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High Wages
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 30 September 2009
'Experience doth take dreadfully high wages but she teacheth like none other.'
This is one of Whipple's earlier books, published in 1930, and set just before and after World War I. Not as powerful as later works like Someone At A Distance but still a very engaging, old-fashioned read full of Whipple's characteristic shrewd observation. Jane is a parentless girl, full of ambition, who rises from behind the counter of an old-fashioned draper's store to own her own gown shop. Whipple's depiction of a northern mill-town and its 'characters' is quite wonderful and she is clearly writing from her own northern background. Readers who know Manchester today will be fascinated by Jane's shopping excursion to the city and the description of Kendal's up-to-the-minute window displays circa 1913.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2009
This is the second Dorothy Whipple book I have read, the first being The Priory, which I thought was OK, but would not rave over. I enjoyed this book much more. Not a lot happens, but for those who like a social history side to their novels, it is fascinating, and gives a slice of shopping history that may be unfamiliar to most. I also liked the fact that the characters were believable, neither sinners nor saints, but people who tried to do their best in the circumstances. Ideal to curl up with in front of the fire on a cold winter's night!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2009
I agree totally with the previous reviewer who says that this is not as powerful a book as some of Dorothy Whipple's later work. It is interesting as an early book, and beautifully written, with the most fascinating insights into the very important subject of the history of shopping (quite an interesting comparison with Zola's "Ladies Paradise" could be made). But the sense of "moral groundedness" which permeates her later work (and is either loved or loathed by readers) is not really present. Jane, an admirable feminist icon in her thirst for education and independence, finds her longing for something higher than is offered by her everyday life answered in a not uncommon form - the attractions of a married man; and does not reject this route out of hand, as one might expect of a Whipple heroine. Those who find Whipple's moral aspect repellant (as the founders of Virago did) might well find this book more, rather than less, enjoyable as a result - certainly Jane rings very true to life. For myself, as an unreconstructed Whipple-ite I found it a little disconcerting - but none the less enjoyable!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2011
An absolutely delightful book which I read in two days. This is indeed a little more lightweight than some of Dorothy Whipple's other books but non the worse for it - afterall it would be pretty sad if they were all the same. This reminded me a little of J B Priestley's Bright Day (another great favourite of mine) and gives a wonderful insight into a very different time and place. As to the hardworking heroine - she's a great tonic during a sleepless night!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The title of this book is taken from the old saying

"Experience doth take dreadfully high wages, but she teaches like none other."

Tells the story of Jane Carter. Her mother had died when she was little and her father first remarried and then also died. Jane's stepmother decries the "fancy schools" to which her parents had sent her, and insists that she goes out to work.

Jane came to the market town of Tidsley for an afternoon, saw a job in a draper's shop advertised which includes "live-in" accomodation, and jumps at the opportunity both the earn a living and escape from her stepmother's home. At first her reward for initiative and hard work is to be cheated out of part of her earnings. However, Jane endears herself to her customers and eventually manages to set up in business for herself.

Also included in the story is her re-introduction to the world of literature, and a romantic triangle - or rather in this case, a romantic pentagon - which includes the husband of a local heiress, and the library assistant who has introduced Jane to the beauty of the written word but has what appears at first to be an unrequited fascination with her own beauty.

