In the past, classics and historical fiction tended to annoy me, mostly because I was frustrated by the female characters. While I can’t change the classics, I have found some great historical fiction books that have a feisty heroine fitting of the time.
The Poor Relation by Susanna Bavin
1908, Manchester. Mary Maitland is an attractive and intelligent young woman determined to strike out on her own and earn a living. Finding work at a women’s employment agency, her creative talent is soon noticed and Mary begins writing articles for newspapers and magazines. But being of independent and progressive mind are troublesome traits when those you hold dear must constantly live up to the expectations of the well-to-do family to which they are linked. With increasing pressures from the powers that be, can Mary find the fine line between honouring her family and honouring herself?
I hope you got what you needed regarding the plot line from the blurb because I’m not going to discuss it here. What I want to tell you about instead are the amazing themes that thread through. The Poor Relation.
Let’s start with women’s rights. Nothing new you might say, and that’s true. There are many books that focus on the campaign for women’s suffrage. What struck me about the struggle for women’s rights in this book was the attitude of the various characters. Naturally, we have characters (minor characters in this case) who steadfastly work toward women’s rights. Then we have people like Mary who are unsure at first, but find themselves been won over by the cause. Of course, we have plenty of male characters who are outright against any changes, but we also have. Lady Kimber who also doesn’t believe that a women’s station in life shouldn’t be adapted.
Lady Kimber also introduces us to the age old, and continuing, dilemma of women competing against one another. Lady Kimber is dead set in setting her daughter, Eleanor, up in a good marriage. This means disposing of any competition who may make her daughter appear less desirable.
Lady Kimber also has no love for anybody in a lower class than she. Not that she is the only one. We continually see the less than savoury treatment of the Maitlands, the “poor relations”, despite them being the most likeable family in the book.
I hope these themes are enough to draw you to this book. If not, it also has a caring protagonist and cleverly intertwined stories. Basically, it is a hell of a read.
Don’t delay and pick up your copy of The Poor Relation here.
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.