My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Winston Graham deserves to be rediscovered by another generation of readers. His Poldark series is usually the only work people are aware of. These books have recently been reprinted, and on the strength of the writing in #1 and #2 of that series, I searched out some other novels. His novels are often set in Cornwall, but Cordelia takes place further north in the city of Manchester during the Victorian Era. The story is a blend of historical fiction and gothic mystery.
Cordelia is Brook Ferguson's second wife, and soon after her marriage she begins to suspect that something was very wrong between Brook and his first wife. More ominously, things are not going swimmingly with her father-in-law, the domineering patriarch of the Ferguson household. His son Brook, as well as his brother and sister who live with the family at Grove Hall, are all under his thumb. Mr. Ferguson may be used to running the show, but Cordelia is determined to resist his control and forge a life of her own. When she meets the dangerously handsome Stephen Crossley, we know fireworks are going to go off in the Ferguson family. In rebelling against a life of obligation and duty, Cordelia inspires other family members to strike out as well. The family is pushed to the edge of dissolution when Mr. Ferguson desperately tries to assert his control over his family and Cordelia.
In this novel, as in other Graham works, the characters are so well written that I nearly forgot they were fictional creations. So believable in their thoughts, actions, and contradictions, their humanity drives the story and makes compelling reading.
My favorite character, hands down, was Uncle Pridey. He's eccentric (keeping mice and rats in his room) and absolutely wonderful:
He clutched his beard. "Ought to've known better. Gave up arguing with women long ago. Thought you were different. No stability. No damned logic. Go on. Go and drown yourself in the Thames. That's feminine. That's understandable."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," she said, getting to her feet. "I know you're advising for the best, but…"
"Well," he said. "You don't want that sort of argument. Sordid, you think. Mercenary. What about the other. You're twenty-six. Just the right age. You've got looks. You'll go on having looks for another fifteen years. They'll get better for five or ten. I know your sort. Even though I am ignorant I didn't always keep mice. You've just lost your husband and jilted your lover. Your heart's broken. So you think. Well, I'm sorry if it is. But has it occurred to you that there are twenty-two million odd people in England and Wales, and that somewhere among them there may be other men that you could fall in love with? And that if you're a bit more experienced and a bit more choosy next time you may find one who's neither a weakling nor a knave. People aren't born wise in this life, they buy experience, and if they're lucky they buy it in time. You're not an unlucky broken-hearted woman; you're lucky, lucky because you've learnt so much--I hope--and still so young. Stop being sorry for yourself and use your head again!"
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