The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth

Written by Julia Lee
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Late 19th century. Miss Clemency Wrigglesworth, age eleven and newly orphaned, boards the P & O steamer in Bombay bound for England. All she has is her luggage and a ticket. She has no idea where she’s going or who her relations are. Mrs Potchard, a professional child-minder on board ship, places her in Mrs Marvel’s boarding house in Portsmouth, and puts an advertisement in The Times announcing Clemency’s arrival, sure that someone will claim her – and reimburse her fees.

The Marvels are a lively family, quite unlike the stiff formality of Clemency’s own parents. Whitby, who dances at the Hippodrome theatre and keeps her hair up with knitting needles, longs to join the Genuine Red Indian Travelling Circus, and her cousin, Gully Potchard, is a gangly teenager with a psychic gift for finding lost things.

When Clemency is removed without warning by the intimidating Miss Clawe, Gully is worried. She hasn’t even taken her luggage with her. It doesn’t smell right to him. Clemency is taken to her mother’s childhood home in Somerset, but, far from being welcomed by her relations, she’s forced into being a scullery maid, the lowest of the low. It’s clear that she’s not wanted. Why is she being kept from her uncle and aunt? Why is she treated like a skivvy? In spite of being cold, hungry and uneasy about her future, Clemency is determined to get some answers. Meanwhile, Gully, Whitby and the Genuine Red Indians set out to discover what’s happened to Clemency….

The story zips along, and the twists and turns of the plot had me on the edge of my seat. There’s more than a touch of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s put-upon heroines who fight back in Clemency, which gives the book an authentic period flavour. Most enjoyable. For girls of 10+