Thursday, April 2, 2015

Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan

In 1933, Alice's story is a common one.  Young and naïve, she fell for the admiration of an older, married man.  Inexperienced at love, she believed him when he said his marriage was a farce and that he would divorce his wife and instead marry Alice.  When she gets pregnant, he vanishes and Alice's reputation is on the line.  Her parents are aghast and worried that she has ruined her entire life.  They concoct a story of a hasty marriage where the bridegroom was killed shortly thereafter in an accident, and shuffle her off to her mother's hometown village to wait out the months till the baby's arrival. 

Alice's mother had a best friend who is now the housekeeper at the local estate, Fiercombe Manor.  She agrees that Alice can stay at the manor until the baby comes and help out around the estate.  But since the estate owners now live overseas, returning to the estate infrequently, there is little to do and Alice has lots of time on her hands.  She becomes interested in the history of the manor and of the beautiful Elizabeth, of whom rumors abound.  Elizabeth had been the mistress thirty years before, and married to the headstrong master, Edward.  Edward had hated the manor, thinking it old and inconvenient and had built a new, huge house nearby where the couple lived.  No one seemed to know what happened to the family and even the new house had disappeared, while the heirs went back to the manor to live.

As Alice delves into Elizabeth's history, she starts to feel a connection between them.  For Elizabeth was pregnant the last summer that there is word about her.  Then nothing.  She finds that the couple had a small daughter, but continued to try to have an heir.  Elizabeth had issues with pregnancy and had lost several babies.  Alice can't help but feel that they are connected by their pregnancies.  When Alice meets the young heir to the estate, Thomas, and they begin a friendship, she finds more of the pieces of the mystery.  What is Elizabeth's story and what will Alice's life story turn out to be?

This book is reminiscent of the superstitions and horrors that used to attend pregnancy.  Girls who became pregnant outside of marriage were scorned and humiliated, forced into early marriages with little chance of success or sent off to have their child, which was then taken from them.  Women who were married and pregnant were also surrounded with mystery, spending the last days in seclusion and sent to asylums for months for treatments when they had postpartum depression.  They were considered suicidal, starved and deprived of their children, and given barbaric treatments such as electric shock.  This book reminds the current generation of the struggles of their ancestors.  Today, when having a child outside of marriage is not considered the end of the world and postpartum depression is recognized and treated effectively, women can only imagine the horrors pregnancy could bring to their ancestors.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Pregnancy is hard enough in any age ... the social stigma that accompanied it in days gone by must have been truly horrible.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!