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Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
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Someone at a Distance (original 1953; edition 2008)

by Dorothy Whipple, Nina Bawden (Preface)

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3781928,549 (4.18)74
Member:rainpebble
Title:Someone at a Distance
Authors:Dorothy Whipple
Other authors:Nina Bawden (Preface)
Info:Persephone Books (2008), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 420 pages
Collections:Your library (inactive)
Rating:*****
Tags:Persephone Classics; (3)

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Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple (1953)

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» See also 74 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
What a dreary book! 413 solemn pages about a few cardboard
characters to bring us the astonishing message that adultery is a bad thing. ( )
  KayCliff | May 31, 2014 |
Ellen North, daughter, Anne and son, Hugh, put their lives back together after her picture perfect marriage to very nice guy, Avery, is destroyed by beautiful, scheming, French "tart", Louise. Well and insightfully told story. ( )
  Jonlyn | Apr 11, 2014 |
A highly readable study of the insertion of a sociopathic woman into a traditional marriage and the havoc that is wreaked as a result. Old Mrs. North, the widow of a highly successful industrialist, brings 27-year-old "French girl" Louise Lanier, into her home for companionship and light domestic duties. Louise, seething with resentment at being thrown over by her former lover, rich-boy Paul Devoisy--who has recently made a very bourgeois marriage to a plain and pious town girl with a good dowry--recognizes the new opportunities available to her. After Louise is left a significant amount of money by Mrs. North, she returns to England to collect it, finagling an extended stay at the home of the deceased woman's handsome and happily married middle-aged son, Avery, a partner in a successful London publishing firm. Motivated by her rage at Paul, Louise seduces Avery, whose family life is destroyed. The novel is an account of the ruination of a marriage by infidelity, but also an investigation into a female sociopathic mind. There is considerable melodrama, yes, and some moralizing, but the writing is generally smart and the characterization--with the exception of the limp and rather weak-willed Avery--convincing. A page-turner. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Apr 7, 2013 |
I fell in love with my first (knowingly) read of a Persephone. I am hoping that all of the Persephone I go on to read will have this quality of writing.
Ellen and Avery live a busy but quiet life in the English countryside with their two children and with Avery's mother living not far away. Grandmama feels sorry for herself that she is not anyone's number one since the passing of Grandpapa and her children's reaching of adulthood with lives of their own. Ellen tries to visit a couple of times a week but this is not enough for Grandmama, who answers an advertisement in the paper for placement of a French young lady looking for work as companion/light housekeeping sort. Her letter to the young French lady is simply one of several but it is the position the French girl chooses to accept.
As the story moves on we learn that said young French lady has come from a background of shopkeepers but has had a secretly & extensive love affair with a young gentleman from a very good family in the village. When it comes time for him to marry however, he must choose a young lady of 'higher breeding', which angers our slutty French girl. So she leaves her village for this English position thinking that she will go out into the world, make something better of herself and come back and show him!
When our slutty French girl arrives in England she does everything for the Grandmama to make her happy and needful of her attentions. However she appears rude and distanced from everyone else. The daily help cannot abide her and even Grandmama's family raise their eyebrows though they are very happy that Grandmama is happy. She is so happy in fact that when she passes unexpectedly she leaves our slutty French girl 1,000 pounds along with her furs and jewels. Slutty French girl decides she must remain the 3 months or so that it will take for the paperwork, probate, etc to all come to a conclusion so she can take possession of her monies and goods. She helps the family to clean out Grandmama's house (where the help will not allow her to remain so Ellen mistakenly takes her in) and sends box after box of things to her parents in France, even down to the draperies.
While living with Avery and Ellen our slutty French girl gets bored and goes on the hunt after their son, Hugh, who is home on holiday from the Army. He doesn't like it and attempts to avoid her at all costs to the point of rudeness. At one point he out to the stable to make some shelving for his younger sister Ann who is off at school. He wants to surprise her with someplace to put her horse's brushes and gear, but he is mainly attempting to get away from slutty French girl. Avery comes upon slutty French girl making a play for his son and becomes very angry with her and tells her to keep away from Hugh so she provokes him by telling him: Why? You don't pay any attention to me.
So guess what? EeeYup, our slutty French girl goes all out after Avery who after a while weakens a bit and finally one day Ellen, his wife and Ann, his daughter come upon the two of them locked in an embrace on the settee. Ellen and Ann are both shocked and when Ann leaves, Ellen tells her husband that our slutty French girl must go and go now.
And the story goes on from there only to get better and better. The only fault I can find with this book is that the very last bit is just a smidge too tidy.
This book is beautifully written and the characters are wonderfully drawn. One even comes to not like, but to understand our slutty French girl.
I love, love, loved the writing in this book and can't wait to read another by Dorothy Whipple. I gave it a 5 star rating very highly recommend it. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Dec 12, 2012 |
Avery and Ellen North have an ideal marriage and a model family. Son Hugh is in military service; daughter Anne attends boarding school and spends her holidays mostly obsessing over her mare, Roma. Avery is a successful partner in a London publishing firm, and Ellen gardens, cares for family needs, and maintains their home in the country. Their peaceful life is forever changed when Avery's elderly mother employs Louise, a young French woman, for conversation and light domestic duties.

