It is set in the town of Elton in the Midlands. This is the story of the Ashton family, Robert and Louisa, the parents in their forties, and their children. Rose and Thomas , who are both married, and do not feature much in the story. Letty is married to Ambrose Harding, they have Dick, a set of twin boys and Rachel, who live close by. Laura who lives at home and is dating and Jim and Charles who live at home, all are young adults.
Robert has aged well and has always been a philanderer. Louise knowing this, but keeping the peace and family together. Loise is the central character around which all the others orbit. Suddenly a big change comes when Robert and his lady friend are thrown out of a trap and he is killed. Ambrose takes over looking after Louise investments, Jim and Thomas decide that Jim will take over and run the family business, a wood yard and Charles, who all the brothers feel is a waster, but is most beloved of Louise, has been persuaded to try his chances in South Africa.
Jim who is very much influenced by his fiance, eventually leaves home and marries her, much to his mother’s relief, he always found fault with everything. At this time with the loss of Charles, Louisa decides to ask a lady Kate Barlow to come and live with her. Kate was befriended by Louise many years ago when she was just coming out, unfortunately she fell in love with Philip Symonds a married man and become pregnant with a boy, who she gave up for adoption. Kate left town and has been living as a companion, so Louise decides that maybe she can show her kindness by inviting Kate to live with her. Kate proves to be a prickly, frozen individual, so it does not turn out as Louise would have wished.
Laura has been dating Cecil Bradfield and taking little Rachel along as a chaperon, it seems they are quite in love. Laura though who has always been prone to be selfish and prideful, has a tiff with Cyril; which leads to a separation, that is not repaired. So in a silly mood of pettishness she decides to visit her sister Rose down south and meets George, a rather over weight but rich man and she marries him. Letty visits with Laura and basks in all the things money can buy as Ambrose is a penny pincher.
In reference to being married Laura says to Letty, “Oh, Letty said Laura, wiping her eyes. “You’ve got it boiled down to that, have you?” Letty still looked blank. “What’s the matter?” she said. “Nothing …..nothing! Have some more keep – I mean cake. Let’s plaster our souls with chocolate cake, darling. It will perhaps hold them together as well as anything else …”
Rachel is a comfort to her grandmother, and is growing up..Ambrose feels that “He looked forward with pleasure to forming Rachel according to his influence.”
Letty visits her aunt Alice regularly, hoping that some day she will inherit, and have some money of her own. “It’s not really me, having the children and living with Ambrose,’ she would think in bewilderment. ‘This isn’t my life really; it will all be different soon. I shall begin to live as I want to soon.”
Charles who although set up quite well by his family money wise, decides to come back from South Africa, as he has a billiard room invention he wants to work on. His mother hears him playing the piano as she walks up the street home, she knows it’s Charles and is delighted. The Invention does not pan out and his brothers ever glad to get rid of him find a job in the Far East for him. He isn’t there too long when WWI breaks out and he comes home again, only to join up, the others being far to busy making money off the war to join up.
War brings changes in Elton. “The spoon of war stirred the contents of the provincial pan very thoroughly and Mrs. Spence called at Greenbanks one Saturday afternoon to ask Kate Barlow to join the Bandage Class.” Ambrose with his solid good looks and southern diction, that fell pleasantly on Lancashire ears, helps in a figurehead position with the War Relief , Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association. “I don’t care what you do it for,’ said the woman. ‘But I’d like to know what yer mean by being late with my money, ‘And it over. I’m waiting to go out.’ ‘Savages.’ muttered Ambrose …. I love this comparison.
By the gate, under the laurel bushes there were snowdrops like little congregations of White Nuns at prayer….’ It is March and news is received at Greenbanks that Charles has been killed in action. Laura comes home for the funeral, bumps into Cecil on leave and all is reconciled between them, leaving George out in the cold. Laura in her usual way leaves it to her mother to break the news to George. As she takes off with Cecil to seize happiness. He goes back to the front and she becomes a nurse and gets assigned to France.
Time moves on, the war ends. Cecil and Laura move to Kenya to live. ‘But in spite of the fact that she did not come home, it got about that she had gone away with Cecil Bradfield. There was not the sensation in Elton that there would once have been. The war had blown most peoples ideas sky-high, and the pieces had not yet come down. When they did come down they would never fit together again as they had before the war.’
Rachel is now seventeen. She has passed all her exams with flying colours and has been offered a scholarship to Oxford. Her father will not think of letting her go, to be a blue stocking. It’s interesting he says that asVera Britain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testament_of_Youth in her autobiography writes that her father said the same thing. Girls of that time were just not expected to go to college, just marry well. Rachel does not hold back in telling her father a few home truths, about how he has always spoiled everything through out their lives and that is why all the boys left, Dick to work with his uncle in the engineering firm and the twins to South Africa.
Rachel mopes around for a year and even her father has to admit, that maybe he made the wrong choice, and allows her to attend Liverpool University three days a week. Laura writes, can her mother intercede with George as she is expecting a baby and she must have a divorce.
Again Laura leaves it to others to sort things out for her. Letty and Louise go to visit George and this time he is only to happy to comply, maybe he’ll be landed with a wife and baby this would upset him and his finances.
Who turns up one day at Greenbanks, John Barlow, Kate’s son and guess who he falls in love with? Letty’s aunt dies, will she stay with Ambrose?
Well of course I have sketched out the bare bones and one must read the book to feel the ambiance of Dorothy Whipple’s writing. Now should I move on to the Lockwood’s or take it back to the library and save it for another time.