The past two weeks at work have been pretty stressful, with people on vacation, out sick or at meetings. The kids in our community are out of school next week and preparations for our summer reading program are in high gear, which also makes things slightly tense around the library. We’re all loaded down with tasks and have to cover the desk as well and it all gets to be a bit too much when lots of people are out. In order to relieve the stress every evening I turned to They Were Sisters, an excellent novel by an author I don’t think I’ve much appreciated up to this point.

Lucy, Vera and Charlotte grow up in a well-to-do-family with a lawyer father, in comfort and safety. Lucy is the nurturer (especially after their mother passes away), Vera is the beauty and Charlotte the gentle, fun-loving sister. When the sisters marry their lives take separate paths yet Lucy continues to look after her troubled sisters. High-spirited Vera marries a dull man and their unsuitability makes them both miserable. Charlotte has a harder life; her husband Geoffrey is emotionally and mentally abusive, a true sadist who enjoys making her unhappy and humiliating her and their children. Lucy, married to good William, watches her sisters’ lives fall apart with despair. As the years go on Vera and Charlotte fall further into troubles and Lucy endeavors to save both them (without much success) and their children.

Published in 1943 this novel was a bestseller and I can just imagine people reading it to escape their daily reality, much as I did. It is completely engrossing, filled with very colorful, well-drawn characters, lots of drama and lovely domestic details. It is also – and this was one of my main reasons for loving it so much – full of goodness. Lucy is a woman to be admired as she goes about her life trying to do good, be good and think good about others. She is now one of my all-time favorite characters from literature and one I aspire to be like and learn from.

Until now I’d never really loved a Whipple novel. I enjoyed Greenbanks and Someone at a Distance and liked The Priory, but I was missing the connection that I know others have felt to her writing. They Were Sisters is the book that’s put me in the Whipple fan club forever. Now it’s on to Because of the Lockwoods.

How do you feel about Dorothy Whipple? Fan or no?


  1. I still have yet to read any of Dorothy Whipple’s books. I found a copy of Someone at a Distance at the library book sale, but now you make me want to order a copy of this one instead! especially now that I have a Persephone account 🙂

  2. I’ve read one and it was just meh. Your enthusiasm has got me interested. I hope it’s there in Open Library.

    • I think people either love or feel indifferent to Whipple. I hadn’t ever really crushed on her before I read this. I thought she was just meh too!

  3. piningforthewest

    I really enjoyed Someone at a Distance but that’s the only one I’ve read so far, I have some catching up to do and I now feel I have to do that soon!

  4. I own Whipple books but have never quite managed to get through one, although I know many who love her. I think I’m going to try her short stories first to see if I can connect with her the way others do!

  5. I really loved Someone at a Distance (my first Whipple) and still remember several favorite quotes! They Were Sisters was wonderful, too. I read it during the stressful holiday season last year. The Priory is on my shelf. I am most definitely a fan.

    • Glad to hear it! I need to order They Knew Mr. Knight and High Wages from Persephone soon or I’m going to have withdrawals. 🙂

  6. I’ve loved the Whipples I’ve read, but not so much that I’d rank her among my particular favourites. I have this book, so we’ll see one day soon if it has a similar effect on me.

    • I have wondered if maybe she is a bit overrated? It seems there are lots of readers who just don’t appreciate her style.

  7. Sadly I haven’t read anything by Dorothy Whipple. I am glad you enjoyed this so much 🙂

  8. I’ve still never read anything by Dorothy Whipple — it seems like for every wonderful review I read of her books, I read another one that’s mightily underwhelmed by her. It’s been tough to get psyched!

    • Yes, I’ve noticed that too. Persephone does talk her up a lot, but I’ve often wondered if she doesn’t really resonate with readers anymore. However, she is the top-selling author at Persephone so she must be popular in a certain segment of readers – and now I can understand why. Maybe you have to read her when you’re super stressed out!

  9. I have just finished ‘Because of the Lockwoods’ and am still mulling it over so I can’t make a reasoned response just yet but I do like Mrs Whipple, I feel that she wrote about real people at a time just before my birth.

    • She writes wonderfully real people, doesn’t she? She must have been a great observer of human nature.

      • She certainly did, there are other of her books that I want to read but sometimes it is difficult to source them; which is where Persephone is a god-send.

  10. I really loved Someone at a Distance, and the others I’ve read have been on the scale from ‘liked a lot’ to ‘kinda a dud’ – but I haven’t read this one, and have owned it for about a decade – so I must get onto it! Lovely review 🙂

    • Her novels do seem to be all over the place in terms of quality! I started reading Because of the Lockwoods and it’s not quite living up to They Were Sisters. I hope you do get to it soon, I’d love to see what you think.

  11. Persephone have hyped her up but DISTANCE is the best book by far.
    Book fashions come and go.Iris Murdoch is back in at the moment.

  12. I’ve read this book and reviewed it. I am a big fan. I feel she has a very powerful voice within the confines of domestic happenings. This is my second Whipple, after the Priory.

  13. I read “Because of the Lockwoods” when I was about 12 years old. I remember I loved it. Imagine my surprise to ding out 40 years later she wrote more. I will be checking the library to see if they have any of them. If not I may have to start scouring places to find them. I read it because I was staying with my Grandma and needless to say she had no Bobbsey Twins. Lol

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