Hester is the ferryman’s daughter, it is Autumn 1908 and she lives in a Cornish seaside village with her family, whose lives are soon to be forever changed when her mother dies.
Working Class Women
A working class family, her mother warns her against getting close to those living in the big houses, who employ but rarely befriend those deemed beneath them in status.
They are not like us. They will never be like us. However much they may try not to be, they see us as a convenience, the people who clean their houses and draw their baths and make their life comfortable. It doesn’t really enter their heads that we are as real as they are, with dreams and ambitions and a desire to also walk in the sun. And that can make them cruel, even if they don’t mean to be. You remember that and don’t ever be distracted from the path you wish to take.
Hester takes over the household domestic duties and then her father’s job becoming a ferrywoman, when he is invalided. Despite her ability to cope, her father is taken in by the wily Jimmy, who continually ignores Hester’s refusals and worms his way into the family and their business.
After performing a rescue at sea, Hester experiences for one night what it is like to be waited on, to sink into a hot bath and rest, sleep, with nothing else to do.
Her eyes closed, savouring the stillness. ‘This is what I want,’ she said aloud. She had no hankering to be waited on like a queen, as she had been this evening. She just didn’t want to spend her life as a drudge, the one who got up first, who went to bed last. The invisible hand who did the cleaning and the cooking and the mending, along with the juggling of a meagre budget, the conjuring up of meals out of the barest of essentials.
She is a young woman working against the odds that would normally pull her towards accepting a fate confining her to care for younger siblings and a wayward father. She manages to keep alive her ambition to become something more than what society, her father and Jimmy expect from her, to develop independence without neglecting those who rely on her, finding those who see her for who she really is, even when she loses sight of that herself.
Dad saw reliance on a daughter as humiliating, a lessening of his manhood. Reliance on a son-in-law, particularly one who would, in turn, be reliant on his instruction and his expertise, would restore the natural order of things. Her feelings on the matter were irrelevant.
Women During the War
Eventually circumstances including the outbreak of war provide her an opportunity to pursue her first love, to cook wholesome homemade food from the abundance of the gardens of Afalon, the big house where her grandmother had been head cook. She will be tested and confront challenges she thought she’d left behind, but doing so leads her towards a desire inherited from her mother she is determined to pursue.
A refreshing protagonist, living in an era where few women escaped the narrow role society decided for them, until war gave them a chance to show what were capable of. Hester paves the way in setting a new example for those who experience setbacks, showing how they can be overcome and the importance of working with and being supported by like-minded women.
Historical Fiction With Empowered Female Characters
Another captivating novel from Juliet Greenwood, set in her familiar locale of Cornwall, with her trademark, capable, independent woman protagonist exploring an alternative way of life than ‘the pursuit of a husband’ in an era where rejection of a man’s attentions was perceived as a mark against the character of a woman, who ought not to think so highly of herself as to be capable of surviving without him. A refreshing representation of the rise of the empowered woman.
N.B. Thank you to the author Juliet Greenwood for providing me with a copy of your new book.
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This does indeed sound like an interesting and refreshing read about a characterful young woman. It sounds as if it’s barely out yet though, so maybe one for my ‘to read’ later’ list.
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Yes, this is the second author I’ve seen do an “at home” book launch, Juliet up in the hills of Wales with her dog Phoebe and Louise on a zoom call with champagne and lots of willing participants. Not what they expected but a wider audience than normal.
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Thank you for such a great review, Claire! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I loved writing Hester’s story, and her determination to succeed without treading on anyone else in the process. So wonderful! And yes, a book launch in lockdown was definitely a novelty – although Phoebe did step up to the mark and provided the charm! Here’s to when we can all get out again and celebrate with friends, whatever it might be.
You had me at Cornwall. I’m actually hoping the virtual aspect of book launches will carry on or be in conjunction with events–I’ve loved joining in author reads at bookstores across the country from me, and from living rooms.
I agree, there’s no reason why they can’t be a regular part of or addition to a book launch, it feels so much more intimate to be part of an online launch, however ironic that might sound!