Book Notes: "Lady Rose's Daughter" by Mrs Humphrey Ward

Lady Rose's DaughterLady Rose's Daughter by Mary Augusta Ward

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to read this book because it was mentioned in an article on page 2 of the Goulburn Herald on 22 May 1903. I blogged about the article, which features my home town of Gunning, in October last year. It was the number one novel in the Publishers Weekly bestseller list in the United States for 1903. I understand that Mrs Humphrey Ward, as her use of her husband's name suggests, was an anti-suffragette. That the novel smacks of all things conservative does not take away from the brilliance of her work. I had some concerns over anachronisms in the novel, the plot clearly takes place after 1859, but is still regarded as being in the mid-nineteenth century by the characters, yet electric lights appeared in several scenes. Clearly the railway was a going concern. But after some research, I found that Punch magazine, which gets a number of guernseys in the novel, features the use of electric lights in London houses from as early as 1848 (Punch 1848, Vol. 15, p. 239), not to mention a satirical critique of electric lights (written by "a gas contractor"). Other reviewers have referred to Mrs Ward's "cardboard characters", and that may be true if one views the work as clichéd. However, one must remember that the book was written in 1903, over one hundred years before Downton Abbey, so Mrs Ward may be forgiven for being at the forefront of the re-imagining of Jane Austen in a mid-nineteenth century setting. If I am to take the background of the author into account, the novel is a victory for women who achieve success - when defined as social status and wealth - through their husbands, while at the same time winning a moral victory over the Sins of the Mother (a re-imagining of the proverbial). The pace of the novel was quite brisk, and I was captivated until the final forty or so pages, when the plot unfolds "like a long, slow accident" (Something for Kate's Stunt Show played over and over in my head as I read this part). The conclusion moved me and left me rather perplexed. It made be glad not to be a woman (in the Victorian sense of the word). And Mrs Humphrey Ward, brilliant as I find her work, in my imagination smiles smugly like a Liberal party member passing a lump of coal around parliament as history not only passes her by but would make her look silly if anyone else remembered her. But do read it - it is an excellent novel, even if the entire package serves as a caution for those who suffer from smug assuredness.

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