Dorothy Whipple’s The Other Day: An Autobiography

So I haven’t read any of Dorothy Whipple’s books and yet when I read about her I knew that I wanted to read The Other Day where she chronicles her childhood from age 6 to age 11. So I ILL-ed it sometime in July and then forgot about it. About a month and a half later I get a notification from NYPL saying that my ILL item is ready to be picked up! Oh my god! The book made its way all the way from Illinois! From Illinois to NY to make its way into my hands. There’s something thrilling about the thought of a book traveling all that distance to come to me.

Sigh. I do love libraries.

Onto The Other Day—it is a peek into another world, another era. A world where children travelled to and fro on trains on their own with the portly (in my imagination) conductor pointing out the station they have to get off at; a world of quaint market places where one knows the hawker from whom one is buying her wares and asks after their family and children while deciding which melon to buy.

The Other Day is structured as a series of vignettes and I’m amazed at the details with which Miss Whipple recounts each of the situations. There’s a vividness to her descriptions that makes for lovely reading and at the same time is also kind of astounding. How DOES she remember all that stuff in so much detail?! Certainly, the book makes one think about the nature and form of memories. And I guess being that observant so early on must have come in handy in her career as an author.

Then there’s the memories themselves—there’s nothing complicated or complex about any of the situations in which the young Miss Whipple finds herself in but they do give one nice insights into the minds and mental make-up of young children. The things that the young Dorothy gets excited about, that fill her with happiness are simple things, in fact childish things at the first glance and yet the way that Dorothy seems to ride the wave of each moment to its fullest—no matter how simple that moment appears to be—is inspiring.

There are bits that struck me as particularly astute:

Grown-ups behaved differently when children were not about, just as children behaved differently when grown-ups were not about. It was strange that we never looked upon grown-ups as creatures we should one day be ourselves, but as creatures we should never in any way resemble.

And:

Now that we lived in the country we entertained differently. In the town my parents had given modest card parties on winter evenings, and we used to hang over the stairs in our nightgear to listen to what seemed the silly conversation. . . . But now it was different. Our friends, parents and children came for the day and we all went about together, parents behind, children on in front. There seemed to be room in the country for parents and children to go about together without friction.

There’s not a lot that happens in The Other Day and what does happen is somewhat mundane. And yet therein lies the book’s charm. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys low-key fares and are ok with not having a lot of intellectual and emotional twists and turns you might enjoy The Other Day. I’m certainly interested in reading Miss Whipple’s fiction now. It will be interesting to see the sort of stories she writes.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’d love to know *your* thoughts!

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