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Someone at a Distance
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Buddy Reads > Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple (June/July 2018)

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message 1: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10384 comments Mod
Welcome to our mid-June buddy read for....


Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

This thread will open on Friday 15 June 2018

'A very good novel indeed about the fragility and also the tenacity of love' commented the Spectator recently about this 1953 novel by Dorothy Whipple, which was ignored fifty years ago because 'editors are going mad for action and passion' (as she was told by her publisher). Apparently 'a fairly ordinary tale about the destruction of a happy marriage' (Nina Bawden) yet 'it makes compulsive reading' in its description of an ordinary family struck by disaster when the husband, in a moment of weak, mid-life vanity, runs off with a French girl. Dorothy Whipple is a superb stylist, with a calm intelligence in the tradition of Elizabeth Gaskell.




message 2: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10384 comments Mod
The thread is open (a few hours early as I have quite a busy weekend)


Let the discourse commence....


Tania | 1071 comments I'm about halfway through. I love her writing style.


message 4: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments I have a copy and will start it soon.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
I was intrigued by this as I have often heard Dorothy Whipple name-checked on the podcast, Tea or Books? Reading the blurb, it just sounded pretty dull, but I will openly admit to be totally gripped by this. I loved it and found I read it really quickly. Saying that, by the end, I was utterly, emotionally wrung out!


Bronwyn (nzfriend) | 384 comments Susan wrote: "I was intrigued by this as I have often heard Dorothy Whipple name-checked on the podcast, Tea or Books? Reading the blurb, it just sounded pretty dull, but I will openly admit to be totally grippe..."

I agree; I think that's why I'd put it off so long. I bought it because I found it at a Barnes & Noble and it was a Persephone, but if I'd been looking on the website I don't know that I'd have picked it up based on the blurb alone.

I'm about halfway, maybe a bit more. (I got distracted with a couple of library ebooks I wanted to make sure I finished before the loans ended.) I'm really enjoying it. It's really so simple, but so, so well done. I can't wait to get back to it this weekend.


Story (storyheart) Susan wrote: " Saying that, by the end, I was utterly, emotionally wrung out! "

Thanks for that warning. I was going to start it this weekend but having just returned from a family memorial service, think I'll save it for when I'm not already emotionally wrung out.

Has anyone read anything else by Whipple?


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
No and, to be honest, although I really did think this was, as Bronwyn says so eloquently, "so simple, but so, so well done," I am not sure I want to read more by her. This was, though, so well written and I was so emotionally involved, that I am glad that I read it. I liked the fact that the author did not hedge - she got behind the characters she supported wholeheartedly and so did you, as the reader.


Story (storyheart) Sounds good. My library only has Someone at a Distance so, with over 300 other books on the TBR list, I probably won't be all that motivated to track down her other ones.


Bronwyn (nzfriend) | 384 comments I haven't. I have others of hers on my Persephone wish list though, but who knows when I'll get more. (My library also only has SaaD.)


Karen Hello ! this is my first buddy read with you all in this group.Tania invited me to join so thanks dear Tania .
This is my first Dorothy Whipple and i'm half way through too and really enjoying the writing and the story.I can see why she's Persephone's best selling author.
Won't say too much at this stage of the readalong but i think the character Louise will probably be in my top ten of the cruellest !!


Bronwyn (nzfriend) | 384 comments Louise is a pill, isn’t she? Any time I have started to have any sympathy for her, she goes and does something to make me dislike her again.


Karen Hello Bronwyn,
Her parents are so lovely too and don't deserve the way she treats them :/


Bronwyn (nzfriend) | 384 comments Oh I know! I know I wasn’t always the nicest to my parents when I was young, but I’d grown out of it years before I was Louise’s age.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
Louise is really a baddie, isn't she? You do feel some sympathy with her, but, as you say, then she does something so truly awful that you find yourself raging against her!


