“And then, of a sudden, the trees seem to fall back on either side, disclosing with the effect of a fanfare of trumpets breaking through a murmur of muted strings, above, an enormous expanse of blue sky, and below, a wide sward of turf, most piercingly green within the woods’ dense circlet. And in the midst of the green sward stood a house.”
That house was White Ladies, and it quite captivated Arabella Tinsley III. It became her passion, but it quickly turned into her obsession. And obsession can be such a destructive emotion…
But I had been reading for quite some time before Bella and I laid eyes on White Ladies. Francis Brett Young offered up every detail of Bella’s family background and early life, in a wonderful piece of storytelling, wrapped up in quite lovely prose.
It began with Jasper Mortimer, who left his home in Shropshire to seek his fortune. He hadn’t travelled far when he met Arabella I, who had become the son her father never had and took on his family business with great aplomb. Jasper married her, and built an even bigger business, seizing so many opportunities that industrialisation presented.
One day Arabella III would inherit the fortune, and the business, that he created. But she didn’t know that. Indeed she didn’t know them.
Because Arabella II ran away with a young man who had been employed in her father’s drawing office. And then she died when her daughter was still an infant, and Arabella III’s father gave her to his parents to bring up, while he struck out alone.
Bella grew; she was educated; she lost her grandparents; she found a friend who offered help, but at a very high price; she found employment; she fell in love; she had her heart broken; she lost her job; she learned some very hard lessons.
Then, quite unexpectedly, she inherited her fortune. And she learned a great deal that she hadn’t known about her background.
It was very soon after that Bella saw White Ladies, and that story of passion and obsession began. She went to extraordinary lengths to track down the house’s absentee owner, to take possession, to raise the house to the status that she knew it deserved.
But she couldn’t understand that others didn’t see her house as she did, and that they had dreams, ideas, lives of their own.
That would be her downfall. But it wouldn’t be her end.
Bella was a wonderful character. She wasn’t always likeable, indeed she was often maddening, but I could see what made her the woman she became, and I never stopped loving her spirit and her determination.
And what a story!
So many wonderful settings. Factory floors. Schools. A town house. A Greek island. And that wonderful house in the country. They were all so wonderfully evoked, so beautifully described that I could have been there.
And so many wonderful characters. Far too many to list, but I have to mention a few. A teacher who takes an interest but in the end expects a little too much. An employer who will be benevolent, but who will turn when her rules are broken. A long-serving housekeeper who guards her house jealously.
There really is so much there, but there is nothing that isn’t a vital part of the story. And it’s all woven together beautifully, into an utterly engaging and utterly readable story, with lovely themes and details echoing all of the way through.
I believe that Francis Brett Young paid just as much attention to the details of his novel as Bella did to her beloved White Ladies.
It’s a big, rather old-fashioned book, and I loved it.
I’ve had to take it back to the library, but I’ve ordered a couple more books by Francis Brett Young from reserve stock to fill the gap that it left behind, and I am hoping that he will become an author to cherish.