I love it when I can combine online reading events like the Persephone Readathon with my annual reading challenges. This week was the perfect time to cross another book off my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge List -- Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary. I actually had THREE Persephones on this list, plus one possible read on my Back to the Classics Challenge list. (The others were Heat Lightning, London War Notes, and Effi Briest). To be perfectly honest, Lady Rose won out because it was the shortest, and because it was owned-and-unread the longest.
Basically, Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary is a sort of a fairy tale about a little girl growing up in Victorian times on a massive Scottish estate called Keepsfield. Published in 1937, it starts out in the period between the wars when three tourists, two American and one British, stop to tour the empty house that belongs to Lady Rose, who has lived abroad for years. One of the tourists, a British woman, begins to engage the elderly housekeeper about the little girl who grew up there and begins to imagine what she was really like.
|Even this cover looks a little twee.|
This book starts out rather saccharine and almost twee. Lady Rose as a child was so annoyingly perfect I almost gave up -- in fact, I did try to read this a few years ago and was so put off I put the book down and it was gathering dust until this week. All the reviews implied it would get better, so I stuck with it. It does get better after Lady Rose goes off to boarding school, then her life takes some interesting turns when it appears it isn't such a fairy tale after all.
Overall, this book was charming, but with a sad undercurrent about the position of women. It made some very good points about the choices women had in the late Victorian period -- but mostly didn't have, even the very wealthy and privileged. My basic impression is that the writing is a little flowery and there wasn't a whole lot of character development. Some parts actually felt more like broad outlines of a story than the finished product. There was some definite foreshadowing that I completely missed -- if you're clever you'll predict some of the plot twists. I wasn't especially observant at the time so I was pleasantly surprised by some of them.
The best bits are Lady Rose's appreciation for the beauty of Scotland, and for Keepsfield, the estate on which she's raised. In the preface, it's described as "a love letter to Scotland," which is absolutely correct -- Keepsfield and Scotland itself are the best-developed characters in this book. (This is nothing like Outlander, though there are very brief mentions of men in kilts. Just in case anyone was wondering).
There are also some interesting descriptions of what it was like to come out in society in the Victorian era, and to be presented at court. However, there's a huge gap in time about Lady Rose's life after she leaves Keepsfield which I really wish had been more developed. I won't say any more because I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
Many people love this book. I enjoyed it, but I have to admit it's not my favorite Persephone. It was a charming, light read, and I could see it might be just the thing if you're having a bad day and need something escapist. It's a quick read and there are some quirky little illustrations. I think I read somewhere that it was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth's mother.
|The Persephone endpapers for Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary|
So -- Persephone fans, have you read this book? Did you enjoy it, or was it just a little too sweet? And which Persephone should I read next off my list -- Heat Lightning, Effi Briest, or London War Notes?
I vote for London War Notes. Mainly because it is the only one of the three that I have read but also because I am fascinated by life in Britain during the war. To be honest, I would read the phone book if you told me Mollie Panter-Downes wrote it.ReplyDelete
I loved MPD also but it's so long! I should read it in bits and pieces, not plan on reading it straight through like a novel. That's how I read Few Eggs and No Oranges, it took me more than a month. I do love the war at home, it's really fascinating, much more than battles and military strategy.Delete
I've not read Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary but it does sound a little sweet - maybe like along the lines of some of the books by Frances Hodgson Burnett.ReplyDelete
I recommend you read Effi Briest because you are in Germany! Right?
Yes, I am in Germany, and I have already started Effi Briest. I was hoping to finish it for the Persephone Reading Challenge but it was not to be. I hope to finish it soon.Delete
I have read the book and I agree about its tweeness, it reminded me of some O.Douglas and D.E. Stevenson books. I also read somewhere that it was the Queen Mother's favourite book, she was Scottish so it was probably a nice trip back home for her, when she was stuck in England or wherever.ReplyDelete
I also own The Proper Place by O. Douglas, bought on the recommendation of Furrowed Middlebrow. I hope it's a little less twee. I did love all the Scottish bits.Delete
I have a soft spot for this one but it certainly doesn't come close to landing on my list of favourites. However, it does have charm and I think it sits nicely alongside other lightweight Persephones like Mariana and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.ReplyDelete
As for what to read next, London War Notes is my favourite Persephone so I have to vote for it!
I never thought of Mariana as lightweight, but it's been awhile since I read it. Of course it's in storage now that I want to reread it!Delete
I also found Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary a little disappointing, but probably because I guessed the ending fairly early on.ReplyDelete
I am rather embarrassed that I did not guess the ending. I've gotten better at picking up on foreshadowing (especially in movies and TV) but this time I missed it.Delete
I'm with you - good fun, but not my favourite, and perhaps a little saccharine at times. And I'm afraid I guessed the twist from the outset!ReplyDelete
Well, it was a fairly quick read and the illustrations were interesting. I did like the descriptions of Scotland, now I want to visit more than ever and I don't know if I'll have time before we move back to the US!Delete