Oh, this is lovely.
It begins with three people, an English couple and an American friend, on holiday in the Scottish Highlands. They see a sign, on grand wrought-iron gates, advertising a magnificent residence to be let. They are intrigued and the gatekeeper invites them to look more closely, assuring them that the housekeeper, Mrs Memmary would be only too pleased to show off the house.
“He unfastened a side-gate and they ran their car along a mile of carriage-drive, through a plantation where rabbits sat in the shaded roadway unafraid, hopping to one side to let them pass, and blackbirds sang a pure, clear song from the thicket; then across a vast park covered with grazing cattle and rows of pheasant coops. From here they could see the house and it took their breath away.
It was a classic white mansion of the late eighteenth century, glittering white , with pillared facades and sweeping terraces, standing in a formal garden to which long marble steps ran down.”
They were honest, they explained to Mrs Memmary that they weren’t potential tenants, that they were simply curious visitors, but she was still delighted to show then the house, a house that she so obviously knew and loved.
As they walked through beautiful empty rooms, room that cried out for the lives to be lived in them as they had in the past, Mrs Memmary told them stories of the house’s owner.
Lady Rose was the only child and the heir, thanks to the good graces of Queen Victoria, of the Earl of Lochule.
She was pretty, warm, bright, and her open heart, her boundless curiosity, her love of life, charmed everyone she met. And she grew into a proud Scot and a true romantic, inspired by the writings of Walter Scott, the history of Mary Queen of Scots, and, most of all, her beloved home and lands.
It was lovely, Lady Rose was lovely, and I felt that I had fallen into a fairy-tale,
Lady Rose’s parents were distant figures. That wasn’t unusual, for their class, for their times, for Queen Victoria’s courtiers, but it worried me. Because Lady Rose’s idyllic childhood was no preparation for the life she would be expected to lead when she became first a debutante, then a wife, then a mother.
Her head was full of dreams
“Rose indulged in the most romantic dreams about marriage. Of course they were all delightfully vague and abstract, and for practical purposes they began and ended with white satin and pearls and sheaves of flowers at St, Georges’s and red carpet in front of Aunt Violet’s house in Belgrave Square, and tears, and hundreds of presents. After that came a kind of ideal and undefined state in which you lived blissfully under a new name, and had your own carriage, and didn’t have to ask permission from Mama when you wanted to go out. Floating airily through all of this, of course, was a man. He was not like any other man you had ever seen; they were just men. This man – your husband, queer, mysterious word – was hardly human at all. He was dreadfully handsome, and a little frightening but, of course, you didn’t see very much of him. When you did see him there were love scenes. He always called you “my darling” in a deep, tender voice, and he gave you jewels and flowers, and sometimes went down on his bended knee to kiss you hand. All of this came out of the books you had read. Some day, almost any day after you were presented, and began to go about with Mama, you would meet this marvellous being. You would be in love. You would be married. And that was the end, except that, of course, you would live happily ever after.”
It was a lovely dream, but was Lady Rose ready to adapt, to deal with the strictures of Victorian society, to find that happy ending?
She made a wonderful match, exactly the match her parents had wanted. But she didn’t find that happy ending. Her conventional husband didn’t like her having her own independent wealth and title, he was aggrieved that she was so devoted to her own home and uninterested in his, and he didn’t understand her nature, her love of romance, fun, and life’s simple pleasures. It was sad, but it was understandable.
In time though Lady Rose saw a chance of ‘happily ever after’. She seized it, but there was a scandal, she lost everything and was driven into exile.
The fairy-tale had become an indictment of a society that cast women into restricted roles, that gave men control of their money, their homes, their children, and dealt harshly with anyone who stepped outside its conventions. That indictment was subtle, but it was powerful it lies in a story so full of charm.
Mrs Dacre was captivated by Mrs Memmary’s stories – the framing story worked beautifully – and so was I.
But that’s not to say I was happy with all of Lady Rose’s action. I understood her desire to love and be loved, of course I could, but I couldn’t believe that she was so heedless of the consequences of her actions for her beloved home, or for the two sons she adored.
But the story, and most of all, the heroine never lost their hold on my heart. I was involved, and I cared, so very much.
The visitors left, and Mrs Memmary was left in her beloved house.
There was a gentle twist in the tale, that wasn’t entirely surprising but was entirely right, and the final words brought tears to my eyes.
This is a beautiful, moving, romantic story, told by a consummate storyteller, and I am so pleased that I met Lady Rose, a heroine as lovely as any I have met in the pages of a Persephone book.
Oh, so glad that this is so good. It was (I think?) the one of the choices on offer during a Persephone promotion last year or the year before, when I bought three Pers that I had read already and this one, that I hadn’t… and still haven’t … and am looking forward to even more now. 🙂
When you leave Paris, I can certainly recommend heading north to Sotland if you fancy a little romance.
Ah, lovely Persephone books…..I have so much reading to catch up on.
Yes, lovely is the word. And now that there are more than one hundred I know that if I ever run out the ones I read forst will be far enough in the past that I can go back and start re-reading them all.
It’s not a Persephone book but I am so excited because The Lonely by Paul Gallico arrived in the post today. It’s a used copy with a name in it and the date 1947. So lovely.
I read The Lonely a few months ago and I loved it. I’m sure you will too.
It was your review/post that put me on to it. I adore Paul Gallico but I didn’t know that one.
Those reviews that start off ‘Oh, this is lovely…’ must be taken heed of. I always think of Claire (Paperback Reader) when this book is mentioned as it is one of her favourites.
It was Claire’s enthusiasm that made me think that I really had to add this one to the collection, a few years ago now.
Gorgeous, isn’t it? I saw you posted the lovely endpapers on twitter too – such a pleasure to read from these books.
Yes, it is gorgeous, and well deserving of its dove-grey cover and those lovely endpapers. I could imagine the Persphone edition looking entirely in place in Lady Rose’s home.
Sounds gorgeous *and* I have it on the tbr – yay!
This does sound lovely, Jane! and the endpapers are so beautiful. I need to venture on to the Persephone site. I’ve just been afraid of its effects on my TBR stacks.
The Persephone site had led me to a new bookcase and done terrible things to my TBR, but I have to say that I don’t mind at all. The majority are books that I’ll read and re-read.
This book has been on my TBR for so long! Thanks for this review, lovely in itself. I’m very tempted to make this book my next read…but I’ll have to get a copy first.
A copy would be an excellent investment. It’s one of those books that if you do love it you could read over and over again.
This book started out so well. When the twist came it really upset me. Rose paid a huge price for her own happiness!