One of my 2010 reading resolutions is to read more by authors I have recently discovered. Dorothy Whipple (1893-1966) is a favorite 2009 'discovery', so I'm not wasting any time! The Persephone Biannually (No. 6 Autumn & Winter 2009-10) includes Whipple's "A Lovely Time" as the featured short story.
Someone at a Distance primed me to expect everyday people occupied with everyday tasks, and that's exactly what Whipple delivers in "A Lovely Time".
Alice Barnes has taken to spelling her name 'Alys' (pronouncing it to rhyme with 'knees') now that she's come to London. She is naive, unsophisticated, works in an office, and since arriving from Ilkeston a few months ago, lives in a women's rooming house.
After a long day at the office, Alice is in her room writing a letter when the glamorous Sheila Spence asks her to fill in for a sick friend and go on a double date (dutch treat, of course) that same evening. Alice, oblivious that she is a last resort, is thrilled.
"She sang a song as she took off her work-a-day clothes. Fancy Miss Spence asking her! It was most kind, because she hardly knew her really and yet she called her darling and asked her out to dinner and a night club. Oh, London life had begun! She had been lonely, she had been dull, she had been cold and felt the food at Vale House inadequate, but now the lights had gone up, the fun, the excitement, the experience she had come for were about to begin!"
Upon arrival at the restaurant, Alice doesn't look as fashionable as she supposes:
"Her mirror was so small that she could not see that her hair had risen at the back of her head in a still hackle which caused amusement to people at other tables. She sat in bliss and ignorance, looking very small, young, and a little peculiar."
When the waitress calls for 'Pane' to be brought to the table, Alice is practically overcome.
"Pane! How thrilling! That must be Italian for bread!"
"Pane! Pane! whispered Alice ecstatically. Oh, this was the wide world! This was even more than London; it was the cosmos. She would be able to ask for 'pane' when she went home to Ilkeston for her holiday."
As you might imagine, the evening is a complete disaster. Conversation is more than strained, and the 'date' cuts out early. It even takes poor Alice a minute to realize that she is no longer welcome to accompany the other couple to the night club. The reader's heart aches for Alice. I wanted to straighten her dress, fix her hair, and give her a few basic social pointers!
"A Lovely Time" possesses the same strengths found in Someone at a Distance, yet is remarkable since it is accomplished in just a few pages. Whipple fashions characters we can relate to. Their emotions and feelings come alive for the reader. I look forward to reading more of Whipple's work, both novels and short stories, as the year progresses.
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