Wonderful book! Made me laugh and cry. Definitely keep a box of tissues near at the end.
This novel is in a class by itself; the characters are fascinating to watch and the story slowly unfurls to show the deep issues the characters are asked to resolve. Although the war between England and Napoleon ended years before, the battles and results are still on the minds of many of the major characters.
Susan Hampton is the only daughter of an absolutely awful baronet (Sir Rodney), who has wasted and gambled away his fortune, estate, London home, daughter's dowry and now Susan's cherished gift from her (deceased) mother, her pearls. Realizing that she will become an unpaid, semi-servant in her aunt's home, Susan decides to take action by seeking employment. To that end, she meets a wonderful young man, Joel Steinman, co-owner of an employment agency. He decides to send her to Dowager Lady Bushnell, to act as a lady's companion.
Lady Bushnell is protected by David Wiggins, former Regimental Sergeant Major to both Lady Bushnell's husband and son. David now acts as the bailiff of Lady Bushnell's manor, Quilling, in the Cotswolds. David brought back a pocket full of wheat from the Battle of Waterloo and is trying to breed a new variety of wheat. He hopes to use it to form his own seed company in the future.
Although Susan's family is scandalized by her stooping to paid employment, Susan is able to accept her drop in social status easier than she expected. England's fixation on the class consciousness of the time is an important part of this story.
There are so many layers to this story; I expect to read it again many times. In spite of the tragedy, the author leaves the reader with a sense of hope for the future. No wonder this won a RITA Award.
Loved this warm and moving story!
You really cannot read any better stories than the early ones by Carla Kelly. It's all story with a romance thrown into the mix. I felt my way through it: depressed, happy, sad, glad, angry, loving. It was an emotional journey that ended with a great happily ever after. Recommend!
From the back of the bk:
Miss Susan Hampton was a lady born and bred. She never imagined she would have to make her own way in the world. But that was before her feckless father gamed away her family estate. That was before her odious aunt turned her into an unpaid servant. Now Susan had fled that tyranny-- only to wonder if she had leapt out of the frying pan into the fire.
In a remote country manor, Susan took the post of companion to the Dowager Lady Bushnell, whose fiery temper made a dragon seem sweet. But even more dangerous was the dowager's boldly handsome bailiff, David Wiggins, whose blood was red, not blue, and who was everything a man could be except a gentleman. Desperately, Susan told herself that he was totally unsuitable as her suitor-- even as this infuriatingly irresistible man awoke her as a woman and made her forget she was a lady...