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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
The Priory
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on 25 September 2011
I so loved previous books I'd read by Dorothy Whipple that I was disappointed at first by The Priory, a novel set in the 1930s, before the start of the second World War. The inhabitants of the old house, built onto the ruins of an ancient priory, seemed unreal and hard to relate to. They live in isolation, out of touch with the outside world and largely ignorant of its customs. Someone at a Distance and They Were Sisters, on the other hand, were full of people who seem just as relevant today, albeit with different value systems. After about a hundred pages, though, I became just as engrossed in The Priory as I was in the other two books. The characters become more realistic as you get to know them, and those with whom you have the greatest sympathy early in the book may not be the same as those you sympathise with as the story progresses.

The Priory is owned by Major Marwood, who has no idea how to manage his finances or his household, is desperately short of money and is deeply in debt. He takes little interest in his family - indeed his only abiding interest is cricket on which he is prepared to lavish funds he can ill afford. He relies on his sister Victoria to run the house but she too has no interest in housekeeping and is seemingly unaware that the food is awful and the house falling into disrepair. She leaves the servants to do as they please, as a result of which they do not welcome subsequent attempts to influence their behaviour. The major's daughters, Christine and Penelope, whose education has been woefully neglected and who rarely interact with anyone else, entertain themselves in the garden and in the comfort of the nursery where they resent any intrusion.

Into this unlikely world steps Anthea, at about the same time as a new maid, Bessy, joins the household. Their interactions with the established characters become part of the evolving tale then, as the story proceeds, Anthea fades into the background and Christine, the older of the two daughters, emerges as the central character around whom the rest of the book revolves.

As in Dorothy Whipple's other books, The Priory highlights the challenges faced by women who did not marry, when women had few prospects unless they found a husband. For those who failed to do so, life could be tedious, unrewarding, and often miserable.

The ending is perhaps a little too neat, but overall it's an easy and undemanding read, an ideal book with which to relax. As with all Persephone books, this edition is beautifully presented, with its plain grey dust cover and attractive endpapers.
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on 3 September 2017
I got bogged down near the beginning and a week or so later skipped to fairly near the end and read through to the end. It is well written but for me, I did not feel like read the whole thing. Do not be put off by me, it was a personal choice.
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on 19 August 2015
Yet another marvellously intriguing and deliciously psychologically accurate study of a family by the incomparable Dorothy Whipple. Such a fine writer at every level.
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on 16 August 2009
Just like the Virago Modern Classics such as The Constant Nymph in the early 1980s, the Persephone reprints are an inspiration to me as a novelist in the 21st century. So much modern women's fiction is one-track - a romance predictable from the first glowering sentence. Women's fiction in the 20th century had meaning and purpose, detail and interesting minor characters. So many young men lost in both world wars. Who did you marry when there were not enough young men to go around and the pit props and expectations of your class (gentry, upper middle, call it what you will...) were crumbling in trenches and on battle fields? The Priory is a place where you still have servants and expectations, but everything else has been swept away. Brilliant. Read it if you are interested in women and the 20th century from which we all emerge.
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on 4 May 2009
It's a tragedy that Dorothy Whipple isn't more well known, because all of her books are superbly crafted portrayals of people so real you could almost reach into the pages and touch them. Like Jane Austen, she had that remarkable skill of being able to breathe life into her words, managing to create characters and situations that are completely relatable to everyday life, effortlessly transcending time, age and social status. Everyone knows somebody like the characters in this book; everyone can relate to some extent with the events that happen; because of this, you genuinely care for the people this novel is centred around; you want them to be happy, you want it all to work out; you understand their hopes, their fears, and their dreams, and this is what makes The Priory a page turner of the most literal kind.

