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Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple.

October 17, 2013

Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple.  Persephone Books (2011), Paperback, 392 pages. (First published 1935)

An English novel about a woman watching as her grown children make lives for themselves.

Greenbanks is the family home where Louisa and her husband have raised their six children (and had two other children that died.)  In many ways, Louise is the personification of that home, always there as a refuge with love and support.  When her husband dies at the start of the book, Louisa is in her fifties.  The books follows Louisa and her family for the next sixteen years.  Several of her children are married and live too far away to remain a constant part of her life, but others are nearby.  The two sons remain at home with one accusing the other of laziness and chasing him away.  A daughter at home marries the wrong man and tries to correct her mistake.  Feeling like her nest is empty, Louisa hires a sad young woman as a companion in order to mother her and cheer her up.  Louisa’s closest relations are with the daughter, Letty, and granddaughter, Rachel, who live nearby with a husband/father who is judgmental and controlling.  For more details about the plot and book, see Carol’s review at Bookword.

Dorothy Whipple does fine job of depicting the family members as they interact with each other and with the world outside.  Although Louisa is the central figure in the book, the real actions are principally those of her children.  We see Louisa’s granddaughter, Rachel, grow from a toddler into a young women involved in a romance of her own.   Rachel and her grandmother are particularly close, with Greenbanks a second home for the girl throughout her young life.   Although the book is not explicitly feminist, some of comments about the men in their lives that Rachel and others make are sharp and critical of their power to determine the women’s lives.  For example when her husband accuses her of being unladilike, Letty responds,

“What is it to be like a woman?  Take the women you know:me, mother, Kate Barlow, Rachel—all different.  Which is like a woman?  You’ve got some pattern of a woman in your mind, and if women don’t fit, it is they that are wrong.

I certainly enjoyed Greenbanks and admired Louisa, but I never felt drawn into her life.  Rachel and Letty talk about how they could not by like Louisa who was always giving to others and never thinking of herself.  The book was written in the 1930s, and I am even further away from the women of Louisa’s generation.  My problems are not that my child-rearing days are over, but with my declining physical body and the resulting dependency on others.  Louisa cannot be a role model for me.

This book was read as part of the readalong of “Older Women in Fiction” that Caroline is hosting on her blog, Bookword.  I look forward to reading more of the books she is discussing.

I recommend Greenbanks to all readers who enjoy domestic stories.

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