The Jewel Garden

Written by Marilyn Pemberton
Review by Ann Northfield

The title refers to a type of Spiritualist belief in the novel about death and acts as a motif running through as a kind of heaven, or place where the recently dead are reunited with those who have gone before. Hannah Russell is an unusual Victorian heroine in that she is independently wealthy and, as a single woman, she is in charge of her own finances and destiny. She is also hopelessly in love with Mary de Morgan, a writer of fairytales, who really existed.

Pemberton has also written a biography of de Morgan, and this novel is intended to imaginatively fill in the gaps where the evidence is lacking. Hannah is inspired to help with the East End families, as she feels guilty about her sizeable but unearned fortune. She wants to use it to do good. Deciding to travel to Egypt, mainly for the health of Mary, who is vulnerable to her family curse of tuberculosis, Hannah and Mary both volunteer at a local reformatory, where Egyptian and mixed-race criminal children are educated and put onto the path of goodness. The role and pressures upon women in this society are examined, as are the fate and difficulties of the poor in Egypt and the East End of London. Family, love, deceit and delusion are all important themes. The novel is an interesting one, with its mix of imagination and reality, and I enjoyed it.