Anna has three daughters, Helen, Rosalie and Jane.
Jane has a problem. She has two lovely sisters, and they are both (recently) married. Jane, sadly (you will see why this is sad for Jane later in the book), is not.
Helen is the family beauty:
“Helen was late for our lunch appointment, but I had managed to reserve a table in the crowded restaurant and I was sitting waiting for her when she came in. She was as beautiful as ever, and her clothes were perfection, and as she made her way towards me between the tables a great many people turned their heads and gazed at her. She did not notice the stares for she was used to admiration; probably she would have noticed if people had not stared.”
What is interesting about Helen is, as beautiful as she is, she is also very self-centered and her actions reflect her self-absorption! Jane, on the other hand, not as beautiful, is used to being secondary and her character is much more appealing, as she reacts to the slights of Helen:
“Hallo, Jane!” (Helen) said, smiling in a friendly manner. “It’s nice to see you – and you’re looking very well. You’ll never be pretty but you’ve got quite an air.”
“Thank you for those kind words,” I said, laughing.”
(me: “LAUGHING”??? you can see here, what a good sport Jane is!)
Anna discovers that the family is in serious financial straits, and must make a lifestyle change.
“It’s not thunder. It’s an earthquake,” declared Helen. She sat down on the end of my bed and added, “Uncle Leonard came to tell Mother that we’re penniless.”
Next morning Uncle Leonard came again and there was a family conclave….the plain fact was we had been ‘living up to our income.’ There were no debts but nothing had been saved.”
Anna decides to take her three daughters back with her to live in Scotland, her childhood home. The varying reactions of her daughters give the reader insight into how each character makes choices that influence their lives in different ways, and affect others.
Stevenson’s insight into human nature once again amazes me! She manages to create a believable story and sympathetic characters and keeps the reader’s interest. Jane, the most mature of the three daughters, has revealing conversations with her mother:
“It was no good discussing the matter. I just said, “Well, I don’t think you should let them be rude. Honestly, Mother, you should speak to them seriously.”
“Perhaps I should – but I’m sorry for them,” she declared….”Helen has always had exactly what she wanted too easily and she thinks she can go on having exactly what she wants. Perhaps she will, too. And poor Rosalie doesn’t know what she wants, which is almost worse. You and Helen have played “Pull devil, pull baker,” with Rosalie for years.’
“Oh, perhaps not consciously – but it comes to the same thing. She’s had no chance to develop her own personality. I often wonder why sort of lives they will have,” Mother continued. “Life is so dangerous. You make your bed when you’re very young and you’ve got to lie on it whether its comfortable or not.”
Later on, the reader will discover how Mother is right….how the choices Rosalie, Helen and Jane all make, affect their lives. Without giving too much away, I will say that Jane’s good nature goes for a long way in this novel! (and Jane *does* find fulfillment later on, in writing.) Rosalie makes a choice that will ensure her comfort, and Helen continues to pursue a selfish life, expecting that Jane’s good nature will enable her to live the way she wants to (and it makes for a story with very interesting twists and turns!) Helen’s marriage, partly *because* she is so self-centered, is not a success:
“You can smile,” said Helen. “I don’t suppose you were there very long. If you have lived next door to her for years you wouldn’t have felt like smiling. She was always popping in at unexpected moments and finding fault with everything; asking why I did this and didn’t do that. She used to tell me that whatever time of night Dr. Orton came home from the hospital she was waiting for him with a hot meal.”
“It was true – ” I began.
“Oh yes, it was true. She was so worthy, and of course I was unworthy of Ronnie. They both thought that.” Helen sighed and added, “I suppose they were right….but I really am going to be quite different in future. I’m going to settle down and be a model wife.”
Publishers are re-issuing several of D.E. Stevenson’s novels. I hope they republish this one, and would like to see many more enjoying her books! they are always a fun read.