Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby

‘Anderby World’ was Winifred Holtby’s first novel, written when she was in her early twenties.

She would go on to write finer novels, but this was an excellent start; she wrote of the Yorkshire she knew, understanding the people, the history, the changes wrought by the Great War that she had lived through, and the way that the world was changing still.

The writing has such conviction, and I think it would be fair to say that this is a first novel sowing the seeds of greatness….

Anderby Wold

When her parents died Mary Robson married John, her steady, sensible, older cousin, so that she could keep the farm at Anderby Wold. It took them ten years to pay off the mortgage, and by then Mary was in full charge of her life and her world. She managed her farm, her home, and the village of Anderby. She was a strong and capable woman, and she was firm in her opinions.

She held her own in her social circle, but she was disliked by many. Sarah Bannister, John’s elder sister, who had raised him after their parents died, felt that Mary didn’t appreciate what John had done, leaving his own farm to help her save hers. Mr Coast, the village schoolmaster, was bitter that Mary wouldn’t accept his ideas for the school.

That made Mary vulnerable. The dullness of her marriage, her failure to produce a child, made her vulnerable. And, with debt gone and the farm secure, there was a space in her life, room for something more

It was then that she met David Rossitur, a red-haired, fiery, young idealist who preached socialism. She was captivated by his energy and his passion, she was intrigued by what he had to say. She loved their debates, but she was less happy when he began his work in the village. A colleague was summoned from Manchester, a union was formed a union, and soon Mary faced a choice between meeting demands that she felt were wholly unreasonable or having her farm-workers strike at the worst-possible time.

The story explores the conflict between traditional and progressive views wonderfully well; understanding both, and understanding that there is no black and white, that there are only shades of grey.

Above all it is a human story; a story of real, fallible, believable human beings, who all had good, solid reasons for being the people they were and doing the things they did.

Sarah was critical of Mary, but that came from her love for her brother, and when she was needed she would always be on their side. Mr Coast was critical, but he wanted the best for his school and his community. John was cautious and conservative, but he was content with his place in the world and he understood his wife much more than she realised.

Mary had so much potential, she could have done so much. But she only had her position at Anderby, and she so feared losing it …..

Winifred Holtby made this story so engaging, so readable, and I was captivated.

There are contrivances needed to make the story work, and there were moments when I might have wished for a little more subtlety, but the story did work, and I loved seeing the themes and ideas that she would explore in all of her novels threaded through this story so effectively.

‘Anderby Wold’ captures a particular place and time, a particular point in history very well.

It was clear that Winifred Holtby cared, and that she understood.

The Classics Club Spin has spun me to Yorkshire!


This morning – a few hours before the spin – I pulled ‘Anderby Wold’ by Winifred Holtby from my Virago bookcase, to read for All Very Virago All August.

I love Winifred Holtby, but because she didn’t write many books I’m trying to spread them out. But I decided it was time.

And the spin agreed with me:

Anderby Wold

#17 – Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby

I couldn’t be more pleased!

How was the spin for you?

Spinning With the Classics Club

The Classics Club Spin is beginning again.

      • Pick twenty unread books from your list.
      • Number them from one to twenty.
      • On Monday a number will be drawn.
      • That’s your book, to read by 6th October.

I’m going to do it.


And this time – after a couple of successful spins – I’m going to be brave.  There’s a very big book in there that I haven’t put on a spin list before, and there are a couple that I think I might find difficult …..

Here’s my list:

Five that I’d read in translation

1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
2. Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Söderberg (1905)
3. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)
4. Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset (1922)
5. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa (1958)


Five that were published before Queen Victoria came to the throne

6. A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbold (1791)
7. The Coquette by Hannah W Foster (1797)
8. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814)
9. The Collegians by Gerard Griffin (1829)
10.Old Goriot by Honore Balzac (1835)


Five that were published during her reign

11. A String of Pearls by Thomas Peskett Prest (1847)
12. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1854)
13. The Odd Women by George Gissing (1893)
14. The Beth Book by Sarah Grand (1897)
15. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley (1899)


Five from five decades of the 20th century

16. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915)
17. Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby (1923)
18. The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann (1936)
19. The Far Cry by Emma Smith (1949)
20.The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (1957)


And now I must wait to see which number comes up on Monday …

Which number should I be hoping for? Which number should I hope to avoid?

