The name ‘Praed’ speaks to me of home: because it is very much a Cornish name, and because we have a number of paintings of familiar places, painted by an artist of that name, in out home. That was why the name of Rosa Praed, 19th century author, caught my eye. I couldn’t find a Cornish connection, indeed she came from the opposite side of the world, but when I read about her, and about her books, I was intrigued.
Rosa Praed was an Australian author, maybe the first to be acclaimed at home and internationally, and though her husband’s career took them to England she continued to write novels set in her homeland. She published more than twenty books between 1880 and 1916, and I liked the look of any of the, but ‘Policy and Passion’ was the book that caught my eye. It filled a year in my 100 Years of Books project, and that title made me think of my beloved Mr Trollope ….
It might well have been influenced by him, but Rosa Praed was the daughter of a cabinet minister and this story is firmly rooted in her world.
At its centre are a father and a daughter.
Thomas Longleat had risen from humble origins to become Premier of Leichardt’s Land (Queensland). He was charismatic, he was respected by his parliamentary colleagues, and he was popular, particularly with the working-classes. A knighthood from Queen Victoria should have been his for the taking, but he made a fatal misstep. He fell in love with the wife of a colleague, Constance Vallancy, and he made use of his position to send her husband away travelling so the he could spend time with his wife. Passion blinded his political judgement and of course there would be consequences ….
Honoria was the Premier’s elder daughter, and she was poised between childhood and womanhood. She was beautiful, she was headstrong, and she lacked a mother to guide her. She turned away an a very eligible suitor, a rising politician loyal to her father, when she was charmed by Hardress Barrington, a visiting English aristocrat. She didn’t know that he would never contemplate marrying the colonial daughter of a self-made man, and that he had it in mind to set her up as his mistress in an establishment of her own. She would find out …..
The characters of father and daughter, and the relationship between them, are beautifully drawn. They were utterly believable and understandable, the products of their lives, their circumstances and their times. I felt for them, and at ties I was infuriated by them. The dialogues between them – as each saw the failings of the other and their beloved that the other was blind to – were marvellous.
The others around them and the world that they moved through were just as well drawn. I never doubted that I had been pulled into a very real time and place.
I appreciated that nothing was too black and white. Hardress Barrington behaved badly, but he did care, he just hadn’t learned to think about and understand how others might feel. And, though Constance Vallancy behaved badly too, she was an abused and unhappy wife, and she found comfort in masculine attention and in lovely things ,,,,
The writing was both clear and lovely, the storytelling was wonderfully engaging, and so I had to keep turning the pages; I was always involved, always anxious to know what happened next.
The two storylines were distinctive, but of course they overlapped, and they were woven together, they worked together beautifully.
The father’s political crisis and the daughter’s coming of age would coincide. The story came dangerously close to melodrama, but it worked because everything that every character said and did rang true. It was fate that maybe overplayed its hand ….
‘Policy and Passion’ is a very fine drama – I’m not sure if it’s ever been dramatised, but it would work beautifully on stage or screen.
I loved it on the page, and I definitely plan to find out more about Rosa Praed and her other books.