The Priory is a good novel to start with. It is not at all harrowing (the shipwrecked marriage in Someone at a Distance or the psychopathic husband in They Were Sisters are both a tad upsetting) nor does it have the feminist stance of High Wages (about a girl setting up a dress shop) or the almost claustrophobic description of small town provincial life in Greenbanks or Because of the Lockwoods. The novel’s central focus is simply a large house in the country and the lives of its inhabitants, both upstairs and downstairs, during the 1930s. They, and the house, have seen better times; the patriarch remarries; war gets closer: no one really confronts this, although the reader, who has hindsight, does of course.
To begin with the inhabitants of this large house somewhere in England (although the original, on which Saunby Priory is based, was in Wales) might seem unappealing; but the reader is quickly caught up in their lives, and very soon cannot stop turning the pages to find out what happens to them. In one sense Dorothy Whipple was more interested in character than in story; but what happens to her characters is the story.
We follow the two Marwood girls, who are nearly grown-up, their father, the widower Major Marwood, and their aunt; then, as soon as their lives have been described, the Major proposes marriage to a woman much younger than himself - and many changes begin to happen.