Jill by Amy Dillwyn

Victorian author Amy Dillwyn came from a remarkable family. Her father, Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn, was an industrialist and a member of parliament. Her uncle,  John Dillwyn-Llewelyn, was an early proponent of photography. Her grandfather, Sir Henry Thomas de la Beche, was a geologist. And she was an even more remarkable woman.

After the death of her brother and father she took over her father’s business on the brink of bankrupcy, gave up the family home to run  that business and – as a hands-on manager – turned it right around and became a prominent figure in her local community.

I’m sorry that she isn’t better known, but I’m pleased that Honno has been bringing her novels back into print.

Jill, published in 1884, was the fourth of  Amy Dillwyn’s six novels. Its a coming of age story, it clearly has elements that are autobiographical, and it’s a novel without a hero that’s much more fun than that much better novel with the same sobriquet.

The credit for that must go to Jill, who tells her own story. She’s a wonderful character; an utterly believable, strong-minded, independent woman, who is willing to do whatever she has to do to get where she wants to go. She was far from perfect – she could be manipulative, she could be selfish, she could be horribly insensitive to the feelings of others – but I couldn’t help liking her and wanting the best for her.

I loved her voice and I was always intrigued to see what she would do, what would happen to her next.

Jill was the much loved daughter of a prosperous squire, but her life changed when her mother died and when a gold-digger succeeding in luring her father to the altar. She hated her step-mother’s new regime, especially when she realised she wouldn’t be allowed to come out until her two step-sisters had been found husbands. That was why she decided to run away and to earn her own living in London.

The scheme that Jill thought up to get away undetected and unfollowed was very clever. And her plan for the future was sensible: she would draw on her education to work as a day governess while she learned the things she needed to become a travelling-maid.

She succeeded, and she had a very eventful time, but, because her references were false, things fell apart. She became a maid-cum-kennel maid – a job that nobody else wanted – and her charges made that eventful too. An accident sent her to hospital, her friendship with the head sister makes her start to think about a new direction in life, but then she learns that her father has died and she has inherited the family estate.

The story ends with Jill returning home, to take on the role of a lady squire.

It’s a wonderful story, a great entertainment that makes some very firm points about the divisions of sexes and classes in Victorian Britain. It has things to say about poverty, about housing, about healthcare. And most of all it speaks about just what women can do!

JillThe plotting is very clever, there are lots of diverse details, and Jill’s telling is laced with wit, humour and many, many emotions that she goes through over the courses of her adventures.

There were coincidences, there were places where the story would have been tightened-up a little, but the positive things about this book more than outweighed the few negatives.

The story of Jill’s relationship with Kitty Merryn underpins everything. They meet on holiday with their families and become friends; Jill is disappointed when Kitty doesn’t recognise her on the train to London, and when Kitty drops her purse she picks it up and keep it; Jill become Kitty’s travelling maid, she watches her suitors and wonders about Kitty’s feelings, and they escape from bandits together; the story ends with Jill wondering about what life will hold for Kitty, who she knows has married.

The story of unrequited love for another woman echoes Amy Dillwyn’s life; it’s well done, and it balances the more eventful side of the story. And I must and that it’s more subtly done than the cover image might suggest. Unless I blinked that didn’t happen; nothing like it happened.

But plenty did happen, and it made a great story!

The Soldier and the Gentlewoman by Hilda Vaughan

This story of the aftermath of the Great War, Hilda Vaughan’s fifth novel, was published 1932, and it was later adapted for the stage and for the screen. It was a wonderful drama on the page, told with such passion and conviction, and I am sure that it would have held theatre goers and cinema goers just it held me.

There are moments – particularly towards the end of the story – when subtlety might have served it better than passion and conviction, and so I couldn’t love this book as I hoped I would, but I found much to love, more than enough to make me glad that I found the book.


It begins with the soldier. Captain Richard Einon-Thomas returned from the war as the owner of Plas Einon, a Welsh country estate that he had inherited from a distant cousin. He looked forward to a quiet country life; he felt he had earned good luck after what he had gone through in the war, after losing his youth and his strength; and he imagined bringing home a pretty young bride, and inviting all of his London friends to say.

There was a problem though. The property has been entailed, that was the only reason why it had coe to him, and his arrival would make three women homeless. Two of them had accepted and understood the situation. One hadn’t. Gwenllian loved her home and the tradition she had been raise in, she had kept the estate going when her brothers went to war and when her father’s health failed, and she had even managed to clear the mortgage that her father had taken out. Now she was no longer young and, because they were gone, because she was a woman, she would lose everything.