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

I am so pleased to say that I have finally discovered why so many readers love Anthony Trollope. In fact, if it isn’t wrong to say so after reading just the one book, I am now one of them. I’d picked up one or two books over the years and they hadn’t quite worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them but I didn’t love them, they weren’t the right books; I had to find the right place to start, the right book at the right time at the right time, and this book was that book.

I found that I loved the way Trollope wrote, taking such trouble to introduce his characters, making me understand why he was telling their story and guiding me so carefully through it, being present without ever being intrusive.

He cared, and he made me care.

13688929The ‘Her’ of the title is Alice Vavasor. She was engaged to Mr John Grey, who was wise, thoughtful, wealthy and handsome. He was genuinely good man, and a very fine catch. But Alice had doubts. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him; her doubts were about the life they would live together, a life that she feared she would find dreadfully dull.

Kate Vasnovour, Alice’s cousin and dearest friend, hoped that Alice would marry her brother, George. They had been engaged, George and Alice, but Alice had broken off the engagement, on account of something that George did. But Kate continued to promote the match, because she loved George, she loved Alice, and she was quite sure that they would be happy.

Alice did break her engagement to Mr Grey. She thought she was doing the right thing, that she should honour her earlier engagement, but her family were appalled.

Kate thought it wise to go away for a little while, and so she went to stay with her Aunt Greenow, in the country. Mrs Greenhow had married an very elderly, very wealthy husband, and he had died shortly afterwards, leaving her a young, wealthy and very eligible widow. Two vey different men were rivals for her hand: Mr Cheesacre, a portly but prosperous farmer, eager to show what a fine husband he would make; and Captain Bellfield, a handsome, poor, unemployed soldier, who was maybe playing things a little more cleverly. Mrs Greenhow was having a lovely time, enjoying the trappings of a grieving widow, and loving being the centre of attention.

That was the light relief, and it was wonderfully entertaining.

George proposed to Alice and, though she was still worried that she had behaved badly to Mr Grey, she accepted. Because she had decided that the best thing she could do was to try to curb George’s worst excesses, try to help him to make something of his life. George’s wanted to get into parliament, but he lacked the necessary means; Alice did have the means and she promised that she would use her fortune to support his political career. She kept her promise, but success brought out the worst in George. Alice soon realised that she had made a terrible mistake, but she wanted to do the right thing she wanted to keep her promises.

Alice retreated to the country, to stay with another cousin, Lady Glencora Palliser. Glencora was the richest heiress in England, she was young, she was pretty, she was vivacious, and she was the new wife of Plantagenet Palliser, one of the most promising young politicians in the country. But she wasn’t happy. Her family had steered her very firmly her away from the handsome, charming and dissolute Burgo Fitzgerald, and towards an eminently suitable marriage. But Glencora found Plantagenet stiff and boring, and he seemed to find her frivolous and silly. She told herself that she was still in love with Burgo, and she dreamed of running away with him.

Trollope brings together these stories, stories of three very different women, beautifully. Their situations have similarities and they have differences, and they all have to make decisions about the future, about which path they will take; decisions made difficult by conflicts between family duty, social acceptance, personal principles and their own happiness.

He managed every element of the plot, he attended to every detail. My only, minor, criticism would be that there were moments when he overplayed the comedy.

It was fascinating to watch the characters become clearer, as I spent more time with them and as circumstances showed different sides of them. The story grew, it became deeper, and I was pulled further and further in.

I loved the contrasts: the comic relief against the serious drama; the steady Alice against the high-spirited Glencora; the good men, Mr Grey and Palliser against the bad men, George Vasnavour and Burgo Fitzgerald. And though I use the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ because I can’t find better adjectives, but Trollope was much more subtle that that; all four men were fallible human beings, with different strengths and weaknesses.

And I could forgive Alice; though I didn’t feel it was my place to judge her, because she was simply a young woman without a mother to guide her, and she tried to do the right thing but she struggled to know what the right thing was.

I was involved. I cared. Sometimes I knew what would happen, but often I was surprised. I felt so many emotions. And I knew that I would miss this world and these people when the story was over.

There were country houses, there were London streets, their were foreign tours, there was a disputed will, and in the end there would be marriage ….

And Trollope breathed life into it all, into every single thing in this book.

It’s a big book but it didn’t feel like a big book, and I’m already reading another big book, the next book in the series.

Reading Anna Karenina ….

….. was one of those things I was going to do one day for a long, long time.

