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The Governess of Penwythe Hall by Sarah E. Ladd

(Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, famously wrote letters to each other whenever they were apart. These blog posts imagine what such letters would have looked like if the sisters had shared reviews of books they were reading. The twist? These are books published in our time, inspired by the works of Jane Austen herself.)


Dearest Cassandra


It is spring! At last, I can once again savour the pleasures of a walk beyond the shrubbery. It is still too cool to be outdoors for very long, but I will sometimes throw open my window to hear the cheering sound of birdsong. I wonder: have the whitethroat warblers returned to Father’s garden yet, or is it too soon? Here, further north, we are unlikely to enjoy their soft chitter for some time. Perhaps, even, I will have returned home ere the birds do — an equally weary traveller.


Unfortunately, the fairer days bring the return of company I had managed well without. Mrs Coleridge visited yesterday and complained terribly of the muddy circumstances she endured to do so. In fact, her conversation consisted of little else than a lengthy diatribe against the abominations of mud and how she must suffer it to grant us the pleasure of her company. Perhaps, then, it is a blessing that it rains today, that the weather may spare us all a repeat of the experience.


With constant showers interrupting my plans this day, I have managed to finish the book I mentioned in my last letter. Do you remember? It is called “The Governess of Penwythe Hall” and is written by Mrs Sarah Ladd. I do not understand how I have not heard of her before. She apparently has a full ten books in print! If this sample of her work which I have read is anything to judge by, she is truly mistress of the written word. Her descriptions of Cornwall in general, and the characters’ more immediate environments in particular, are detailed and exquisite. Though the first half of the narrative contains little by way of action, I was nevertheless drawn in by the well-painted characters. Her prose is polished. I think you will find, if you take the opportunity to read it too, that you fly through the pages.


The subject matter was both serious and exciting. Death, poverty, danger, betrayal — all experienced by Cordelia Greythorne, a widow who is forced, through circumstance, to enter into employment as a governess. Mrs Ladd takes pains to point out the precarious social standing of a woman in this position, who is neither servant nor equal within the household. And yet, there is much more to Cordelia Greythorne than meets the eye. But I shall not divulge the details. Their revelation is essential to your enjoyment of the book.


It was refreshing to discover a leading man who is neither wealthy nor a member of “le bon ton.” Jac Twethewey’s dream is to make a success of his vast apple orchard, but he finds himself unexpectedly the heir to his estranged brother’s estate and five children. Their governess helps ease Jac into his new role, and, in so doing, also slips gently into his heart.


There is much pain in Cordelia’s past. Her tragic circumstances haunt these pages. And yet, our heroine is the rock upon which everyone depends. Is this not the way of the world, dear sister? We women, ever seen as the fragile sex, are so much stronger than we seem. Of course, if Mrs Coleridge were the standard by which to measure ourselves, it seems even the simple obstacle of a muddy path might prove to be more than we can bear! No, it is Cordelia Greythorne, I think, whom I would choose as model for our gender. Strong, patient, loving — she is the best of us, would you not agree?


Now, I feel it must be your turn to recommend a book to me. Perhaps you might even enclose it with your next letter in the unlikely event that my hosts do not have a copy in their library, vast though it may be.


My candle burns low, and I do not feel at liberty to ask for another, the servants already having gone to bed. In the morning, I shall send these few pages to you. Perhaps there will be a clear sky and I will walk to our neighbours. It has been some time since I have called, and I would not like them to think I have not enjoyed their hospitality. Better yet, it will require me to be from home should Mrs Coleridge decide to conquer the wet roads and pay us a visit. Clearly, I do not have the same patient nature as our sweet heroine, Mrs Greythorne! But you know my vices, dear Cassandra, and this shall come as no surprise.


I am ever the same,

your loving sister,

J.A.

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