A Provincial Peer

Written by Sian Ann Bessey
Review by Ray Thompson

1796. To recuperate from the ravages of smallpox that took her naval husband’s life, Caroline Granger returns to the home of her widowed vicar father in Gloucestershire. Distressed by people’s reactions, she wears a veil to conceal her facial scars, but she finds ready acceptance among those who have faced their own struggles and hardship. Not only ‘decent’, hard-working folk, but Benedict Lord Benning, a childhood friend, now trying to restore the farm on his estate to prosperity after devastating crop losses. And might there be a second chance for love?

Benedict soon falls in love with his kind-hearted neighbour, helped in no small part by Meg, her adorable four-year-old daughter. Caroline, however, is not only very aware of the social gulf between them, but she also suffers from her own insecurities after a disappointing marriage.

Most of the characters are idealized, and didactic notes sometimes intrude, but the challenges they face are real enough, especially the impact of injury and disease, poverty, and starvation. There is interesting information on Dr. Jenner’s discovery that vaccination with cowpox protects against smallpox.

A heart-warming and timely tale of how taking responsibility for others helps communities survive difficult times: ‘everyone deserves kindness.’ Highly recommended.