The Tailor’s Daughter
The titular character is Veda Grenfell, daughter of a famed Victorian Savile Row tailor. Veda has inherited her father’s passion for making clothes that make the man, and after the untimely death of her elder brother and subsequent death of her mother in childbirth, Veda’s father brings her into the family business. Unfortunately, at the age of sixteen, Veda was made deaf from a fever. Not one to retire into silence, she enlists her brother’s former tutor to teach her how to read lips, and through lip-reading, slate-writing, and a Talking Book (a blank book passed back and forth for writing) communicates with her friends, clients, and especially the man she comes to love, Lord Harry Ormelie.
As esteemed a tailor as Veda’s father is, he is still a tradesman, thus she a tradesman’s daughter. As Harry is a lord, their love affair must be conducted in secret. The Talking Book adds to their clandestine romance as they write out their feelings for each other in front of unwitting family and friends. Although there is a sense of inevitability that their union is doomed, what follows comes as a shock. However, to focus solely on Veda and Harry is to do the book an injustice. This rich, multi-layered story delves into age-old class issues (the Grenfells may be permitted to live in a tony neighborhood for the benefit of their clientele but are not encouraged to interact with their neighbors), issues of femininity and a woman’s place, and the relationships between fathers and daughters and fathers and sons. Veda’s deafness becomes a part of her, strengthening her in many ways but not defining her. She is a wholly engaging character; to turn the last page was to feel a sense of loss that her story was over.