Thursday, February 14, 2019

Literary Wives #37

Dorothy Whipple is now one of my favorite authors. 
I do not remember which of the Literary Wives' 
hosting bloggers submitted this as a suggested read, 
but I am so very glad they did!
This exemplifies what I term to be "classical writing";
a "slice of life," if you will, with an emphasis
on characterization and not so much on 'action'.
I cannot remember when I have despised a character 
as much as I despised Geoffrey. 
Honestly, as I read, I was fantasizing all 
sorts of ways in which he could die...
preferably a very slow and extremely painful death...
much as that to which he subjected Charlotte, his wife.
This book was originally released in 1943.

Celia Brayfield's afterword in the Persephone print edition describes Whipple's writing process, explaining that she required several years to complete this book, given the distraction that was WW II. In actuality it was released as a serial publication and it wasn't until the first installments were released that she was truly able to focus and finally complete the book. I hope to make time to watch the movie sometime this next week. It will be particularly  interesting to view the performance of James Mason since it has been noted as an incredibly skilled portrayal of the reprehensible Geoffrey Leigh. Interestingly, Mason admitted to filming while suffering from "a permanent hangover" as a way to deal with his frustration of the role and the British film industry in general at the time. (Wikipedia) I would think any decent human being would need to use some sort of personality-altering substance to enact such an evil and cruel persona. Ugh! 

At least 3-4 times throughout the book Whipple sneaks in some social commentary regarding urban environments juxtaposed against rural/country environments. Being a displaced 'farm girl', I appreciated her comments regarding the fact that humans have truly messed up their world. Lucy muses about the need for people living in cities to keep themselves "aloof" while not engaging with every person they encounter as a matter of self-preservation since they would be exhausted otherwise. Whereas, those living in the country have such peace and tranquility living in comparative isolation, that they can still enjoy and welcome interacting with others when the opportunity presents itself. Quite insightful! Though as usual Lucy is appalled by Vera's lack of tact and foresight when she claims in a loud and clear voice while riding the train into town that she never does know what "that stuff" is in the fields... These people make their living by planting, harvesting, and selling "that stuff" and Lucy imagines she can sense the "shock" such a seemingly uncaring and inconsiderate comment sends throughout the other train passengers.

As you may surmise, this book describes the marriages of all three sisters: Charlotte, Vera, and Lucy. Each marriage is unique, as is each sister. Lucy is the oldest who at the age of 18 in the wake of their mother's death had to forego her educational/career plans to become full-time caretaker of the house, her siblings (Charlotte 13, Vera 11), and serve as her father's companion. She fulfilled these duties until her sisters were married and her father had died. While she could remember her mother sitting in a chair and knitting in the evenings while overseeing the children and "listening" to her father, Lucy soon realized her mother was NOT actual listening to him but rather simply responding as if she was, which was enough to keep him talking. He felt renewed by such 'conversation' with his wife. However, once Lucy truly began listening to him, she noted that he charged her with helping him 
...keeping the boys straight and watching continually over the girls. 
There was a strain of wildness or weakness in the family.
'From your mother's side, you understand,' he said. 'Not from mine. 
My people, Lucy, are and always have been a steady, upright, God-fearing lot.' (3-4)
Lucy realizes she and her siblings have always poked fun at her father's family for not being as fun as her mother's family, but now that she must assume responsibility for them all, she "sees the dangers." Interesting how the change in roles shifts her perceptions! 

Charlotte and Vera, especially Vera, treated Lucy just as they would a parent, becoming silent once she entered a room, lying to her...
They made her weep into her pillow at night, because she loved them with all her heart.
They were her responsibility, her anxiety and her happiness. (8)
Ah, yes, children can easily bring you joy as well as heartache. Once her sisters were married and her father had passed on, Lucy was finally able to live her own life and managed to marry a man everyone considered to be "solid" and "stolid" but who became almost as loving and caring as Lucy through the years as he helped her deal with her family. He was kind and considerate--a true partner in so many ways. They were not blessed with any biological children of their own, but ended up parenting some of Lucy's nieces/nephews. 

Vera was the "beauty" of the three and quite the drama queen! She would lie and manipulate to get her way even with her own siblings! Her family would cater to her every whim, even allowing her to lead whenever they were together simply "ranging" behind her.  

Charlotte is charmed by Geoffrey and becomes his abuse victim until her untimely death as a result of alcohol and drug addiction to escape/cope with her daily life. 

We are here to answer 
the Literary Wives question: 

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

Please make sure you read 
the other hosting bloggers' reviews:

Naomi of Consumed by Ink


I thought this book had much to say about 
"being a wife"!
There were three marriages and 
three very different relationships...

