It’s always a treat to pick up a Dorothy Whipple and know that you’re going to be completely immersed in a new family. In this case it was the Pritchard’s and in particular Anne, the youngest child. We’re told at the beginning that she’s five and through a sporadic time line (and pots of tea, tomato sandwiches and a good supply of rock cakes) we stay with her into young adulthood.
Young Anne is about characters rather than plot, full of the homely and ordinary but the truthfulness in the detail is told with such a dry wit that it’s never dull. Published in 1927 I thought the family had a decidedly Edwardian feel to them, more so than other Whipple novels I’ve read. Henry Pritchard, Anne’s father, ‘very straight and thin’ his lips always in ‘creases of disapproval’ rules the house with a sombre mood expecting to be obeyed and it’s this atmosphere that pervades Anne’s life. But even here in her first novel, Dorothy Whipple shows the restraint that makes her characters so completely believable.
Being with Anne from a spirited little girl through school and into adulthood we watch her family and neighbours. There’s Mr and Mrs Yates, who have made a lot of money in cotton and ‘their one ewe lamb, their adored daughter Mildred‘ who is the bane of young Anne’s life, a child so correct ‘she even ate jelly with a fork at tea.’; and then there’s ghastly Aunt Orchard who ‘liked to destroy people’s pet hopes, or at least scratch them a little in passing’, it’s no wonder Anne cherishes her freedom – this is when you need the sandwiches and rock cakes, so that you can join her in spirit as she whizzes around country lanes on her bicycle. We always had rock cakes while I was growing up, delicious but quite solid, so I’m full of admiration that Anne takes 6 on her picnic!
As with all Dorothy Whipple’s novels it’s a women’s world we’re in. The triumphs (the liberation of a first pay packet), heartbreak and sometimes bitterness are all here. I don’t think Young Anne had quite the depth of the later novels but when Anne says:
‘I feel as wild as a Pendle witch. And I must sit by the drawing room fire and eat a poached egg on toast at a little table.’ that’s pure Whipple!