Monday, January 4, 2010

Short Story Monday: "A Lovely Time" by Dorothy Whipple

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.

Visit John at The Book Mine Set for more Short Story Monday posts.


  1. I'm not sure if I would have had a nurturing attitude towards this woman! I think I would have wanted to smack her! Still, love a short story that gets your emotions jacked up!

  2. You are right about the reader feeling for Alice...especially when it came to the visual of the seemed to symbolize all that went so badly. Reminds me of the things in life one expects to be a certain way and turns out to be the complete opposite.

  3. I just loved this story! And yes, I too wanted to fix her up. My heart was full for her during those few pages.

  4. Kals - Thanks so much! I hope tp get an awards post out this weekend to thank you properly ;-)

    Sandy - patience for this kind of thing, huh? She really was a pathetic creature.

    Book Psmith - Very true! Things didn't go at all the way poor Alice had envisioned. Whipple is amazing!

    Tara - I wonder if all her stories are this good. Persephone has at least one collection, and maybe even two. They Were Sisters will be my next Whipple.

  5. I must read Whipple, and soon! This sounds like an amazing story.

  6. Nymeth - You really must read Whipple! Both this story and Someone at a Distance were wonderful.

  7. It sounds like she could illicit very different emotions from people. Sympathy or frustration. I'm afraid I'd probably belong in the latter category.

  8. John - Sympathy or frustration? When I read the story it was sympathy, but after the day I had today, frustration would be the more likely emotion - lol!


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