Wow, this was fantastic. Why isn’t anyone reading this author?
I picked this book up at Harvard Bookstore’s warehouse sale last year. It first caught my eye because of the photo on the cover, by one of my favorite Victorian artists, Lady Clementina Hawarden. Then I noticed a quotation by Sarah Waters, one of my favorite novelists, who said this was one of her favorite novels. Well! Then I realized I had already read a STW novel before, the delightful Lolly Willowes, so I decided to try it out.
I’m so glad I did! This was really an amazing novel about the sexual, social, and political awakening of a (wealthy, conservative) heroine. The writing is just beautiful; it reminds me in some ways of Charlotte Bronte. Oddly enough, I found the first part of the novel, which starts at Sophia’s ancestral home, to be the most compelling part, followed by her first encounter with her soon-to-be lover. But even though the political/revolutionary parts in Paris are actually a little more drawn out, STW’s ability to convey Sophia’s transformation from a relative conservative to a full-fledged radical — which is so delicately done as to be almost imperceptible as you’re reading — is in my mind the mark of a great novelist.
I truly don’t understand why she isn’t more widely read… but at the same time, I’m a bit glad, since she feels like my little secret.