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The Whicharts by Noel Streatfeild
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The Whicharts (1931)

by Noel Streatfeild

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271402,159 (3.92)5
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    Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (nessreader)
    nessreader: Ballet Shoes is the obvious read to complement the Whicharts, as they are the same story retold respectively for children (Ballet S) and adults (the Ws). The Whicharts, with sex, bastards and a downbeat ending, was written first. It's fascinating to compare them. Streatfeild also published adult books as Susan Scarlett; I recommend Murder While You Work, a romance set in a WW2 munitions factory… (more)
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Reason for Reading: I love Noel Streatfeild and had never read an "adult" book by her. Knowing this was her first book was also tantalizing.

Streatfeild's first book is full of themes that she will go on to explore in many of her children's book over and over again. This is the first time this book has been in print since the 1930s and what a treat for it to be back in the light of day again. Set in the 1920s, this is the story of three adopted sisters who take to the stage to bring money into the household. One is a born natural, one is a born beauty and combined with her smattering of talent gets by, while the last has only enough talent to keep her in work but she dreams of the day she can become an automotive mechanic and even someday fly a plane. Simple enough plot that could easily be the base for a children's book, and one that Streatfeild would go back to when she wrote her famous Ballet Shoes.

However, this book is for adults and I would imagine was a little racy for the times it was written. The mistress of a womanizing wealthy man, Rose, is unceremoniously dumped one day as the scoundrel has fallen in love with another. She is left with the house, a staff of three and a per annum allowance. Then some time down the road later just when she is getting over the man he shows up at her door with a very pregnant woman and insists she takes care of her until she has the baby. The woman's abysmal attitude toward the impending baby endears Rose to it ever so much and in the end she adopts it and names it after the mother, Maimie. History repeats itself and Rose ends up as the adopted mother of three half-sisters all named after their mothers. Each one growing up to carry the traits of her mother, as well. Maimie, a girl about town, who has her way with men; Daisy, the natural born dancer and entertainer always full of joy; and finally Tania, who while having unique aspirations for a woman of the times also has an undying yearning to do whatever it takes to keep the family together and always have a "home".

A wonderful story of both the cultural and theatrical world of 1920s London. A story of family love and bonds, realizing ones dreams and the various ways a woman could go about keeping herself above the poverty line: toiling hard day and night at work she hates, exploiting a natural talent for easy money, or being looked after by men for favours in return. As Streatfeild's first book, it does show some. There is a lack of emotional attachment for the reader to the characters which is something she later developed to a fine art in her books. But nonetheless, a darling read and a must have for fans! ( )
2 vote ElizaJane | Feb 8, 2011 |
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She never doubted for one moment that once she had the necessary training she would find the work. She knew with her whole being that she was a born mechanic. In what way she would have a chance to prove this she didn’t know, but her prayers always finished: “And oh God, if possible, let me fly".

1920s London: three adopted sisters train for the stage and support the household.

Maimie, Tania and Daisy Whichart have self-reliance thrust upon them. The Whicharts is the story of their dreams, friendships and loves. The drudgery of stage-work is set against their passion for family ties and realising their dreams.

Out of print since the 1930s, Noel Streatfeild's first novel is an exuberant portrayal of London cultural life in the inter-war years.

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