Tania | 1071 comments Hi Karen, glad you could join us.
I found that, too. Her parents were lovely and so loving. She really didn't appreciate them at all, I think this was all bound up by her feelings about her rather provincial home town. She clearly felt she was meant for better things. The apple fell far from the tree, in this case.


message 17: by Lynaia (new) - added it

Lynaia | 468 comments Storyheart wrote: "Susan wrote: " Saying that, by the end, I was utterly, emotionally wrung out! "

Thanks for that warning. I was going to start it this weekend but having just returned from a family memorial servic..."


I've read all of her books except for Young Anne and her short stories. I've enjoyed all of them although a couple of them aren't as strong as the others. She is good at her characterizations. As a business owner, I found High Wages quite interesting as it got into the beginning of ready to wear and the business opportunities afforded. The Priory was my first Dorothy Whipple novel and it was interesting to read the mindsets and feelings in 1939 when people didn't know yet if there would be a war or not. They Were Sisters was probably my least favorite because I found it kind of depressing but I think it would still interest a lot of people.


message 18: by Lynaia (new) - added it

Lynaia | 468 comments Bronwyn wrote: "Oh I know! I know I wasn’t always the nicest to my parents when I was young, but I’d grown out of it years before I was Louise’s age."

I think that's typical for most kids. We're terrible to our parents when we're teenagers as we try to establish ourselves as adults. Part of actually being an adult is a renewed respect for our parents and the realization that we were kind of horrible for a while.


message 19: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Bronwyn wrote: "Oh I know! I know I wasn’t always the nicest to my parents when I was young, but I’d grown out of it years before I was Louise’s age."
Exactly.


message 20: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Anne North takes her mother for granted as well, but she isn't rude about it.


message 21: by Val (last edited Jun 16, 2018 02:25AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Why do you think Dorothy Whipple made Louise so unsympathetic?
(view spoiler)


message 22: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
I really enjoyed this and found it hard to put down - a beautifully readable writing style, which reminded me a little of D.E. Stevenson. Good question about Louise, Val - I was wondering about this too. It might have made the book even better if we had been able to sympathise with her more.

(view spoiler)


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
Perhaps it was fashionable at that time for author's to have a very defined baddie? There are hints that Louise has also had a bad time, but she is, definitely the vampish, French mistress. That is made clearer by her relationship with Paul, as he married someone else and, socially, she was just a cut beneath him.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
Perhaps it was fashionable at that time for author's to have a very defined baddie? There are hints that Louise has also had a bad time, but she is, definitely the vampish, French mistress. That is made clearer by her relationship with Paul, as he married someone else and, socially, she was just a cut beneath him.


message 25: by Lynaia (new) - added it

Lynaia | 468 comments Dorothy Whipple was British. Maybe she was displaying a British prejudice against the French. Those two countries do seem to have very negative ideas of each other a lot of the time.


message 26: by Val (last edited Jun 16, 2018 10:10AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments I will put it in spoiler brackets for anyone who has not got that far.
(view spoiler)
Louise may be a snake, but the two men are worms, parasitic worms at that.


message 27: by Judy (last edited Jun 16, 2018 10:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
Lynaia wrote: "Dorothy Whipple was British. Maybe she was displaying a British prejudice against the French. Those two countries do seem to have very negative ideas of each other a lot of the time."

I do think to an extent Louise is a French stereotype, with her passion for chic and fashion, recalling some of the French characters in 19th-century novels. But, having said that, Whipple writes about provincial France with great affection, and portrays Louise's parents and the whole small-town way of life in loving detail.

