Mary Ann and Miss Mozart

Written by Ann Turnbull
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Ella McNulty

London, 1764. Twelve-year-old Mary Ann is thrilled to be going to Miss Neave’s Boarding School for Young Ladies at 6 Chelsea Walk. She longs to be an opera singer, and here she will have singing and harpsichord lessons, as well as deportment and all the other accomplishments 18th century young ladies needed to make a good marriage.

The school visits the nearby Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens to hear the musical prodigies of the age, the Mozart children, play and sing, and Mary Ann is more than ever determined to sing professionally. Then disaster strikes. Her father’s latest business venture fails and economies are needed. Mary Ann must leave school – before the school concert, where she’s due to sing several solos.
In desperation, she comes up with a plan, involving a late night excursion to Ranelagh, to make enough money for the school fees. But things go disastrously wrong, and soon Mary Ann is in serious trouble…

I’ve long admired Ann Turnbull’s subtlety. On the surface, the story is simple, but underneath there are important issues. For example, the family business involves slave-trading. When Mary Ann exclaims ‘How cruel – to seize people!’, her brother reassures her, ‘They’re not seized; not by Englishmen. Other Africans sell them to the traders.’ She is troubled about it for a while but then forgets it. A lesser writer would have had Mary Ann immediately becoming anti-slavery. Ann Turnbull allows her to react as an 18th century 12-year-old probably would have done, and it’s far more telling.

The downturn in the family fortunes also points up how vulnerable females were. Mary Ann’s schooling must be sacrificed, but not her brother’s. Her sister’s dowry disappears – and with it her fiancé. A number of points about class, gender and race are quietly embedded in the plot like small moral time-bombs which resonate long after the book is finished.
For girls aged 10+.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Mary Ann and Miss Mozart is a story about a girl in the 18th century who goes to a finishing school to learn music. The plot is quite thin, and with few twists and turns. However, it is an enjoyable story and you can get caught up in the characters and the events. The descriptions of clothes, people and places within the story are informative and evoke clear pictures in your mind. It gives an accurate picture of 18th-century life for Mary Ann who is the main character. Mary Ann is likeable, and her emotions and the way she’s feeling are described well and we follow her goal of becoming a singer in the story. I found the end slightly disappointing as it didn’t tell me much about what really happened, and I found Mary Ann’s story’s cut short when the reader is still interested in what’s happening to her. Mainly this is a very readable book that you will like, but not get a huge amount out of.

Ella McNulty, Age 12