I had heard so much about Dorothy Whipple from blogging friends -- and then enjoyed Greengates so much -- that I have been slowly seeking out her other novels; Because of the Lockwoods, which I just read for Jessie's Persephone Readathon, is only my second, but it won't be my last.
At one time, the Lockwoods and the Hunters were neighbors in Aldworth, a town in northern England, and Mrs. Lockwood and Mrs. Hunter, mothers with young children, one married to a lawyer, the other to an architect, visit each other on almost equal terms. But when Mr. Hunter dies suddenly, leaving his family in precarious financial straits, everything changes.
The Hunter children had rather an old-fashioned air. The girls' dresses were made by their mother -- not a skillful needlewoman -- and Martin's supposedly short trousers were usually too long. Their appearance moved the Lockwood twins to scorn and giggles and Mrs. Lockwood to exasperation. Mrs. Hunter, she often said, had really no idea. She felt she herself, in Mrs. Hunter's place, would have managed so much better. In fact, Mrs. Lockwood talked as if having to manage on very little money was a most inspiring situation and one in which she almost wished herself, to that she could show what she could do.The Hunters move to a smaller, meaner house; Mrs. Lockwood condescends to the Hunters, giving Mrs. Hunter her cast-off clothing and inviting the children to come see the presents she was bought for other people; and the Lockwood twins, Bea and Muriel, taunt the Hunter children. But it's Mr. Lockwood who does the most damage: pushed into managing Mrs. Hunter's financial affairs by his wife, he insists that Molly and Martin Lockwood leave school and go to work in jobs they are unsuited for, helps himself to what's left of Mr. Hunter's good cigars, and swindles Mrs. Hunter out of a piece of property that he had wanted to purchase himself. All of the Hunters seem to have given up, except Thea, the youngest child, who finds a way to joining the Lockwood girls and a their wealthy friend Angela Harvey for a year at a finishing school in a provincial French town.
All the same, there was something about the Hunters, in spite of their clothes, that Mrs. Lockwood defined reluctantly to herself as 'distinction.' Why they should have it, where it came from and how it persisted in their circumstances, she couldn't think. Obscurely, it annoyed her. It made her wish, somehow, to keep them out of the way. She didn't quite want them to be noticed; especially not by their friends, Sir Robert and Lady Harvey.
Thea is, for a while, the only one of the Hunters who is determined to rise above the social and financial constraints placed on her, but when she falls in love with a young Frenchman she is tutoring, she is sent home in disgrace. She is willing to stare down the Lockwoods, who disown and humiliate her family, but she can't ignore Oliver Reade, the somewhat shady young man next door who finds ways to help the Hunters in order to push himself into Thea's life.
It's not even an especially uplifting story (though it has its moments) or one with very sympathetic characters (in the end, it's Molly, Thea's older sister, who seems to have found her way, though maybe I just liked her best because she bakes :). The events in the plot seem almost inevitable, but the people are so wonderfully drawn that I found myself wanting to keep reading and watch things unfold.
Thank you, Jessie, for organizing these readathons. I'm already looking forward to the next one!
Because of the Lockwoods, by Dorothy Whipple
Persephone Books, 2017 (originally published in 1949)
From my bookshelves (Kindle edition)