We have a special guest post today by Frances Evesham, author of An Independent Woman, described as Northanger Abbey meets Downton in Victorian England.
Two young gentlemen sat in The Fox-under-the-Hill, a public house in London, one evening early in the 19th Century. Pints of beer, each costing a ha’penny, stood on the table. The friends enjoyed a bite of bread and cheese as they relaxed. They’d spent a long day perched on high stools, employed as articled clerks, carefully copying legal documents.
One young gentleman was Charles Dickens; the other, George Moir Bussy, became my great, great, great grandfather.
George’s career may not have been quite so spectacular as Dickens’ but he enjoyed success as a Parliamentary reporter and his death was widely reported in national newspapers. Once I found I had such a distinguished ancestor, I just had to set my novel in the Victorian era, using my forebears as inspiration.
George’s wife, Jane Sylvester, was a most independent lady for those days, working as a writer and continuing to edit a Kent newspaper even after her husband’s death. In honour of such women as Jane, An Independent Woman was born.
Strong women had to work hard in Victorian times to make a living, unless they had wealth and connections to help. In the cities, many poor women had to eke out a miserable existence in prostitution or go into a workhouse. Philomena, the Independent Woman of the title, is a seamstress. Working with a needle was one of the few respectable ways for a woman to make a living in London.
Philomena has a guilty secret to hide, so she sets out to build a new life far away from London. She plans to cross the country in a single day on the new Great Western Railway. Fiercely independent, she’s determined to make her own way in the world, but she forgets that even strong women fall in love.
The Victorians have a reputation for drab seriousness. Photographs of Queen Victoria often show her as stern and forbidding. On the contrary, at least while her husband, Albert, was alive, she was cheerful and happy. Mourning turned her sour.
The black and white photographs of the Victorians have added to the impression of gloom. But who would not look serious if asked to sit motionless for the full 30 seconds it took to have their photograph taken by the new cameras?
In fact, the Victorians were exciting, inventive people. Their innovations, that included the railways, the flushing toilet and the domestic camera, changed life for the better. They even found ways to deal with the terrible smells and disease of an over-crowded London, building underground sewers that still exist to this day.
I set An Independent Woman partly in the pea-souper fogs of London and partly in a grand English country house, complete with a staff of dozens and a wealthy family. What a contrast for Philomena when she finds herself in the warmth of the kitchen at luxurious Thatcham Hall. What’s more, she meets Lord Thatcham …
With nothing left from her childhood except a tiny portrait of a beautiful woman, some skill with a needle and the knowledge of a dreadful secret, Philomena escapes her tormentor, Joseph and the dank fogs of Victorian London, only for a train crash to interrupt her quest for independence and freedom.
Trapped between the upstairs and downstairs occupants of a great country house, Philomena hears whispers of the mysteries and lies that lurk in empty corridors and behind closed doors. Her rescuer, the dangerous, enigmatic Hugh, Lord Thatcham, wrestles with his own demons and makes Philomena’s heart race, but she must fight her passion for she can never marry.
Haunted by her past, Philomena’s only hope of happiness is to confront the evil forces that threaten to destroy her.
An Independent Woman trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X06zKX_2X5w
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