I loved the idea of reading, but actually reading seemed a little scary. The book on the shelf looked so long, so profound, so serious. But in time the book and I moved closer. I blame the Classics Club, the Russian Reading Challenge, and a film that I knew I would feel guily about watching without reading the book first.

I began to plan, because I knew that choosing the right translation and the right medium would make all the difference.

I read passages from three different translations, and Aylmer and Louise Maude won. It was the result I had been hoping for, because they were contemporaries of Tolstoy, they knew him, they worked with him. And because I didn’t like what I’d read of  Pevear  and Volokhonsky’s working methods. Or Constance Garnett’s. But the Maude’s won it fair and square, they really did.

And that was lucky, because I knew that this was a book I wanted to listen too, and the best of the different audio versions that I tested was David Horovitch’s reading of the Maude translation. The pieces were falling into place.

Listening highlighted the quality of the storytelling, the characters, the prose, and the wonderful, wonderful rhythm of the words. That was something I would never have picked up if I’d read from a book. It didn’t take long at all for me to be smitten.

‘Anna Karenina’ is not really a plot driven novel, but it follows the arc of the lives of a number of people, all of the Russian nobility, who are tied together by blood, by marriage, by love.

Seven characters, three marriages …..

Anna Karenina by Hana Popaja

Anna Karenina by Hana Popaja

Darya “Dolly” Alexandrovna Oblonskaya is the wife of Stepan “Stiva” Arkadyevich Oblonsky, and the mother of his children. He is charming, he is is habitually unfaithful and Dolly has very nearly had enough. Stiva’s sister, Anna Arkadyevna Karenina reconciles the couple, but she does not follow her own advice. She meets Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky after she travels home by train the same train as his mother, and a love affair soon begins. Anna comes to hate her husband, statesman Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, but they are tied together by the son who she loves and he will not let go. Dolly’s sister,  Ekaterina “Kitty” Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya was in love with Oblonsky and her heart was broken. She had rejected Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitrievich Levin, an old friend of Oblonsky and he still loved her, but she had her pride …..

I was quickly pulled into the story, and I was fascinated by the lives and relationships I was to follow.

I might have loved Anna if I had met her when I was younger, but I am afraid that I found her infuriating. I loved her spirit, I loved her vitality, but I could not accept that she was so oblivious to anyone else’s feelings and while it might be wonderful to want everything – to live with your lover, to have your child with you always, to hold a high position in society – it is not always possible to have everything you want; life sometimes demands compromises.

I cared for the husband she rejected far more than I had expected. He was so serious, so conventional, so set on doing the right thing, but for all that he was not demonstrative his feelings did run deep.

I was curious to know how two people who were so different had come to marry, how they had lived, if not happily then at least in harmony before the crisis came. Oh to have seen a little of the previous generation, to understand more of what shaped these characters.

I’m aware that I’m saying ‘I’ a lot, but in the case of a book like this that has been so widely read, that has been studied and written about so much, it’s all I can do. Say what struck me as I read.

Even now, weeks later, I can’t pull all the images and ideas running around in my head together, and I don’t really want to try and risk spoiling that.

I loved the way that the story of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky was set against the very different story of Kitty and Levin, and I was happy moving backwards and forwards between the different strands of the story.

I became very fond of Kitty and Levin.

It was interesting comparing the three very different marriages.

I noticed how alike Anna and Stiva were. They were both charming, they both did as they pleased, they were both careless of the feelings of others and heedless of the consequences. Did I judge them differently because one was a man and one was a woman? I don’t think so, but I think one understood how society worked and the other didn’t.

The differences between Kitty and Anna were interesting too. One was sensitive to the feeling of others and one wasn’t. I could accept that, but I couldn’t quite accept that Tolstoy almost painted Kitty as an angel and Anna as a devil.

They were both fallible human beings. This is a book full of utterly believable characters and relationships. the depth and the detail of the characterisation.

That’s what I’ll take away with me. That and a head full of images.

…. Anna encountering Vronsky at the station …. Levin seeing Kitty on the ice ….. Karenin ill at ease as he visits a lawyer …. Kitty at her brother-in law’s death-bed ….

And most of all the final scenes of Anna’s story, which was one of the most compelling and moving pieces of writing that I have ever read.

And now I can say that I have read ‘Anna Karenina’, and that I’d like to read it again one day.

But first I am seriously thinking about ‘War and Peace’ ….

The Spin has Spun ….

…. and it has spun me a book that wasn’t one of my most wanted or one of my most feared.