Louise comes from a small provincial town. Now in her late 20s, she has no real marriage prospects and is recovering from an illicit romance with Paul, a wealthy young man recently married to someone more appropriate for his station. At first she appears a suitable companion for old Mrs. North, but eventually she begins to shirk her domestic duties, encroach on family life, and generally walk around behaving as if she's better than everyone else. Gradually it becomes clear she will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Having failed to snare Paul, she sets her sights on Avery. It's obvious from the word "go" that she will succeed, but Dorothy Whipple takes her time. Little by little, Louise endears herself to the family, and Whipple allows the reader glimpses of Louise's thoughts and feelings so we know, long before anyone else, just how manipulative and conniving she is.

I almost got bored with all the build-up. But then came the most painful pages of the novel, when Ellen discovers what's going on between Avery and Louise. And a bit later, when a devastated Ellen comforts Anne:
'Don't let's talk about it Mummy,' she said.

'No, darling,' said Ellen.

With the other hand, she began to stroke Anne's hair. Backwards and forwards went her gentle hand and by and by Anne's head drooped against her knee and her mother saw she was asleep.

The day had been long and bitter, there was trouble behind and before, but for this brief space in the dining-room, there was nothing but peace and love. (p. 238)


At that point, I was fully invested in Ellen's welfare, and pulling for her every step of the way. Whipple continued giving me glimpses of Avery and Louise, and Louise's family in France, but I was always eager to return to Ellen's story. At first she withdrew into herself, and didn't want to tell anyone what had happened. But as the shock wore off and she summoned the courage to venture forth, Ellen was surprised to find others who had been through a similar experience. Day by day, she grew stronger and more independent. And along the way, so did Anne.

There's much more complexity to this story; I don't want to spoil it for you. The Norths and Louise are surrounded by a rich set of characters, all brilliantly portrayed, even down to the family cat. There are interesting subplots, like the story of Paul and his wife. And the ending is satisfying, if inconclusive. All I can say is, you have to read Someone at a Distance to appreciate it. ( )
10 vote lauralkeet | Apr 14, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dorothy Whippleprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bawden, NinaPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Widowed, in the house her husband had built with day and night nurseries and a music-room, as if the children would stay forever instead of marrying and going off at the earliest possible moment, old Mrs North yielded one day to a long-felt desire to provide herself with company.
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A deceptively simple plot about a deceived wife and a foolish husband. Avery and Ellen have been married for twenty years. When his mother advertises for a companion, the French girl who arrives sets her sights on Avery and callously threatens the happy marriage.… (more)

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