Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

il_fullxfull.379277705_36w6

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary opens with tourists coming to look around the great house of Keepsfield, for let due to the financial problems of the exiled Lady Rose, Countess of Lochlule. The faded wallpaper and cracked plaster represent an old world that has died away, becoming nothing but a memory in the mind of Mrs Memmary, the house’s caretaker. As the tourists walk through the now empty rooms that were once so full of happiness and promise, she tells them the story of the Countess’ life. Born Lady Rose towards the end of the 19th century, she was the daughter and only heir of the richest Earl in Scotland. A pretty, high spirited and deeply loving child, her open and affectionate nature endeared her to everyone she met. Rose was brought up to adore her country and its history with an almost obsessive passion, but her greatest love was for her home, the magnificent Keepsfield, the finest house in Scotland. She had a charmed childhood spent amidst the beauty of the Scottish countryside, with every comfort provided and every whim catered for. Her only sadness was the persistent absence of her parents; their duties as part of Queen Victoria’s court took them away frequently, and when they were at home, they had little time for their daughter. Eventually they decided to send her away to school in England, and this was the beginning of the end of Lady Rose’s carefree existence.

When Lady Rose turned 18, she was the most eligible debutante of the season. Still the innocent, exuberant girl she was in her early days at Keepsfield, she was delighted by the parties and dreamed of falling in love with a handsome suitor. However, her parents had already decided who Rose would marry; their neighbour Sir Hector Galowrie, second only to Rose’s father in wealth and prestige. Their marriage would combine Scotland’s two finest estates and be an advantageous alliance for both families. Rose, naive and trusting, and delighted at the romance of getting married to a handsome man, was all too happy to follow her parents’ wishes. Little did she realise what she was getting herself into; Sir Hector resented Lady Rose’s independent wealth and status, and didn’t understand her romantic, whimsical personality. Without ever being actively cruel, he found plenty of ways to destroy her sources of joy, slowly crushing her spirit with every passing year. Instead of a place of freedom and enchantment, Rose’s beloved Keepsfield became her prison.

However, this was not the end of Rose’s story. Events conspired to offer her an escape, but very few people understood her resulting decisions. Happiness came at a great cost to Rose; she was born at the wrong time, and in the wrong society, to freely fulfil the desires of her soul. She was a victim of Victorian society, and of the limited roles it gave to women. She was expected to bury her personal needs to maintain the status quo of an aristocracy that was above the passions and indiscretions of the lower classes. For women like Rose’s mother, life was governed by self imposed rules that kept the facade of upper class life intact; if everyone was free to indulge their secret passions, their world would collapse beneath them. Anyone who dared to break free was punished severely; deviance would not be tolerated. For so many, there was no escape, and for those who did, they often found that the world outside of the gilded cage was a very lonely one.

This is a much deeper and darker novel than it at first appears, and is both inspiring and profoundly moving. A damning indictment of a society that crushed its inhabitants and a beautiful, haunting exploration of what it means to live a good life, I loved every minute of it. Don’t let this pass you by; it’s a real gem.

23 comments

  1. I read this recently as well, and while I thought it was just OK the last two paragraphs of your review are spot on. It’s a unique book and worth reading.

  2. I read it in 2004 or 2005, and found it charming (although I guessed the ending from the title) – but, looking back, you’re right that that dark edge was also there…
    You always manage to find such wonderful images for your posts, Rachel!

  3. This was the first Persephone I read and loved it. I found it an incredibly moving, elegiac novel that has remained with me. You capture its qualities perfectly!

    1. What a perfect first Persephone, Deborah! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and found it as special as I did. Such a profound book that is so much more than it appears on the surface. The best kind of novel!

  4. Your review makes me want to read this novel RIGHT NOW. As in: this. very. second. *sigh* Why aren’t Persephones better distributed in the States?

  5. Oh, your post has me missing Claire (Paperback Reader), this is one of her favourites. It also reminds me so much of Thank Heaven Fasting, which I’m reading now…those poor women. Stuck within the confines of society and mothers, how claustrophobic!
    This is one of those titles I am drawn to but never quite sure about so I perked up reading your thoughts. If it’s anything like the pleasant surprise I got with Miss Ranskill – well, I will just be kicking myself for putting off a purchase!

    1. Oooh, Thank Heaven Fasting is brilliant! So glad you’re reading it! I am sure you’d love this, Darlene…it’s not what it seems and is actually very complex. I want to read it again already!

  6. I just ordered my copy of this book and, after your review, I look forward to reading it next. I am fairly new to Persephone with High Wages and Miss Buncle’s Book so far. Love Persephone for adding new authors to my library.

    1. Brilliant! I hope you love it as much as I do! You’ve started with two excellent books – you must read all of Dorothy Whipple as soon as you can!

  7. Such a sad book and can’t help thinking she lost so much by choosing love over duty and her poor son obviously was scarred by her choice as well. Do look out for Apricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson – very lighthearted in contrast to this and sadly hard to find, but know you’re wonderful at finding hidden treasures, and I liked it very much. And of course there’s always the Jill books – wonderful in their own way, but hard to believe by the same author!

    1. I know…that part made me so sad. I will – I shall be looking out for Ruby Ferguson all the time now! I’m not sure I’d enjoy pony books…I had a bad experience of horse riding lessons as a child!

  8. This was the Persephone I read for the first Persephone Reading Week when I’d just started blogging, so as well as being a lovely story it also holds lovely memories and was a footstep into ‘meeting’ other bloggers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s