Though I love 20th century authors who were inspired by the gothic and the romantic – I’m thinking here of authors like Daphne Du Maurier, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart – I don’t always get on with the older gothic novels, even though the idea of them does appeal.

I hope that the mixture of gothic and romantic that Mrs Radcliffe is known for will suit me. I know this isn’t reckoned to be her best book but I thought I should start here because it’s her first and because its short.

I do want to like it, because her later, bigger books look lovely.

And I’m in the final stages of a wonderful, not so well known as it should be, sensation novel, so my reading head is in the right place for ‘A Sicilian Romance.’

On balance, I think I’m pleased ….

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Oh my goodness, this is such a long book.

I couldn’t understand why it had to be quite so long. After all – I knew from seeing a couple of dramatisations – the story was actually very simple.

A good, upright young man was terribly wronged, by a conspiracy of jealous, lesser men. He fell a long, long way; but he rose again. He acquired a vast fortune, he built a new life, and he wreaked vengeance on the men who had tried to ruin him ….

It is that simple – at its heart – but the telling is so rich and elaborate, for full of details and stories,  that it had to be a very good book. No dramatization, no retelling, could ever recapture the wonder of the whole of this book. I know that now, because I have listened to every single world.

When it was over I was lost, and I could so easily have gone back to the beginning and started the journey all over again. Or picked up the book, opened it at any point and been pulled right back into the story.

Yes,  it is that good.

Not faultless – but a dazzling, bravura feat of story telling.

g39740_u37232_Count_of_Monte_CristoIn the early stages I thought that the story might lack subtlety. It seemed so black and white.

Edmond Dantès was bright, handsome and capable. He brought his ship home safely, assuming command after the death of its captain, winning the love and respect of his men. He dealt with a sensitive situation with great tact and diplomacy. The ship owner, his widowed father, his adoring fiance, were all so pleased and proud ….

A hero with every talent he might need,  and who always behaved impeccably, might prove wearisome, but there was a dark shadow.

The pieces fell slowly into place. There was a jealous collegue with an idea; a rival in love who was suggestible; a disgruntled neighbour who listened; and finally there was a man in a position of power who put his own interests before the interests of justice.

By actions – or by keeping their counsel – they condemned an inncocent man to life in a remote island prison.

I realised that this story was not so black and white, not so lacking in subtlety; it was a story painted in strong clear colours; a story firmly rotted in its period – a time when France was torn between being a monarchy and being a republic.

The young man protested against his imprisonment, proclaimed his innocence to the men who imprisoned him, but he came to realise that they would not listen, they would not understand. They called him mad, and they threw him into solitary confinement.

It was heart-breaking; he almost broke under the torture of solitude and injustice.

It was six years before he had human contact with anyone other than his jailer. He heard a sound from a neighbouring cell, and that made him pull back from committing suicide. He made contact with  a much older man, who taught him, guided him, told him stories. Because he knew that he would never leave prison, but he hoped that one day his protege might.

This part of the story spoke so profoundly about humanity, about the need for contact, about relationships ….

Eight years on the older man died and though Edmond was grief-stricken he saw that it presented him with a chance to escape. He seized that opportunity.

It was an audacious plan – and it succeeded.

He trod carefully as he built a new life, and he uncovered the hidden fortune that he had been told about in prison.

Edmond Dantès was reborn as The Count of Monte Christo: a man who believed he had been appointed by God to set things right.

It was an extraordinary turning point.

The Count of Monte Christo used his fortune, loyal allies he gained as he rose, and a multitude of disguises to change lives. There was prosperity and happiness for those who had been loyal to Dantès ; there was tragedy and loss for those who had betrayed him. The plot was byzantine in its complexity, and it was clear that the plotter was prepared to play a very, very long game.

There were so many scenes, so many moments, that took my breath away. It broke my heart that whatever The Count of Monte Christo did, there was no vengeance that could bring back those long years that had been lost in prison, or bring back happy future that had once been before the young Edmond Dantès.

He knew that. He was a fascinating character, and I could never let go of his story.

But I did wish that he could let go, I did suspect that forgiveness might have given him more than vengeance could.

The unhappy endings didn’t come simply from vengeance, that came from the failings of the men who fell. But I do think that the morality was a little fluid. I don’t want to pick apart the details, but I have to acknowledge that.

The story is stronger than the characters – maybe because it was first published as a newspaper serial. I do wish that I could have read it that way, not knowing the full arc of the plot, where it was going, how much longer there was to go ….

