The Daughters of a Genius: A Story of Brave Endeavour by Mrs George Horne de Vaizey

The title is big, the author’s name is long, but this is a lovely little book.

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And it’s a story of sisters, written and set at the very start of the twentieth century. There are four of them – Philippa, Theo, Hope and Madge – and they are facing an uncertain future. Their father was dead and, although he had been a genius, although he left the world books, songs, poems, and paintings, he did not leave a great deal of his money.

Their uncle counselled caution, explaining that if they were careful they could preserve their capital, and they could live quietly on the interest until husbands came along. It would be the sensible, conventional thing to do, but Philippa – as spokeswoman – told her uncle that a different plan was being put in place.

The family – the four girls; their elder brother, Steve; and their younger brother, Barney – was going to let the family home, move to London, and use their capital to develop their talents, so that they could support themselves by their own efforts.

  • Steve worked for a solicitor, and he had already been offered a job in a London office.
  • Philippa, whose talents were in the domestic sphere, would keep house.
  • Theo was a musician and she would write and sell songs, and accompany the performers.
  • Hope had been writing stories since she was ten years old, and she knew she could polish them and sell them to magazines.
  • Marge was an artist, and she would go to art school and investigate commercial art.
  • And Barney would leave school and go out to work.

They knew that they might not succeed, but they knew that they had to try. And so the family moved to a London flat, to live in genteel poverty, and all kinds of adventures ensued.

Mrs GDVH proved herself to be a very fine storyteller, and she drew the sisters beautifully. They were all different, and yet they had things in common, they weren’t too different. And the relationships between them, for good and for bad, were utterly believable.

Philippa was sensible and practical, but she struggled in stressful situations and needed her sisters to help her through; Theo was the confident one, the one who went out and made things happen; Hope was quiet and thoughtful, doing her best to support her sisters, while she pursued her own goals; and Marge was the bright bubbly sister, determined to hold things together and to sell her art and pay her way.

They all had their ups and downs, and it was lovely to watch them. I was drawn into their home and into their lives, because so many moments, so many details, were captured so beautifully.

I loved the supporting characters they drew into their story: the ageing songstress, who might or not prove to have a heart of gold; the neighbour upset by the noise of music and drama practice who Philippa had to win over; cousin Avice, who was rather bored with life until Theo shook things up …

But I do wish as much attention had been paid to the two brothers. Steve went to work and came home and was only allowed into the story when a man of the house was needed, and Barney was rather a stock troublesome younger brother, though, to be fair, he did get his own storyline in the end.

The plot worked very well, as an entertainment, an upbeat story of bright young women in Edwardian England. Nothing more and nothing less.

But things went wrong at the end. Two things happened that seemed out of place. Philippa prayed in the night, confident that her prayers would be answered, and the perspective changed for just a moment, to Hope as an established author, looking back at her early efforts. And then when it seemed the story was drawing to a close – with an engagement, with travel plans being made, with another romance about to flower – it was suddenly wound up. It didn’t feel quite finished, but the story was over.

That was disappointing, but I loved 90% of the book and I am definitely going to read more of Mrs GDVH’s many books, when I’m looking for nice, girly, Edwardian entertainment.

12 responses

  1. One of the points that Robin Hobb made when I heard her speak was how difficult it is to end a story satisfactorily, especially when you are a reasonable new writer. Do you know where this came in the author’s output?

    Your post has put me in mind of a series of children’s books that cover very similar territory and I can’t bring the writer or the titles to mind. This is going to niggle at me all day – bother you!

    • A good point. This was early in the author’s career, but not that early. That Melody has found the same flaw in more of her books makes me think that the author was maybe working to tight deadlines, and lacked the time or the inclination to fo back and polish her work,

      No bells rung here I’m afraid, so I can only apologise.

  2. Ooh, I should read this. I think, though, that 90% of the book being awesome and the last 10% being disappointing is what you’re going to get with most books by Mrs. G. de H. V. — I’ve read maybe four of them at this point, and they’ve all been like that.

      • That’s kind of how I feel about her in general. The awesome beginnings and ends make the subpar ends worthwhile. You should check out The Lady of the Basement Flat.

  3. I have never read Mrs. G. de H.V. (I loved typing that), and I’m pleased to see from a comment above that this book is available for download. It sounds charming – or at least 90% charming. I am finishing a difficult book and I want stories, and charming ones for choice.

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