I think the relationship between Britain and France has always been complicated - there are rivalries, but huge numbers of people emigrate between the two countries or travel between them for holidays, and to a Brit Paris is always seen as the last word in glamour and romance.


message 28: by Lynaia (new) - added it

Lynaia | 468 comments I know Britain and France have a very long and complicated history. Very much a love/hate relationship. But I watch a lot of French and British movies and TV shows and you always seem to like zinging each other and quite often have stereotypes of each other. Usually in fun but also with the feeling that there's some truth there. And who better for a British writers female villain than a French femme fatale?


message 29: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Lynaia wrote: "Dorothy Whipple was British. Maybe she was displaying a British prejudice against the French. Those two countries do seem to have very negative ideas of each other a lot of the time."
I think that is only among the working-class British and French, Dorothy Whipple's class would not share it. She does use stereotypes a lot though, as Judy says: the French have better food but can't make tea, they have affairs but don't divorce, they are obsessed with style and fashion, etc.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
Paris is London's sister city and siblings often squabble :) Europe is a fairly small, and complicated continent, and there are lots of history and difficult relationships, but the links are, nonetheless, strong.


message 31: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
An interesting look at Louise and Paul, Val - I had forgotten how young she was when they first get together.

The French episodes can be viewed from another angle which is more sympathetic to Louise - I've just read a blog post about this, which does go into the whole plot, so best to read after you finish:

https://bookssnob.wordpress.com/2012/...

I agree with Val about the men's behaviour:

(view spoiler)


message 32: by carissa (new)

carissa I was delighted, and surprised, to find this and another Persephone title at my local used book store. The only 2 in their massive collection. I felt like I hit the good book jackpot!
I plan to start next week.


message 33: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments That blog is a good analysis of the book. I wouldn't go as far as it does in having sympathy for Louise, although I might if the story had been told in a different order, I just thought both men had behaved badly. Perhaps the main thing the author is trying to point out is that women tend to be constant in love and men don't.


message 34: by Judy (last edited Jun 16, 2018 03:02PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
I don't think I would go as far either. On male and female constancy, there is Avery's business partner, John, who was left by bis much younger wife but has never divorced her, hoping she will come back.


message 35: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Judy wrote: "On male and female constancy, there is Avery's business partner, John, who was left by bis much younger wife but has never divorced her, hoping she will come back."
John is certainly nothing like Avery or Paul, but I think we don't find out enough about him to be sure of his motives. He himself says that he doesn't divorce his wife so that he can continue to support her financially. He is not inconstant, but I saw it as more of a sense of responsibility than enduring love. His offer of a home to Ellen towards the end may be gallantry and friendship or it may be closer to what Avery suggests earlier.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
Avery certainly does not come out of the book covered in glory, does he? It is funny that he is described as acting childishly early on. However, knowing that, Ellen probably could have pulled him back in, had it not been for Anne's reaction and the fact she was totally unprepared for what happened. I was quite proud of young Hugh!


message 37: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
carissa wrote: "I was delighted, and surprised, to find this and another Persephone title at my local used book store. The only 2 in their massive collection. I felt like I hit the good book jackpot!
I plan to sta..."


That's a great find, Carissa. I love finding Persephones in second-hand bookshops.


Tania | 1071 comments I did feel a bit sorry for Louise, I didn't like her at all, but I felt she was a very bitter woman who would never be able to attain happiness. No matter what she was able to gain for herself, she would always want more. She was rather broken.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
That's a good point, Tania. You could feel sorry for Louise, but you could not like her. She was so manipulative.

What did we think of Ellen's cleaning women seeing the danger before she did? I must admit that I was very moved when Ellen went to see her elderly friend after all that had happened and there was the passage about the old ladies being proud she had come to them in her hour of need. I thought it was really touching - and I am not a person who is overly emotional about these kind of things!


message 40: by Tania (last edited Jun 20, 2018 01:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tania | 1071 comments Maybe when we can look at things from a bit of a distance, we can see things more clearly, so Ellen's cleaning lady could see what was happening right in front of Ellen's eyes. Also, Miss Beasley told Ellen that she was actually married, her husband had done the same thing, so, while it didn't occur to Ellen there might be a problem, Miss Beasley knew from experience that there could be.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
Yes, Mrs Beasley was a bit of a star in the end, wasn't she? It was also lovely that Ellen scooped up Mrs North's church singing cook (sorry, I have forgotten her name) and she had the chance to go and give Louise 'what for,' at the end.