The story was written in 1930, is set in the early years of the 20th Century including the period of the first world war. It is an interesting social portrait of that period.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 2009
One of Whipple's earlier books, pub. in 1930, and set just before and after World War I. Not as powerful as later work like Someone At A Distance, but still a very engaging, old-fashioned read full of Whipple's characteristic shrewd observation. Jane is a parentless girl, full of ambition, who rises from behind the counter of an old-fashioned draper's store to own her own gown shop. Whipple's depiction of a northern milltown and its 'characters' is quite wonderful and she is clearly writing from her own northern background. Readers who know Manchester today will be fascinated by Jane's shopping excursion to the city and the description of Kendal's up-to-the-minute window displays circa 1913. Well worth reading if you can get hold of a second-hand copy; if you can't, Persephone Books are re-publishing it soon.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 23 December 2009
We have now set up a Dorothy Whipple Appreciation Club at work and have been delighted that some of her other books have recently been reprinted. As a commentator of women, their lives, their rights and the hypocracy of middle~class society in Northern England, we do not believe that there is anyone better. Beautifully written, funny and sensuous, her books are both modern and encaptivating ~ as was this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2012
This book paints a picture of a different time, place and moral landscape. I did not think it equaled They Were Sisters, but it kept me reading and I loved the two women who find solace and purpose in each other and their business. Whipple does snobs very well, but also decent and reasonable people, making the most of their lives. She is good at building up suspense, near the end I was fretting that Jane would lose the shop. She also always appreciates the good and simple things in life, space of ones own, friendship, enough to eat, nature and a nice cup of tea. Wonderful.
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on 8 June 2015
I read High Wages for the Sheffield Persephone Book Group, and we last Thursday we met at Bird's Yard Sheffield to discuss our latest read. Here are a few of my thoughts about the book.

High Wages had appealed to me for a long time, mainly because everything I'd read about it indicated it was the story of a young woman starting a business and making her way in the world. Although written in 1930, the book is set from c1912 into the 1920s, and I'd expected Whipple's novel to offer a good insight into the life of ambitious women in this pivotal period in history.

The opening scenes, where Jane takes a job at a large department store, grabbed my attention. I could imagine the shop windows and down-on-her-luck Jane peering into them full of hopes and aspirations. I wanted to know where the plot would go and if this would be the inspirational shop girl-made-good story I hoped for.

It's fair to say I was surprised when the emphasis of the story shifted to romance, as although it's an ever-popular theme in literature- particularly that aimed at women- the reviews and articles I'd seen focussed on the elements of fashion, business and society within the novel. Jane, who in the early chapters appears to be quite an 'average' girl in every sense, seems to turn men's heads left, right and centre. The creative Wilf and attractive Noel both show signs of interest in Jane, and there's also evidence of her hold over other men, such as mentioned in the scene at the ball. I imagine some of these scenes were considered quite risqué when the book was first published. As a reader of contemporary romance, I can see how High Wages might be considered an early example of modern women's fiction-it had a lot in common with the bestselling 'chicklit' titles I've read recently.

Whilst I liked the writing style and some of the more vividly painted scenes (especially the visit to the seaside which captured the essence of the great British holiday), I longed for more consistent character development. It felt hard to get to know who Jane was and what she wanted, and although I mostly wished her success there were times I thought she acted inconsistently. However, High Wages is early Whipple, written at a time when she was developing her style and honing her writing skills, and I can imagine her later works are more well-rounded in a literary sense.

High Wages was a page turner of a book and I can see why it appeals to the modern reader. It just wasn't what I'd expected. If you're interested in social history, the development of women's fiction and enjoy a good old-fashioned love triangle, High Wages might be for you.
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on 11 September 2011
Shorter and less ambitious than some of her later works, High Wages is, nonetheless a delight. It provides a sharp and salutary insight into the world of the shopgirl in the early years of the twentieth century. How many of us, I wonder, knew that shopgirls often 'lived in' and not only worked for inordinately long hours but also were kept short of food by their stingy employers. Jane, gifted and far sighted and akin to Winifred Holtby's heroine, Sarah Burton, in South Riding, soon realizes her ambition to escape from being a habadashery assistant (where sales for low-cost items mean pitiful commission) to owning her own shop which specialises in the new ready-to-wear fashion. This is acutely observed social history at its best, peppered with Whipple's sharp wit. Jane shudders at one customer who refers to her underwear as 'neathies'.The portrayal of a small and emotionally suffocating Northern mill town is masterly. Although many of the minor characters are well drawn,the emotional drama is less convicing than in some of Whipple's more mature work. Jane's relationships with Noel and Wilfred fail to convince and the plot, which is insubstantial, creaks just a little. However, this is a compelling read and thoroughly recommended.
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