From Penvarris with Love

Written by Rosemary Aitken
Review by Myfanwy Cook

Spanning the First World War this romantic novel opens in Penzance in Cornwall in 1914. Maud and Belinda both work at Madame Raymond’s. Belinda is a more experienced seamstress, and Maud an apprentice. They spend their days making alterations to gowns that they are never likely to be able to own, and live simple and sparse lives. Maud, although younger of the two, has achieved what Belinda longs for: an admirer who would like to marry her. Stanley Hoskins, Maud’s childhood sweetheart, comes from a farming family, but believing that the war will be over soon enlists. The lives of Maud and Belinda are dramatically and irrevocably changed as the war progresses, and the long-term effects of this are unveiled in the novel’s epilogue.

This novel captures the impact of the First World War on an ordinary rural community, and also the unquestioning patriotic fervour of the early war years. It also enables the reader to catch a glimpse of the hardworking lives of seamstresses, where every stitch was scrutinised and the whim of every bad tempered customer pandered to. The contrasting characterisation of Stanley, Jonah and Peter are believable and Stanley’s story is particularly moving. Maud and Belinda are both realistic and engaging heroines. Rosemary Aitken has managed to create an evocative picture of the era, which is sensitive, informative and engrossing.