There were times when I would have liked to now a little more, and there were other times when I would have been happy to know a little less.

But the storytelling was so rich, so profound, that it held me from start to finish.

I will read it – or listen to it – again one day.


Time to Spin with the Classics Club

The Classics Club Spin is beginning again.

      • Pick twenty unread books from your list.
      • Number them from one to twenty.
      • On Monday a number will be drawn.
      • That’s your book, to read by 7th July.

Should I do it?


I’ve had a few bad spins, but the last one was a good one and so I’m going to to try again.

There’s not a book on my Classics Club list I don’t want to read, so this time I have veered away from just a few that I know aren’t the right books for right now, but I have included a few that I have reservations about.

So here are my twenty books for the spin:

Five published before Victoria came to the throne:

1. A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe (1790)
2. A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbold (1791)
3. The Coquette by Hannah W Foster (1797)
4. The Collegians by Gerard Griffin (1829)
5. Old Goriot by Honore Balzac (1835)


Five reissued as Virago Modern Classics:

6. The Odd Women by George Gissing (1893)
7. The Beth Book by Sarah Grand (1897))
8. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley (1899)
9. Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby (1923)
10. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes (1947)


Five that I could listen to or read:

11. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814)
12. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (1848)
13. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (1848)
14. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1854)
15 . Under The Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy (1872)


Five from the 1950s:

16. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay (1950)
17. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Tayor (1951)
18. Fenny by Lettice Cooper (1953)
19. The Tortoise & the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins (1954)
20. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (1957)


And now I must wait and see which number comes up on Monday …

The Classics Club Spin Spun Me ‘Black Narcissus’ ….

…. and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I fell in love with the cinema adaptation of ‘Black Narcissus’ – by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – many years ago, but it was only a few years ago that I noticed Rumer Godden’s name among the credits, and realised that the book that had been adapted was written by an author whose works for children I had loved.

‘Black Narcissus’ was Rumer Godden’s third novel and her first best-seller.

Black Narcissus - book cover

It tells the story of a small group of nuns from the Order of the Servants of Mary, who had has been invited to form a new community in an old, disused palace, the former home of the harem of an Indian general, high in the Darjeeling hills. It was a place that had a certain reputation with the local population, but the sisters were to run a dispensary, and a school to offer education to native

Sister Clodagh was to lead the community; Sister Philippa was to manage the gardens; Sister Briony was to run the dispensary; Sister Honey was to teach the local young women to make lace; and Sister Ruth was to give lessons to the younger children.

It was a wonderful plan, but nobody was interested; nobody came.

Mr Dean, the general’s agent, an Englishman gone native, offered practical help that the sisters accepted, and sensible advice that they did not.

The altitude, the isolation, the unemployment, began to affect the sisters. One dreamed of motherhood; one longed for romantic love; one dwelt her life as a young woman, before she took her vows; and one realised that an interest was turning into an obsession.

But as the nuns fell in love with the strange beauty of their surroundings, with the village children whose families were paid by Mr Dean to send them to school, with Mr Dean himself, they began to fall out with each other. Long buried emotions had come to the surface.

Sister Clodagh lacked the experience, and maybe the understanding to manage the situation. And, of course, there were consequences ….

Rumer Godden sets out every detail. She is subtle, gentle, but she makes it clear that everything that happens is inevitable. It comes from the characters, their situations, their emotions.

There is a wonderful depth to the women, their relationships, their stories, and yet the narrative feels simple, natural and it is utterly compelling.

There is little plot: a young man is allowed too close to a young woman; a sick child is brought to the nuns; one sister leaves and another snaps …. But it is enough to move the story forward while keeping the focus on the members of the community, and their lives.

The prose is lovely, the atmosphere and the descriptions are gorgeous.

But there was enough space for me to realise that this wasn’t just the story of a group of nuns; it was the story of the British in India.

The book and the film are very different pleasures – the book is gentle and absorbing; the film is striking and melodramatic – I wish I could have read the book without knowing what would happen, but it didn’t really matter, because the book held me in the moment from start to finish, and I didn’t pull away remembering that I knew what would happen once.

I would have liked to now a little more about each woman, but this is a very short – maybe too short – novel. But sometimes it’s best to be left wondering.

And I’m so curious now to see how Rumer Godden grew as writer with the many books she wrote after this very early novel.

Which book should I read next …. ?