The book opens with a scene of Lucy and William at the breakfast table. Amazingly, William's treatment of his tie in the mornings denotes much about Lucy's marriage... 
He knew he was splashing, too, because from time to time he made absent dabs at the tie 
with his free hand, rubbing the porridge in under the delusion that he was rubbing it away. 
This was a concession to Lucy. He didn't care about his tie, but he knew she did and 
Lucy felt a faint pride. After eleven years of marriage she was still secretly gratified 
by any evidence of her influence over William, because William was less influenced by other people than seemed humanly possible. If William didn't go his own way, which he usually did, 
he went hers; but never, if he could help it, other people's. (1)
Awww...isn't that sweet? I felt this scene accurately depicted this marriage grounded in mutual respect where each person worked with the other. In my opinion, any relationship between two people requires certain "concessions," but especially if people are living together, and particularly if they are in an intimate relationship. I gathered that William and Lucy had a stable relationship where each was comfortable with the other. As a wife, Lucy seems to have maintained her nurturing behaviors much as she had and continued to apply to both of her sisters, and now also to their children. She was a born nurturer. I do believe that was a basic foundation of her personality, but also perhaps it had been further developed as a result of serving as mother to her siblings and companion to her father in the wake of her own mother's death. This was definitely the best of the three just goes downhill from here.

Vera, the spoiled brat "beauty," ends up marrying Brian who provides quite well for himself, his wife, and children. Though we do learn that his mother contributed most of the money that allowed Vera to constantly host dinners and parties, and paid for many of the servants. However, Vera being Vera, she decides her husband is boring and seeks male companionship elsewhere. Right under poor Brian's nose! In their own/his house! She is constantly playing hostess and guests are seemingly always in the house. Neither she nor Brian spend much time with their two daughters, Meril and Sarah. Vera fully expects to be waited upon hand and foot, wherever she is! 

In the wake of his mother's death, Brian ends up moving to the United States, taking Meril (and her new governess) along. Ostensibly, this move would enable him to run the United States portion of the business more closely and would be safer in the event of war. Eventually he invites Vera and Sarah to join him as he chooses to remain in the U.S. In response to Vera's insistence to remain in the U.K., he divorces her and marries the governess. Ha! Then Vera becomes enamored with Terry, a younger man who is married to another woman. Though it is his wife who actually has money and supports them. Vera does everything possible to retain her good looks, including dying her hair which was unheard of in 1943. In the end, she refuses to believe the reality of Terry's manipulation of her teenage niece, Judith, and decides to be just as victimized as was Charlotte; they are moving to South Africa to 'camp'. As Lucy's husband, William, notes, that 700 a year from Vera will likely prove handy to Terry, and her, as they embark upon this camping expedition/lifestyle. Vera. Camping. Yeah, that's a laugh! This, the woman who must have everything done for her!

Once Sarah and Judith both walk up to Vera's house, each with a packed suitcase, Lucy realizes they will remain there and just hopes that Vera will relinquish custody to her. Though she is rather concerned about William's reaction to two teenage girls living with them permanently, she needn't have been. Upon being asked, William replies,
'They're an improvement upon their mothers in one way, at least...
They obviously think of each other instead of all the time of themselves.' (440)
It was ironic that of these three sisters, only one appeared to have a truly nurturing nature, but she is the one to never become pregnant and have children of her own. Thankfully for Sarah and Judith, she is able to take them in and finally provide a loving environment with subtle direction and guidance. 

And finally we come to the victimization/'marriage' of poor Charlotte. Whereas Vera had all the self-confidence in the world, Charlotte seemingly had none. The only thing she appeared to be certain of was her sick devotion to her "husband" (only in a legal sense)/abuser Geoffrey Leigh. As Brayfield notes, this book was quite unique in that it was one of the first to ever describe an abusive marriage relationship in such detail. U.S. society was still very much patriarchal at the time, so men could treat women however they pleased with no repercussions...particularly within a marriage relationship. A man had all legal rights backing him while a woman was still subjugated to the whims of a husband--mysogyny in its purest form! Divorce was relatively rare and only granted when adultery could be proven (As confirmed by "witnesses"! I do wonder exactly how that worked in a courtroom!) and you would expect, it was men who divorced women, not the other way around! Women were only to run a household and never to work outside the home or earn their own money. If they were lucky they had inherited money, though that typically meant some man was going to marry and use them for that consistent income/"free living." 

