actually, that I found myself getting thoroughly disappointed in her and starting to slog through at about the two-thirds point. A shame, with Whipple's talented writing.
The Priory remains my favorite Dorothy Whipple novel so far and it's hard to imagine any work will pack the emotional punch of Someone at a Distance. But High Wages was very good and left me a bit pensive (in a good way). Whipple's writing is understated and it's easy to think this is a simple story of a shop girl working hard to make good. But the well-drawn characters and the themes of social status, greed, and goodness resonate rather deeply. In the first half of the novel, there is a scene w ...more
Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Rags to riches sort of story about a young woman who makes her own fortune. Though Jane is quite an engaging main character, sometimes it's the period details out that are most interesting in a book like this - the daily life of the shopgirl whose wages included room (shared) and board (meager). The years when people began shifting from buying cloth and having clothing sewn to buying ready-made clothes.
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: persephone
An exquisite book. On the face of it, you wonder about how anyone can make a story about such a topic. I was surprised how relevant the themes were today and the lessons it could show me. It's a story about determination, steadfastness, self believe and morality. Dorothy Whipple is clearly not a fan of a "happy ending" she's a fan of reality and a "real ending". This is the second Dorothy Whipple book I've read in the last month and I can't wait to read her others.
Russell James
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A 1930s 'Shopgirl makes good' romance with an unexpected ending and a first outing for a plot device Whipple uses in her 'Because of the Lockwoods' - but why not? An excellent writer, big in her day, rediscovered by Persephone Press.
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. 3D characters, social commentary (that doesn't get completely bogged down in the war), and enough plot and unexpected happenings to keep me fully engaged all the way through.
Kerstin (under_moonlit_skies)
I finally read my first book by Dorothy Whipple and all the raving reviews about her writing were correct. This book was quite a delight, and as far as I know, actually counts as one of her weaker works.

The story centers around Jane, a young orphaned woman, who makes her living as a shop girl in a small town. The reader follows her through the ups and downs life throws at her, on her way to hopefully own her own business one day. Set around the time of WW1, class division, the change in social
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: persephone, 2013
At the beginning of this book, Jane finds herself in her late teens, working in a small time draper’s shop. Her father has died before the book starts, leaving Jane living with her step mother and stepsiblings, and Jane is now self aware enough to know that she needs to leave as soon as she can.

She gets a new job working in a larger drapers than before, and through her youth and determination brings change and more business to her stuffy old boss. Finally she sets up shop for herself with the fi
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Born in 1893, DOROTHY WHIPPLE (nee Stirrup) had an intensely happy childhood in Blackburn as part of the large family of a local architect. Her close friend George Owen having been killed in the first week of the war, for three years she worked as secretary to Henry Whipple, an educational administrator who was a widower twenty-four years her senior and whom she married in 1917. Their life was mos ...more
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“In the radiance and the silence, she ran on the vast expanse of hard, smooth sand, beside herself with joy. Ah, when you only have a holiday once in a while, what a happiness it is! Each golden minute had to be held and perfected before it was let go.” 1 likes
“Trains passed in the opposite direction, taking back the cotton princes to Tidsley, Elton, Burrows, and further on to Southport, Blackpool, St. Anne's. She could see the occupants of the first-class carriages playing cards, or fallen into unlovely sleep. They did well to avert their eyes from the landscape they had made. They had made it; but they could not, like God, look and see that it was good. Monstrous slag-heaps, like ranges in a burnt-out hell; stretches of waste land rubbed bare to the gritty earth; parallel rows of back-to-back dwellings; great blocks of mill buildings, the chimneys belching smoke as thick and black as eternal night itself; upstanding skeletons of wheels and pulleys. Mills and mines; mills and mines all the way to Manchester, and the brick, the stone, the grass, the very air deadened down to a general drab by the insidious filter of soot.
But Jane, Lancashire born and bred, did not find it depressing. It was no feeble, trickling ugliness, but a strong, salient hideousness that was almost exhilarating.”
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