I’ve had High Wages by Dorothy Whipple on my Classics Club second list for ages, despite the fact that I know so many people have loved it. The thickness of my edition was putting me off I think, unusually for me it’s a first edition which I just about fell over in an antiques shop which only had a couple of books in it, it cost me all of £2, I felt so lucky as I had been meaning to get the book for ages and just hadn’t got around to ordering it.
Anyway, I loved this one which begins with Jane Carter visiting the small town of Tidsley on her half-day off. She works in a draper’s shop in a nearby town but she’s drawn to a notice which has just been put in the window of another draper’s shop. They’re looking for a new assistant and Jane plucks up the courage to go in and enquire about the job. She’s successful, and so begins her new life. There’s no doubting that Jane is ambitious and has a good business mind, and she improves the business for the owner Mr Chadwick, but he is not at all grateful and exploits her financially. That just encourages Jane to long even more to have a shop of her own.
Whipple captures the small town atmosphere so well, with the gossip and snobbery, clandestine relationships and unrequited love. The characters are all so recognisable, and although Jane is a very likeable person, she’s not perfect – and she knows it.
The tale begins in 1913 so it isn’t long before WW1 changes things in the town although it doesn’t play a huge part in the book. I was amused to see quite a lot of mentions of aspidistra plants in this book, especially after reading George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying recently.
I’ve only read one other book by Dorothy Whipple – Someone at a Distance – which I did enjoy (twice inadvertently as I had forgotten I had read it some years before!!) I’m sure that High Wages will stay with me much longer. I read this one for the Classics Club. Sadly my 1930 copy of the book doesn’t have the dust cover.