One day at lunch, Charlotte has finally had enough of putting on appearances for the servants and children and arrives totally disheveled, rather drunk, with her "ravaged face, swollen-lipped, [and] red-eyed," even Geoffrey was "startled."
For the first time, her face silenced him. By God, he thought, she looks awful. 
He felt something like awe, not of her, but of the effect his anger had on her. 
Obscurely, he felt a pride in his domination of another human being...the line of reasoning
her pursued was that he must be important if what he did had such disastrous consequence. (120)
I do not have enough words to express my amount of hatred and disgust for Geoffrey's character! UGH!! We do learn that as a child he was coddled to the extreme and always the center of attention of his mother and sister who lavished nothing but praise on him. His father had died and was not a presence in his life.

Geoffrey not only manipulates and overwhelms his wife, but also his eldest child, a daughter, Margaret. I honestly don't know which made me angrier, his abuse of his wife or his daughter! He was one sick bastard! Even as a baby he "trained" her to respond to him as he wished, by withholding affection, etc. Though there was never any direct mention of him approaching his daughter sexually, in my mind, that was virtually inevitable. He even confiscates letters from the boy she met while away at Vera's the only time she was permitted away from home/her father, just so he can maintain total control over her. Margaret becomes his secretary and 'constant companion', neglecting any attempt at a life of her own or an education. When he doesn't get his way or needs to focus everyone's attention back on himself, he fakes heart trouble, gasping and writhing on the floor. These 'fits' usually coincide with actual indigestion attacks, so that afterwards he can order a bicarbonate of soda and then relieve his discomfort. Naturally, he has demanded that a doctor no longer be called when these occur...since, of course, there would be a risk that he might reveal Geoffrey's deception to his family and servants! 

Geoffrey finally managed to totally alienate his other two children, Judith and Stephen, all over a dog someone had given to him, so he simply passed it on to his children who had wanted a dog all along. As you can imagine, that caused great hardship to Geoffrey. There was another being in the house who the children cared for much more than him! And his name was Crusoe! Attention was being diverted from him as their father (and abuser) and they were disobeying him! Unacceptable! So he made sure to humiliate and terrorize them by literally handing the dog off to the innkeeper where they sometime vacationed. Just as they were packed and leaving. However, Crusoe, wounded, exhausted, and starved, somehow traveled all the miles back to them at their home. But Geoffrey found out and managed to take him away, for good. Stephen and Judith never forgave him. He had to really work to get back into Margaret's good graces, but finally he did, especially as he would take her to the cinema and/or performances, just as he should have been accompanied by his wife and/or the whole family! What a manipulator! When Charlotte informed him she was moving her things, Geoffrey laughed:
What an anticlimax...You can't stand any more so you'll sleep in the turret-room.
Sleep where you damn well like. What the hell does it matter to me? (180)
Even Cook gave notice.
She said she couldn't fancy cooking for a man who would destroy a little dog in cold blood, 
to say nothing of breaking a boy's heart. 
'You're a bigger fool than I took you for,' said Geoffrey blandly, paying her off. (181)

Stephen left home as soon as he could save enough money. Lucy had taken Judith under her wing, but in the end, she and Geoffrey fought over Charlotte so that he managed to grant custody of Judith to Vera, in the aftermath of Charlotte's death. Vera had not fought with him. Geoffrey and Margaret moved so he could take another position with his company, and Judith went to live with Vera, whose married boyfriend manipulated the girl, forcing her to run away with Vera's daughter, Sarah, to Aunt Lucy and Uncle Williams' house. Poor Sarah. Her only true skill was dancing, which was disfavored by Brian's mother and sister, while Meriel was the favored granddaughter. I believe Sarah suffered from ADD, it was extremely difficult for her sit still and listen, etc. The fact that she loved to dance with the movement and energy required rather proved that diagnosis to me...

Vera has some personal revelations after Charlotte dies and swears that she will change and do better... She claims to regret the way she ignored Brian and intends to make up for it in the future by caring better for Sarah, and Lucy, etc. Unfortunately for those around her, this change of heart doesn't last long. Once her mother-in-law dies and Brian departs, Vera is ostracized and no longer has any man she wishes at her disposal to manipulate as she pleases. This is brand new for Vera, so she immediately latches onto Terry, in order to avoid being alone once Sarah is in bed for the night. 

