Europe is hurtling towards the beginning of World War I, and Rutherford Park in rural England sleeps in its own denial. Yes, it’s 1913, and family life for Lord William Cavendish, his wife Lady Octavia, and their children Harry, Charlotte and Louisa parallels the looming crisis. Embracing change is never quite as successful when one has refused to relinquish political, social, economic or racial biases from the past.
Secrets are revealed with all the tragic, devastating effects never conceived of in the initial satisfactions of sexual or emotional release. A maid gives birth to a child of someone in “the house,” but the mother dies and the child is hidden. One, after all, must maintain the status quo, for what would the neighbors think? The father is riddled with guilt but suppresses it all with his desire to learn how to fly one of the newest Blackburn I airplanes that will become a feature in the looming war. Another twenty-year-old son announces his bastard status and vows revenge after being refused monetary compensation; the announcement itself shatters a marriage and instigates an affair between one of the spouses and a visiting American historian/writer. A British debutante falls in love with a French diplomat and elopes, with terrorizing and psychological shock paralleling the breakout of war between Germany and France.
The pre-WWI times invite changes to more modern ways of thinking and acting. The author clearly shows these must be experimental while in transition, but they are thrilling and dramatic in realization. Elizabeth Cooke’s fictional family portrait is intensely engaging as it reveals the passionate thoughts and dreams of these revolutionary characters, who represent the best and worst that history has catapulted into the 20th century. A great read!