The Priory concerns the Marwood family and their servants, who live in The Priory of the title, and the other people that over the course of the novel come into their lives and change them, for the worse or the better. They are very ordinary people; no one does anything particularly exciting, or special, or ground breaking, but it is because of this that their lives are so engrossing. They are just ordinary people, like us, with their own faults and failures, and how they choose to live their lives and deal with the situations that come their way is mainly the concern of this wonderful, character driven novel. It is set in 1939, just before the outbreak of WWII, and the fear and tension underneath the surface of this novel, of a world about to change, is not so different from today. We might not have an army of servants behind our own green baize doors any more, but take away the period detail and you will find a timeless story that cannot fail to touch you and leave you wanting far more pages to turn that those it contains. Absolutely marvellous.
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on 26 September 2012
I have only recently discovered Dorothy Whipple, but am a firm convert already. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and the story of the Marwood family and their servants, their downturns and the evntual outcome. Dorothy Whipple quietly went about practicing her craft with a deft touch, invoking the atmosphere of the early 1900s, and the people who lived then. This book is set in 1939, just as WW2 is about to start. I ached for the family; knowing more of what they are about to have to deal with than do they themselves at the end of the book. A truly ownderful book; one that I shall read again and again.
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on 10 September 2009
'The Priory' is another wonderful, and wonderfully readable book by the excellent Dorothy Whipple. The Priory, a large house inhabited by members of the Marwood Family, becomes the backdrop for the stories of a dysfunctional family. As in all the Dorothy Whipple novels published by Persephone, the characters are real and rounded, but there are some strange characters here. Whipple describes the lack of communication between members of the family, and their servants, which makes life so difficult, and money worries are at the heart of many of the problems encountered. I found myself really caring about what happened to each of the characters.

I heartily recommend this book; it's long, but really worth it!
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on 13 July 2015
The Priory, Dorothy Whipple's third book, is as readable now as it must have been when it was the "summer read" of 1939. The threat of war is ominous throughout the book, but only in the background of the lives of the main characters, who are rightfully more concerned with the tangled web of their romantic, domestic and economic problems. The reader too, becomes quickly tangled in the lives of those living on the Saunby Priory, which seems at first to resemble the setting for a charming yet crooked fairy tale. The servants have taken charge of the large crumbling house where Major Marwood spends most of his time sitting in his study, hiding the rising pile of bills in his desk drawer and talking to the ex-professional cricket player that he pays to stay at Saunby to help organize his excessive yearly cricket game and to provide him with "the only company he had" in the winter. The Major lives surrounded by the company of his family however, with his two grown-up daughters, Christine and Penelope, remaining happily child-like in the upstairs nursery and their Aunt Victoria, who spends her time painting grotesque pictures and eating an absurd amount of whatever she can get her hands on.

While the book is exceedingly enjoyable at first because of the satisfying and predictable way that the characters' lives unfold, (the minor obstacles are quickly overcome by romance between characters that one feels are destined to be together) the plot continues to captivate the reader as it slowly strays further from the course that the reader would have expected it to take. As the characters' relationships that have been built up throughout the book start to fall apart, the reader becomes acutely aware of the extent with which the lives of women at the time were defined by their relationships to men. I cannot help feeling a wave of shock every time I am reminded of the limited amount of spaces that single women are allowed to inhabit. Marriage liberates the women in this book, as it is the only thing allowing them to leave their childhood home, yet Whipple does not for a moment allow us to forget what a weak form of liberation this is. Reading from a historical distance, the book becomes particularly chilling as we are aware that the characters' casual remarks about an upcoming war are very quickly going to become more than an afterthought for these people to which we have become so attached. Another wonderful Persephone read!
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on 19 January 2010
The Priory is, I think, may favourite Whipple. The characters are so vivid and personalities change subtley as they age, as do one's opinions of them. The author creates such sensual, detailed images of her scenes that you can almost smell the old house where the story unfolds. I do not understand why I had never heard of Dorothy Whipple until recently. I have passed The Priory on to many friends and they all agree - once you have read a Whipple you are hooked.
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VINE VOICEon 28 August 2006
The people who live in The Priory are real and the novel is finely crafted with various interwoven stories. I don't know why Dorothy Whipple hasn't been discovered by television producers because her stories are so alive with human feeling and real emotion without being overwhelming or overly dramatic. I'll certainly be reading more of her novels.
I've read a number of Dorothy Whipple's books. Please have a look at my other reviews.
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