When I first read The Priory‘s blurb I immediately complete the whole story in my mind.
The plot I was given: in 1939 England a family of four faded aristocrats live independent lives in the same country mansion. The money is disappearing fast through a mix of pride, incompetence and irresponsibility, while their heads remain firmly in the sand. Cue the innocent woman on the verge of spinsterhood that agrees to marry the widow father. She’s in love, he’s hoping for help getting his finances and house in order.
What I imagined: fairy-tale story of how the bride arrives and over time brings together the family, magically fixes the financial situation with her bare wits and restores the house to its former glory.
This was my first Dorothy Whipple so I don’t know if it’s always her style, but I was hit in the head with her realism. No fairy-tales here. Even though the ending comes wrapped with a nice bow, it’s still at heart a very authentic story about families – families forming, breaking up and reshaping.
Maybe it’s because I’m a mother-to-be, but the way children change everything in these people’s lives really stood out. Anthea (the bride), turns from needy girl-wife into the determined mistress of a household and Christine (one of daughters of the house), goes from sheltered teen who lived all her life in a mansion’s nursery to a low middle-class worker in the gloomy side of London.
This also ties to another strong topic in The Priory: a generation of untrained, poorly educated women, unfit for anything other than marriage and motherhood, but that are suddenly faced with the changing post-War society.
Please don’t get the idea that it’s a heavy book, full of difficult topics. It was actually a very quick read and it felt surprisingly light, probably because of Whipple’s most excellent writing and even more excellent characterization:
“It was a great pity, she thought, that all the violence of life should fall on the young, before they have acquired any resistance to it.”
“Victoria was one of the hardy people who like rudeness to be met by rudeness. Then rudeness becomes a sport in which the players belabour each other to their mutual satisfaction.”
“Since he was very economical in everything that did not directly affect his own comfort, the household had to wait for light until he wanted light himself.”
I love being surprised by characters, to start with a strong first impression and then see them develop, gain layers and make me re-adjust my (often snappy) judgment. A lesson for real life as well?
The Priory was my first Dorothy Whipple, but not my last. Any recommendations on where to go next?