I had really hoped to read two or even three books this past week for the Persephone Readathon, but I'm sorry to say that the events in the news were so upsetting, I could hardly focus on the book that I had chosen -- and I really wish that I had picked a more uplifting book. I'd been putting off Alas, Poor Lady for years -- it was so long and seemed rather depressing. It did take rather longer than I expected, as I normally zip through a Persephone in a couple of days, but I'm very glad to have read it.
Alas, Poor Lady is the story of a Victorian family with seven daughters, ultimately focusing on the youngest, Grace Scrimgeour, born in 1869. Her father, a retired army officer, is forever disappointed that he has no son (who finally arrives two years after Grace); he takes little interest in his daughters other than providing them a perfunctory education and assuming eventually some man or other will take them off his hands. After nine pregnancies in more than 20 years, her mother blithely assumes the same, without preparing her (or her elder sisters) with the means to find a husband or learn to support her self -- it just wasn't done.
|A Honiton Lace Manufactury. Frederick Richard Pickersgill, 1869.|
Her stillborn love affair, her spinsterhood she might forget if they would let her, the loss of her shop never. It was her real broken romance. 'I could have made a success in business but they wouldn't let me.'
That would be her story in all the years to come.
Eventually, through bad money management, bad investments, and just bad luck, the unmarried Scrimgeour sisters enter a slow downward spiral to genteel poverty, becoming a burden on relatives and living from hand to mouth. I'm always interested in the lives of the Victorian, but this book was a tough read in parts, with, as always, women having few choices. The eldest sister, Gertrude, has a rude awakening from her own marriage and childbirth (nearly the same time as Grace's birth); but at least she has financial security. It's a very well written book, but I did have to stop several times because I was so distressed at the mistakes and injustices that these spinster sisters faced. Grace's multiple attempts to catch a husband were especially distressing.
|Author Rachel Ferguson|
|Endpapers from the Persephone edition of Alas, Poor Lady, a detail from an early 20th century tapestry. |
The Scrimgeour sisters spent a lot of time doing needlework.
Alas, Poor Lady is the only Persephone by Ferguson; however, the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press has reprinted three more of her novels: Evenfeld; A Harp in Lowdnes Square; and A Footman for the Peacock, which is the only Furrowed Middlebrow left on my TBR shelves. Bloggers, have you read any of these? Which do you recommend? And did you enjoy the Persephone Readathon? Thanks again to Jessie from Dwell in Possibility for hosting!