Kensington Books, March 2017
448 pages, ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook, MP3 CD
This was purchased at the current price and is being given an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way.
Women’s Lit, Family Stories, Historical
I’ve read reviews that compare this book to Downton Abbey, and there is a feel to it, but to me it’s only because they both take place at the same time and both involve the landed gentry and the servants who wait on them. This book is so Irish, you just can’t compare it to DA. This does tell the story of both sets of people, but it’s so wrapped in Ireland’s history that it can’t be separated from that.
It’s 1900 and 8 year-old Rosie is walking to the Big House barefoot in a new dress to start lessons with the lord’s daughter, Victoria. Just before she gets to the door, she takes her shoes out of her pocket and puts them on. She isn’t happy about leaving her own school and all her friends to come here. Her sister, Bridie, is a maid here and is very angry at her about this. Rosie is sure the other servants will feel the same way. Once she gets into the schoolroom, things don’t get any better. It’s plain that Lady Louisa, the governess and aunt of Victoria, her 7 year-old benefactor, doesn’t want her there. She wants nothing to do with teaching a servant’s child. Lady Louisa is very strict and lays down very harsh and confining rules for the two girls to make it as hard as possible for any friendship to grow between them. Or for Rosie to get to know anyone else in the family closely. But Victoria has been so lonely and wants this so much that the friendship grows nonetheless. The young girls learn their lessons and eventually become young ladies of their times. At 17, it’s time for Victoria to be presented to society. But Lady Louisa and Victoria’s mother refuse to have anything to do with presenting Rosie. The first time the two sisters-in-law are on the same side of any issue. So the two girls are parted. Victoria to Dublin for her coming out and Rosie home to try to earn money to help support her family.
Bridie’s health causes her to collapse and her job is in danger. Rosie is sent to the Big House again, but this time as a maid to keep Bridie’s job. No one is nice about this belowstairs. And Rosie is totally embarrassed when Valentine, Victoria’s brother, discovers her change of status one day as she scrubbs the floor on her knees.
I’m not going to give you the whole story in my own words. This was a really good read. The author provided some questions for discussion at the end of the book. Some of them I felt were worth mentioning.
Courage. How did Victoria display courage? Following her heart with Brendan, a footman in her father’s employ. Totally against the rules of society. She not only made love with someone below her station before marriage, but she became pregnant and was not ashamed of it. She waited for him to get out of prison so that she would be able to marry him as she had faith in their love and wanted to make a family with him. She also got training as a nurse and went to the Union Hospital. It would have been acceptable for her to work with a doctor treating women in a private practice. However, Victoria went to the hospital that treated the poor, where she would be exposed to all the diseases and injuries of the poor. That was not acceptable for a woman of her class. And for pursuing Rosie after Rosie turned against her.
How did Rosie show courage? In the first page of the book, she went to the Big House. Taking the lessons with Victoria. Then after a decade of being treated almost as a daughter of the house, she returns as a maid. That took courage as well. The other servants would have really lorded it over her for her fall from grace as it were. Then when Rosie went to Dublin to find Bridie. She had to go into the poorest tenements of the city to find her and her baby. And then her search for work came to naught. This drove her to locate Lady Marianne again to ask for her help. To do that and then to attempt the ruse they came up with took more courage. To know that in a moment she could be publicly unmasked, which she was. Then later, she lives with Cathal without marriage. And finally, for the way she spoke up to the Bell family. Telling them off for the way they treat each other and those “beneath” them. Both of these women showed courage throughout their lives in many ways.
Was the Bell family just a product of its status and times? Yes, in many ways I think it was. The father had taken advantage of a maid and gotten her pregnant, so the maid was dismissed without a reference. Now, his illegitimate daughter is working there and no one realizes who she is, not even him. He claims he didn’t do it as often as most men of his class. That’s his defense. But she’s still dismissed without a reference. Victoria eventually gets him to write her a reference. Lady Ennis is mean-spirited. But I think she’s a nasty person to begin with. She doesn’t get along with her sister-in-law, Lady Louisa. She isn’t a very affectionate person, even with her children. She’s very self-centered and grasping. Perhaps she has felt neglected by her husband’s activities that take him away from her. He’s involved in politics as most men in his position are. Then he has the estate to run, his heir to train, his daughter to dote over, maids to chase. Perhaps she did feel his neglect. One has to wonder if his sister, Lady Louisa knew of his activities? Thomas, the heir, was a nice enough chap. When presented with the American heiress his father felt they needed, he fell in love with her. And got her pregnant. Valentine, the spare, was a really nice guy. He and Rosie were great friends. In fact, they were so much more than friends. But when Thomas died, he had to do the noble thing and step in as heir and husband to the pregnant Sofia. Though that was a secret. It certainly hurt Rosie, who wasn’t in on the secret at the time.
There’s one in every group. That one is Victoria. She chose Rosie as her friend in the beginning and all through her life. Then she chose Brendan as the love of her life and the father of her child. She chose to work to help those who had less and were weaker than her. I have to wonder what sort of life she and Brendan would have once he was released from prison and they got married. Would they be able to stay in Dublin or would they have to leave? And Valentine and Rosie? What would their lives shape up to be once they were free to be together? Somehow I see the two couples close together through life.