I found lots of good reasons to pickup a book by Rhoda Broughton. She’s been published by Virago, she’s been published by Victorian Secrets, I’ve noticed that Lisa has read a good number of her books …..
It took me a while to decide what to read, and I’m not quite sure now what it was that put this book, her second novel, published in 1867, at the head of the queue, I just remember reading something about it somewhere. I’m so glad that I did because I loved this book, and I was smitten with its heroine from the very first page.
“When I die I’ll be buried under that big old ash tree over yonder 0 the one that Dolly and I cut our names on with my old penknife nine, ten years ago now. I utterly reject and abdicate my reserved seat in the family mausoleum. I don’t see the fun of undergoing one’s dusty transformation between a mouldering grandpa and a mouldered great-grandpa. Every English gentleman or lady likes to have a room to themselves when they are alive. Why not when they are dead.”
I couldn’t help but love a girl who could declaim like that, who could open a conversation like that.
Nell Lestrange will tell her own story, eager to share every emotion and every insight, every idea and impression. Her voice is wonderful, because her head and her heart were clearly so very, very full.
There are times when her digressions weigh the story down, but there are far more times when it was lovely to read what she had to say about love, life, books, religion ….
Nell is one of two daughters of that last in the line of a great family, that can trace its lineage back to William the Conqueror. That great family is in decline, and her elderly, widowed father only hopes that he will live to see one, or maybe both daughters, marry well.
He didn’t realise that his daughter was desperately in love, that she had met the great love of her life as she was idling, alone in an untended graveyard.
That leaves Nell facing a terrible choice, because her lover is poor and because she adores her father and she knows that his dearest wish is to see her settled with another suitor who is so very eligible. She agonises over her decision, and try as she might she cannot find a way for her lover and her father and herself to be happy.
Nell’s sister forces her hand.
At first it seems that Dolly Lestrange, four years older than her sister, is simply too sensible, too practical, and unable to understand her sister’s passion, but as the story unfolds it is clear that the truth is worth than that, that Dolly is worse than that, and the consequences for Nell are tragic.
The story is simple, but it is made special by the way it is told.
Nell’s voice was underpinned by excellent writing, and Rhoda Broughton’s understanding of character and her command of the story stopped this from becoming a sensation novel. It’s a very human story of love, passion, betrayal, loss …
In its day it was deemed shocking – because Nell spoke of meeting her lover covertly, of enjoying his attention, of her reluctance to be intimate with the man she might have to marry – but there’s nothing at all that would shock a reader now.
The social events that Nell was pitched into were a little dull, but they were enlivened by the wit and irreverence of her observations.
The father-daughter relationship was beautifully drawn. They loved each other, they understood each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and their dialogue was pitch perfect. Nell had been left to run wild after her mother’s death, but still she tried to shield her father from the worries of running his household and the creditors that were beating at his door.
Nell could and would give everything for the people she loved, but without the she was lost.
I appreciated that Hugh – the suitor Nell was steered towards – was a good and decent man. He was just blind to some things.
Nell couldn’t bring herself to care for him, or to play the role that was expected of her, and so there could only be one conclusion.
It was tragic, but beautiful in a way that only fiction can be.
‘Cometh Up as a Flower’ is not a happy story, but it is wonderfully engaging.
I am so glad that I met Nell, and I am quite sure that I shall be reading more of Rhoda Broughton’s work.