Esther Waters by George Moore

‘Esther Waters’ was one of those classic novels that I circled for a long time, wondering if I should pick it up or pass it by. The story of a servant who fell pregnant and then struggled to raise her illegitimate son could be profound but it could be grim. When I read Emma’s wonderful review I knew that I had to pick the book up, and now that I’ve read it I have to say that I’m very glad that I did.

It focuses on many of the problems of Victorian society – poverty, gambling, intoxication, inequity – but it is a  wonderfully readable book, telling the story of a fascinating – and sometimes infuriating – heroine.


Esther’s story began as she left her home and family to take up a new position, as a kitchen maid in a big house on a country estate. She was apprehensive, but her pride made her hold her head up, and her spirit made her stand up for herself when the cook suggested she get straight to work without changing her dress, which might have been shabby but it was the best that she had.

Her upbringing, among the Plymouth Brethren, had given her a strong faith and firm principles, but it was her pride and her spirit that would prove to be both her downfall and her saving grace.

I was inclined to like her, and to want the best for her. As the story of her family, her upbringing, her circumstances emerged I came to understand what had shaped her character. She was the product of all of that; she was a real, fallible, living, breathing human being.

The style, simple and natural, brought her world to life and allowed her story to shine.

William was the cook’s son. He was eager to secure a position on the estate, to be near that stables, the horses, the gambling that were at the centre of life there. And he took a shine to Esther. She didn’t approve of his gambling, but she liked him, and they grew close, and they began to talk about marriage and a future together.

There was always a buzz in the air on race days, especially race days, especially when a horse from the estate was running, especially when that horse won. For all she disapproved Esther couldn’t help being affected by it, and maybe that was why a line was crossed.

And there were consequences.

Esther, knowing that she had sinned, pushed William away. He took his rejection to heart, he turned his attention elsewhere, and it wasn’t long before he ran off with one of the daughters of the house.

Not long after that, Esther realised that she was expecting his child.

She new that she would have to leave her job, she knew life would be a struggle, and it was, but when her son was born she drew strength from her new role, and bringing him up well became the focus of her life.

The only path open to her after the birth, the only thing that would keep her out of the workhouse, was to pay a baby farmer to care for her child and become a wet-nurse.

Esther was in a horrible situation, and I felt for her and admired the maturity she found to cope.

It worked for a while, but when her child was ill, when her mistress would not let her go to him, when the wet-nurse offered to take him off her hands forever, realised how unjust it all was:

“It is none of the child’s fault if he hasn’t got a father, nor is it right that he should be deserted for that… and it is not for you to tell me to do such a thing. If you had made sacrifice of yourself in the beginning and nursed your own child such thoughts would not have come to you. But when you hire a poor girl such as me to give the milk that belongs to another to your child, you think nothing of the poor deserted one. He is but a bastard, you say, and had better be dead and done with. I see it all now; I have been thinking it out. It is all so hidden up that the meaning is not clear at first, but what it comes to is this, that fine folks like you pays the money, and Mrs. Spires and her like gets rid of the poor little things. Change the milk a few times, a little neglect, and the poor servant girl is spared the trouble of bringing up her baby and can make a handsome child of the rich woman’s little starveling.”

That was, for me, the defining moment in Esther’s story. She would do her best for her son but she would never compromise her principles. That would cause difficulties as she had to work and care for her child, and there were times when she fell very low, but there were also times when good people did their best to help her. And she might have had more, but she was cautious and would not let others now what her circumstances were.

It was when she was doing well, when she was on the point of marrying a good man she met through the Plymouth Brethren, that the father of her child came back into her life. William hadn’t known that there was a child, but when he found out he was ready to be that child’s father.

He wasn’t a bad man, but a fundamentally decent man with a fatal flaw – his love of gambling.

Esther was horribly torn, but she knew that the right thing to do was to marry William, to be a good wife and mother. She was, and she stood by her husband always. Because it was the right thing to do, and because she loved him.

He loved her too, and there were some touching moments as the story of their marriage played out.

Most of all though she loved their son, and she achieved what she set out to do. She raised her son well and she was so proud when he became a soldier ….

The story of how Esther reached that point was wonderful.

It was focused on the reasons for the choices she made, and it did that so very well and with such understanding, but there were gaps. The stories of the conception, of the birth, of stays in the workhouse, of the wedding ….. so much was missing.

But in the end those things weren’t important.

I watched the passage of Esther’s life,  I cared,  and I understood her journey.

That is what will stay with me.