It was so easy to understand her feelings, and to appreciate the depth of her understanding of the estate, its tenants, its business, its community. Easy too to understand her feelings about her cousin’s more casual ways.

In time he gained a little understanding, and he realised that the estate needed her. They negotiated a compromise.

That was a wonderful idea in principle, but if it was to work it needed two very different people to find common ground, to understand each others position, to meet each other half way. He tried, but she didn’t.

Gwenllian’s love for the estate grew into obsession. All that mattered was the estate and its future. She saw Richard as an obstacle to that.

The story ended in a terrible tragedy.

It was gripping from start to finish.

The writing was wonderful: the estate was so vividly drawn, the characters lived and breathed, and their feelings were palpable. The issues that Hilda Vaughan raised, about inheritance, about the position of women, about class and tradition, about the consequences of war, were interesting and important.

But I’m a little sorry that the story played out as it did; that Gwenllian became a monster and that Richard did nothing. It was wonderfully executed, I loved the way that my understanding and my sympathies changed, but I couldn’t help thinking that if only she has been allowed to understand a little more, if only he had spoken and acted just a little more, there was a better – and a more credible – resolution to be reached.

I do think this is a very good book – and I’m pleased that Honno has more of Hilda Vaughan’s work in print for me to investigate.

I know that she can write powerfully of her country and her times; I know that she can write psychological drama; I’d just like to find that there’s a book where she balances those two things a little better than she did in this book. Because that book could be very, very special ….

A Burglary by Amy Dillwyn

A burglary took place at LLweyn-yr-Allt, a country house not far from the small Welsh town of Cwm-Eithen. The home of Mr Rhys, the local magistrate.

Mr Rhys was hosting a house party, and on the night of the burglary he and all of his guests had were attending a ball in the town.

His two children – children on the verge of adulthood were left alone. Ralph and Imogen were as pleased with that as the adults were with the ball. They raced put into the countryside, to hunt for moths, to go fishing, to picnic …

They had a wonderful time, but when they climbed back into the house in the early hours of the morning, through the kitchen window, they quite forgot to secure it behind them.

That, it seemed was how the burglar got in. He made his way to the bedroom of Ethel Carlton, who was Mr Rhys’s niece and a very wealthy heiress. She woke up, she observed the burglary, but she was quite unable to stop the man who absconded with her jewels.

Suspicion fell upon Ronnie Richards, a local poacher. He was never convicted, but many assumed that he was guilty. And a little poaching is one thing, but burglary is another thing entirely …

Imogen knew, and liked, the Richards family, and she believed that Ronnie Richards was innocent. She was right.

A year after the burglary Mr Rhys took his daughter to London, for her first season. She had many admirers and chief among them was William Sylvester, who had been a guest at Mr Rhys’s house party.

He was smitten with Imogen, but he had to avoid her cousin Ethel. Because she had heard his voice on the night he robbed her of her jewels …

But, of course, he cannot avoid her forever. And when Ethel recognises the voice of her cousin’s beloved she finds that she has a dilemma. She should bring the villain to justice, but how can she face Imogen is she does?

In the end the decision is taken out of her hands. One dramatic event resolves things beautifully.

A wonderful story, made rich by so many things.

The characters are wonderfully well drawn. I loved Imogen, who was bright, who was sociable, who loved the countryside. I admired Ethel, who appreciated how lucky she was, who had strong values, who was good, but not too good. I very nearly liked Sylvester, who had had a difficult life, who was quite genuinely attached to Imogen, though there was no excuse for what he did. And I kept a careful eye on Ethel’s friend, Elise, who cared maybe a little too much for wealth and social standings.

The writing is lovely: clearly Victorian, but with a wonderful lightness of touch that makes it wonderfully readable. A omniescent narrator sometimes stands back and watches events unfold, and sometimes swoops down to explain a character’s background of to emphasise a particular point.

It was beautifully done, it felt completely natural, and it was so very easy to keep turning the pages.

I was thrilled to find an author who could write lovely country scenes, gripping melodrama and social comedy.  And who could make them work so well together.

An author who could thread some very interesting questions about transgressions and how they are judged by society right through her story without ever seeming heavy-handed.

This is a book to enjoy, a book to make you think, and a book to linger in the mind.

(And I must mention that the Honno Books edition is beautiful, and that it comes with an informed and interesting introduction. )

Crime Fiction: The A to Z

When I set out on Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet I promised myself two things.

