The Priory is the story of the Marwood family: the Major, willing to spend profligately on his cricket fortnights, but reluctant to spend money on electric lighting; Christine and Penelope, his two grown daughters, thrust from the nursery once their father marries a much younger woman; and Anthea, the Major’s second wife, who immerses herself in her own world once her children are born.
The other part of the novel’s story concerns the servants: the indomitable Nurse Pye; Thompson, cricketer and womanizer; Betty; and Bertha. All live in Saunby Priory, a former priory turned country mansion.
Not a lot “happens” in this novel; most of the action centers around emotion. It’s all about subtlety here. The novel’s description on Amazon compares Whipple with Jane Austen; but really, I think she’s more like Barbara Pym in the way that she treats her characters, exposing people’s strength and weaknesses unashamedly. According to the note at the back of the book, The Priory was based on real people; so much so that the models for the Marwoods and others were not amused at the characterization.
There’s a sort of Upstairs Downstairs feel to the novel (it was written thirty years before the BBC show), but ultimately the story belongs to the Marwoods, from tragedies to triumphs. And despite the fact that the book was written, and takes place, on the eve of a major catastrophe, Whipple infuses her novel with a sense of hope. The Priory is a Persephone classic; the image shown in the Amazon link above is the end paper, while the cover is actually the classic Persephone grey with yelloe text box. Highly recommended, though it may be a bit hard to find.
This is Persephone #40 (endpaper below)