Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Alas, Poor Lady

“Alas, Poor Lady” – Rachel Ferguson (Persephone)

The saga of Gracie Scrimgeour – the thirteenth child of the persistent Scrimgeours (who kept on and on until they had a boy, despite the danger to the mother’s health by having babies well into her 40s), who was born in the 1880s into wealth and rapidly saw a decline in her fortunes as war and a lack of a husband eroded her chances.

A revealing insight into what life was like in the not-too-distant past for women of no particular role in the late-Victorian era. The Scrimgeour girls who were not fortunate enough to marry, were literally left on the shelf – with nothing to occupy their days except needlepoint, flower-arranging and caring for their elderly relatives, while their married siblings looked down on them with embarrassment. “Alas, Poor Lady” tells the story of what happens when you are bred for nothing except marriage, but marriage then eludes you… and it is a sorry tale.

While being thoroughly descriptive and rich in detail, the lengthy “Alas, Poor Lady” never once teeters on being boring, and becomes more and more gripping as Gracie grows older. Her resilience and strength of character in the face of ever more difficult and unsettling times is astounding, and a lesson to us all – who are thoroughly cosseted by modernity. It is horrific to think that all this happened less than 100 years ago.

What is also interesting is the lessons in social manners – ladies not only dress for dinner, but are unable to leave the house until after lunch, and even then not unaccompanied. And the debate about whether male visitors could be offered sherry at 6pm is interminably hilarious… and not intentionally.

No comments: