I admit, I’ve been on a D.E. Stevenson track lately! Once I pick one up, I enjoy it so much (and they are, by and large, light and easy reads… perfect for the ending to a busy day), that I start another one.
“The Young Clementina” is another re-read for me. This used to be my favorite D.E. S. novel of all. For some reason though, it didn’t quite hit me the same this time (one good reason to re-read our old favorites!)
Charlotte is a librarian in London. She doesn’t earn a lot, and has to scrape to make ends meet. Her life is vastly different than what she initially expected and so part of the book is addressing Char’s concerns about her life and the decisions she has to make.
“From nine-thirty in the morning until six o’clock at night I work in a library, docketing the books, reading them through and recommending them to those people I think they will suit… I make a point of reading all the books that come into the library – or at least glancing through them – and because this is my job and I have been at it for twelve years. Twelve years is a long time to spend amongst books about Borneo and Canada and the Antarctic… Twelve years I have been there, with kind little Mr. Wentworth and his books. I was twenty-three when I went, and now I am thirty-five. The twelve best years of my womanhood have been given to Wentworth’s.”
Like most (if not all) of us, Char has a protaganist, and in this book, it just happens to be someone from her own family; her sister, Kitty. Kitty and Charlotte; two sisters from the same family, and as different as night and day! Kitty is beautiful, selfish, and self-seeking. She is always out for her own comforts and interests. Charlotte seems to be cut from a different cloth; she is unassuming, modest, and gracious (even when wronged).
The book is written in a form similar to a diary, and the reader’s sympathies are immediately caught up as Char falls in love with their neighbor’s son, Garth Wisdon. Marriage bells are ringing… but then all of a sudden, Char is pushed aside and Garth marries Kitty!
“People always hate those they have wronged.” Did Kitty hate me? Had she wronged me? I could find no answer to the questions. Kitty had married Garth, but he was lost to me before that. He was lost to me when he came home from the war. Kitty had not taken him from me any more than any other woman who might have married him. I always felt – perhaps not unreasonably – that Kitty was in the place which really belonged to me, but it was not Kitty’s fault.”
The marriage however, is a very unhappy one, and Char finds herself called upon when help is needed. Now, put yourself in her shoes; if you were the wronged party, would you answer the call to help? It is a testament to Char’s character that she actually is able to put her own feelings aside and give the help that is needed.
I am going to stop here as the plot is much more involved, and a lot more happens! One very intriguing twist is when Char is sent Garth’s diaries… and she begins to understand his motivations and choices better.
“I read until the light grew too dim to see any more, and then I sat on, beside the little window, with the books piled round me. The light lingered for a while amongst the trees; the tops of them were still bright when there was nothing but darkness and shadow on the ground. Then the light faded swiftly, and only the sky was faintly grey.
Nanny came up and found me sitting there.
‘Miss Char!’ she said, coming over and touching me in the darkness. ‘I’ve been looking for you everywhere, and then I remembered about the diaries. Miss Char, are you ill? You are all wet, my dear!’
‘Tears, Nanny. Just tears.’
I hope I have piqued your interest. For a while, I have to admit, I didn’t have the same admiration for this book that I used to. I read it at a difficult time, when I was dealing with some health issues, and it almost depressed me. I began to wonder if Charlotte was too irritating, too ‘wishy-washy’ of a character! Why doesn’t she stand up for herself? Why doesn’t she question Garth’s choice, and confront him? Is in fact, Charlotte Dean actually an ‘enabler’ (in today’s vernacular)?
And Garth himself seems so rude and tramples on everyone’s feelings… why isn’t anyone keeping him in check?
But as the days passed I found myself thinking more and more about the book and the characters, and realized that Char’s character is what makes her so loveable.
There are good things in this book also… Charlotte does find some solace in her circumstances, and she eventually finds peace on the road to forgiveness.
As I thought more and more on this novel, I realized that that is actually what it is… a story about forgiveness within the hardest of circumstances.
“At first I felt very bitter against Kitty. I told myself that she had always wanted Hinkleton Manor and the position and luxury that would be the portion of Garth’s wife. It was not Garth she wanted, just to be Lady of the Manor….
I could forgive her now, and I wanted to forgive her… I wanted to sweep all the bitterness away and go forward feeling free and clean. It was easier to forgive Kitty when I remembered that she had ruined her own life, too.”