Orphaned Florrie Buckley lives in rural poverty in Cornwall. Life is hard, but she loves the moors and is happy in her Cornish community. When she is 15, she is shocked to learn that she is related to the Graces, a rich and ambitious London family. Torn away from all that is familiar, she struggles to cope with her new life in an aspiring London household in 1850. Her dominating grandfather, Hawker Grace, is determined to restore the Graces to their lost prominence with no regard for his family’s happiness. Re-named Florence Grace, her life is further complicated by a desperate attraction to her troubled cousin, Turlington.
The contrast between a Cornish existence, close to nature, and the rigid etiquette and restricted life of a woman in a Victorian upper-middle class establishment is beautifully observed. The forced conversion of strong, independent Florrie into soft, over-fed and overdressed but still rebellious Florence is completely believable. The Cornish landscape and London atmosphere are so vividly depicted that we really feel for a Florrie who cannot walk on grass and breathe in fresh, smoke-free air. But the novel seems too long without enough plot to sustain interest, and each incident and event is over-analysed. An additional problem is that only Florence, Turlington and Hawker are three-dimensional figures. The many other characters are mostly flat, either nice or nasty as required.
There is so much to enjoy in this novel: a vivid portrayal of contrasting Victorian lives convincingly set in two very different places and enriched by a good feeling for the period. We have an appealing heroine whose confusions and passions are believable. If only the novel were a little more concise.