The Mill Girl
In 1850s Warwickshire, Maryann Meadows expects to spend her working life in one of the local mills. But when the death of her parents leaves her homeless, she accepts a position as nanny to Fleur, the ‘imbecile’ daughter of mill-owner Wesley Marshall. Maryann’s sister, Violet, yearns for a life of luxury, and is lured to London to work as a prostitute; brother Benny also works for Marshall at Windy Manor and falls in love with the disabled servant, Cissie. Maryann believes she is in love with Toby, a miner, but becomes increasingly conflicted as she grows more attached to both young Fleur and her father. Marshall’s harsh sister, Florence, and her conniving maid, Miss Lord, plot to gain control of the estate, while keeping the details of their visits to London secret. Toby’s dishonest and violent brother, Hugo, seeks to benefit from his clandestine relationship with Florence, and provokes tragedy. Violet is briefly reunited with her family, and Maryann must confront her true feelings for her employer.
The novel provides a credible and entertaining story of the lives of a working-class family where the community revolves around the mill, the mine and the manor. Maryann is a strong, likeable heroine, and although we can guess that she will end up with Wesley Marshall, the course of true love runs far from smooth. It is inferred that little Fleur has Down’s Syndrome, and her character is depicted with sensitivity, as is that of Cissie, who is also disabled. The cast of characters is well-drawn, with a strong sense of family love and loyalty. My only doubt was the final act of heroism by Maryann’s childhood sweetheart, Toby. Otherwise, it is another well-paced and enjoyable read from Rosie Goodwin.