For my hygge reading, I picked They Were Sisters during the holiday season. I adore Dorothy Whipple's writing style. She wrote about the struggles of middle class English women in the earlier half of the 20th Century. She really gets into some serious issues in They Were Sisters.
Lucy is the eldest sister of the Field family. Her mother died when she was in university and she left school to help raise her siblings. This was the expected turn of events and Lucy did it all without complaint. Things became difficult for her as her two younger sisters, Charlotte and Vera, grew into women. They resented her involvement in their lives. Lucy ended up feeling like an outsider, like a woman many years older than her mid-twenties.
Wishing for their freedom, Lucy's sisters marry men they shouldn't. Charlotte marries an emotionally manipulative, mentally abusive selfish monster. Vera, the most beautiful among them, marries the richest man she can find, even though she doesn't love him. Eventually, Lucy gets married herself. Though she wishes for children, none arrive. She does have several nieces and a nephew. Because of their parents' terrible choices and behaviour, she finds herself still "meddling" in their lives as she tries to protect the children and give them the love their parents are unwilling to provide.
As an elder sister, I really felt for Lucy. It's frustrating to watch your siblings make decisions you don't agree with but can't do anything about. For Lucy though, the choices her sisters make have dire consequences. At this time period, there was little a woman could do if she married a terrible man. She had to stick with him until one of them died. The men could do whatever they wanted. In They Were Sisters, whenever a man has a bit of a rough time, he heads to Canada and promptly disappears from the narrative. The women stay where they are and play the hand they were dealt. The women aren't just fettered by legal chains, but societal expectations as well.
Lucy must constantly walk a fine line, never appearing too meddlesome, but helpful, so that she keeps access to the children. Any one of the parents can cut her off at anytime. But even when they lock her out, she is ready to jump back into their lives whenever asked in an attempt to make things better.
They Were Sisters isn't always an easy to read book. There is cruelty, neglect, substance abuse, and infidelity. The worst is how the children are treated. Still, it's got a hopeful ending. What always impresses me about Whipple's writing is how she gets into the heads of her characters. Everything they do seems to have a logic, even if the reader doesn't agree with it; it makes sense to the character.
I liked Someone at a Distance more, but They Were Sisters is still an excellent book. You should read it.
Why is They Were Sisters hygge? Dorothy Whipple writes about the home, about families. Not everything is perfect in her homes, but without problems there would be no story. These are domestic dramas with the friction that drives the plot between people and their relationships. The drama stays within the walls of the characters' homes and rarely strays elsewhere.