It is during this point in her life that Vera begins to realize just how different she and Lucy are. Whipple brings religion into this book intermittently, but it is here that she has Lucy explain her beliefs to Vera in some detail. Vera believed Lucy's open interest in God was "eccentric." Lucy explained that
She wanted to know more and more about was discovery and that was why you didn't need to mind about growing old, because the older you got the farther you went 
down the road of life and the more you found out. 
She thought that after death you went on learning. 
She really believed it, you could see it in her face, glowing with an interest 
which merely surprised Vera who felt nothing of it at all. (286)
Vera starts bemoaning the fact that she will become an "old hag" and no man will want her. 
'I don't know why that worries you, said Lucy staunchly. 
'You've never valued the admiration you've aroused, so far as I've seen.
'Ah, but you know that the more you have of anything the less you want it. 
I'm afraid the opposite holds true, too. 
I'll probably be going about looking anxiously for it when I can't get it.'
'Of course you won't,' said Lucy. 'You'll be too proud.'
'I don't know what I'll be when old age starts undermining my defences,' said Vera. (285-6)
As her brothers used to say, "Vera doesn't want much...she only wants everything." And Brian makes sure that ends when he obtains a divorce from her and forces her to live on her own with an allowance of 700 a year. 

When Lucy finally visits Vera in the aftermath of her divorce, Vera realizes that something in Lucy makes her never give up caring for others, especially her sisters and that without Lucy's oversight, the three of them would have lost touch years ago. Though Lucy urges Vera to send Sarah to boarding school, Vera is adamantly opposed. 
'Why do you harp on it?' said Vera coldly. 'I've said I won't.'
'She's going to have a bad time then,' said Lucy. 'She's devoted to you, 
and that's pathetic because she isn't devoted to anyone else. If you let her down, she'll suffer. 
If you're not prepared to put yourself aside and devote yourself to her, 
you'd far better send her away to a good school where other people will look after her, 
and keep her out of emotional conflicts until she's old enough to face them. 
You're making yourself Sarah's only companion and it's a great responsibility.'
'I wish you'd mind your own business,' said Vera. (313-314)
Poor Lucy! Forever the mother to her two sisters! Vera was never a real wife to Brian and she certainly was never a real mother to her daughters. She definitely gets what she deserves, a life alone or with a younger man who will not provide for her and will eventually ditch her for someone younger/prettier. 

Charlotte eventually becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol in order to cope and ends up dying young. Lucy and William are raising Judith and Sarah throughout the remainder of their teen years. While Vera goes off with Terry, with disastrous results in the future, as Lucy and William are certain. 

What of these wives? Charlotte was truly a mouse and unable to cope with or remover herself from Geoffrey's abuse. She was committed to her marriage, come what may, and as a result died young, abandoning her children. Vera was selfish and self-serving to the core and it ended up biting her in the ass once Brian abandoned her. It's rather certain she'll end up abandoned in the end, old and lonely. Perhaps Lucy will be able to rescue her in the future, but perhaps not... Meanwhile, Lucy is the only one who ended up in a marriage that was a partnership. Whipple does demonstrate that a man/husband could be manipulative and abusive with no consequences whatsoever to him for his behavior (Geoffrey), however, a woman who acted the same way could be punished, not only being ostracized from society, but also financially (Vera). However, Lucy was compassionate, kind, and had common sense, though she was never really allowed nor allowed herself to be a child, she was the one of these three sisters who had a reasonably sane adulthood and marriage. I find it interesting that the mysogyny of the day is further depicted by Lucy's own father: he feels it necessary to remove his sons from Geoffrey's manipulation and influence, but has no qualms about his daughter falling under the man's spell. She's 'just a girl,' after all!

Have you read this book? 

If you're at all interested, I would highly recommend it.
Wait for Me, Jack by Addison Jones
Please join us April 1 (no foolin'!)

for our reviews and discussion of 

Wait for Me, Jack by Addison Jones. 

This is a work of historical fiction. 

I am anxious to read it! 

I think the time period will have much to offer in analyzing a marriage!

Happy reading,


  1. I was the one who suggested this book! I like your point about the man receiving no punishment for being selfish in the marriage while the woman does. We hope that situation has changed!

    1. Well, thank you so very much for that suggestion, Kay! It was wonderful and opened me up to Whipple's other books! Now, gotta budget some $ to spend with Persephone soon! :) Yeah, men could do whatever they pleased...still seems that way all too often... :( But at least she was a groundbreaker in describing such abuse...

  2. What a good point you make at the end about the father worrying about Geoffrey's influence on his sons but not his daughters - I completely missed that! And also what Kay commented on - about the woman being punished for not being a "good" wife, while the man gets away with it. I mean, he basically murdered his wife!

    1. In the process of composing my review that occurred to me. That is one advantage of blogging, it helps me think more about what I've read! (Which is my ultimate goal! Bonus if others read it!) I truly was imagining all types of torture to which he could/should be subjected. What a bastard! Definitely one of the characters I have hated the most of all I've read!