The first was that I would read nothing just for the sake of filling a slot, that I would only read books that I would have picked up sooner or later anyway.

I’ve managed that, though I did have to bend the rules a little for the difficult letter X and I had to throw in an emergency short story when the book I’d picked for letter Y let me down.

The second was that I would mix things up, and choose some familiar and some less familiar books.

And so my list is made up of:

  • Persephone books for H and X, and a classic short story by a Persephone author for G.
  •  A Virago Modern Classic, and a winner of the CWA Gold Dagger to boot,  for K.
  •  A wonderful anthology of new writers at W.
  •  Victorian crime for S and Victoriana for U. I would have liked to read more of both, but I ran out of time and letters.
  •  Crime fiction in translation at L and V.
  •  A Cornish book, set in very familiar countryside, at B.
  •  Agatha Christie re-reads at A and F. A for Agatha seemed to be the perfect place to start, and once I had re-read one book a number of others called me.
  •  Neglected woman authors, who were published in numbered green Penguins, at E, M, P and R. If I have learned one thing through the alphabet, it is always to look carefully at green Penguins as there are some real gems there.
  •  Male authors from the middle of the last century, who aren’t as lauded as some but really should be, at I, N and Q.
  •  A lovely range of contemporary crime fiction at C, D, J, O, T and Z.
  •  And that excellent, emergency short story at Y.

Mission accomplished, I think!

Here’s the A to Z in full.

A is for Agatha The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
B is for Bolitho Framed in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho
C is for Crombie Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie
D is for Darkside Darkside by Belinda Bauer
E is for Ethel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
F is for Five Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
G is for Glaspell A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell (short story)
H is for Holding The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
I is for Innes Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes
J is for Jane The Burning by Jane Casey
K is for Kelly The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
L is for Läckberg
The Stone-Cutter by Camilla Läckberg
M is for Mary Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
N is for Not Not to be Taken by Anthony Berkley
O is for Other The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
P is for Potts The Man with the Cane by Jean Potts
Q is for Question A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake
R is for Roth Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth
S is for Study A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan-Doyle
T is for Tyler The Herring in the Library (and others) by L C Tyler
U is for Unburied The Unburied by Charles Palliser
V is for Van der Vlugt Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt
W is for Written Written in Blood: a Honno Anthology
X is for Expendable The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes
Y is for You You are a Gongedip by Sophie Hannah (short story)
Z is for Zouradi The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

And that really is the end of the alphabet.

So where does my crime fiction reading go now? Well, I have The Quarry by Johan Theorin, A Herring on the Nile by LC Tyler, Now You See Me by S J Bolton, and two books by Erin Kelly in my library pile. My own green Penguins and my Agatha Christie collection are calling too, Plus those authors I discovered, and rediscovered, along the way and want to read again. And recommendations I picked up from others along the way ….

No end of possibilities …

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday, where are you ? /Forthcoming


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“Prisoner in the dock, what is your name?
“Jane Austen, sir,” said Jane crisply

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB


I am a clerk in the court of the dead. All mortals may have charges to answer here before they can settle. Today six ladies – Mrs Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mrs Ferrars, Mrs Churchill, Lady Russell and Mrs Norris – have bought charges against a Miss Jane Austen. She is their creator, but they allege that she maliciously undercut the respect due from youth to age. I wonder how it will go…

It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.

All of this comes  from the short story Jane Austen Over The Styx by Victoria Owens, winner of the Jane Austen Short Story Award 2009.

The longlisted entries are collected in Dancing With Mr Darcy.

And forthcoming? Well, I don’t usually plan in advance, but this weekend I am having an Austen-fest to round off my Everything Austen challenge.

Friday – The modern take on Austen on film – Bride and Prejudice

Saturday – The Austen-inspired short stories – Dancing With Mr Darcy

Sunday – The early writings – Love and Friendship

Watch this space!

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday, where are you ?


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“Matty had wakened early that morning in the small room over the front hall, where she slept alone, and sitting bolt upright in bed had immediately seen that the sun was shining on the roofs of the houses on the opposite side of the Cross. Dressing herself with difficulty but determination, she slipped past her mother’s door and the room where Ivor and Archie lay abed.”

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB


Good morning. I am Mrs Lettice Peters. I have travelled the world, but now I am settled at home with our four children in St Idris, a small cathedral town in Pembrokeshire. We are expecting my husband home very soon, and today I shall be travelling north to Dundee to meet his ship.

It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.

This all comes courtesy of The Captain’s Wife by Eiluned Lewis.