One of the things this novel did was to highlight female loneliness, I thought it did so really well. Men are often said to be lonelier and cope less well if single, for example, (statistically I mean, rather than individually), but it was clear in this book that there were a lot of lost and lonely women - beginning with Mrs North herself.


message 42: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
Good point about the female loneliness in this book, Susan. I think it's interesting how Louise knows just how to cheer Mrs North up and give her confidence - odd that she has these powers although she chooses not to use them for other people in her life.

At one stage Louise does start trying to butter up Ellen, too, but Ellen is not interested. One of the comments at the bottom of the blog post I linked to earlier suggested that Ellen is partly to blame for not working on her marriage enough, pointing out that she never goes to Avery's work events and doesn't take up the clothes/make-up tips offered by Louise, etc.


I think many films of this era would have blamed her for not being a "perfect wife", but I really don't think the novel does - though it does show how she and Avery are both taking each other for granted and growing apart (those single beds with the 3ft gap are mentioned in the Nina Bawden introduction.)


message 43: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments All very good points Judy and Susan.
I don't think the novel blames Ellen either, although it does show how Louise might think that Ellen is no longer interested in her marriage (that does not excuse Louise's behaviour).
I felt sorry for Mrs North, having to pay someone to give her some attention. Her family do call on her from time to time, but they just seem to pop in on their way to and from somewhere else. It is the situation for many elderly people, the old ladies in the home don't get many visitors either.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
I thought Dorothy Whipple was saying that Ellen was definitely not to blame, even though she doesn't pay much interest in her husband's work, etc. Avery was rarely shown in a good light and, even at social functions, he left Ellen to fare for herself, so she was ignored and side-lined, and eventually retreated. There were a lot of clever observations generally.


Karen Just finished 'Someone at a Distance' and i really loved the story and characters , even though my heart is now broken !
When Ellen had just left the court and went into a cafe to sit and recover from the ordeal, i felt so sorry for her :( she couldn't even remember where she'd parked her car.
'What am I ? ' she asked herself. 'Shorn of husband and children.What am I?'


Tania | 1071 comments Yes, that feeling of a total loss of purpose was heart-breaking wasn't it? In that moment she felt completely lost. Whipple was very good at making us empathise with her characters.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
Karen, I SO sympathise with you. I think Whipple's novel broke my heart a little too...

I will now ask a very contentious question - do you think this is a novel which will appeal more to female readers?


message 48: by Judy (last edited Jun 26, 2018 12:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4674 comments Mod
I think, like many of the Persephone reissues, this book is aimed more at female readers, but I'm sure it will appeal to some men too.

I don't think we've mentioned that the founders of Virago decided not to republish Dorothy Whipple's books, and even set a "Whipple line" in terms of quality, saying they wouldn't publish anyone who fell below it!

Carmen Callil said in a Guardian article:

We had a limit known as the Whipple line, below which we would not sink. Dorothy Whipple was a popular novelist of the 1930s and 1940s whose prose and content absolutely defeated us. A considerable body of women novelists, who wrote like the very devil, bit the Virago dust when Alexandra, Lynn and I exchanged books and reports, on which I would scrawl a brief rejection: "Below the Whipple line."

Here's a link to the whole article:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...

Much though I love Virago books, I'm glad that Persephone made a different decision on this author, and maybe on others. It shows the value of having different publishers bringing out reprints.


message 49: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Previous generations of divorced women were 'shorn of their children', the fathers got custody. Ethel is not, although her feelings on that day are understandable. By the end of the book she is looking forward to them making their own lives and leaving her, so that she can accept the errant husband back.
I think I understand exactly what line Carmen Callil was drawing.


Susan | 10638 comments Mod
Do we think Ellen's daughter was wrong? I have to admit that, had I been Ellen, I would have fought for him to come back, which is obviously what she wanted. Her daughter and son would have accepted it eventually. Was the author suggesting that would set a bad example?


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