Mary Green, obscure orphan and ward of the wealthy Hargreaves family, has always accepted her inferior position with grace, humility, and gratitude. When she discovers that her only friend is to leave the country forever, that her confidence has been betrayed by the unfeeling youngest daughter of the family, and that her very deprivation is the object of the mockery and scorn of everyone she has sought to honour, she determines to cast them off and make her own way in the world. On her twenty-first birthday, free to choose her own destiny, she dreams of peace and tolerance, and perhaps a partner who might be noble enough to love her in all her simplicity. But when an unexpected foray into London society disrupts all her plans, she is faced with an uncharacteristic storm of feelings. Will she grow strong and happy in her independence, or will her character be lost amidst her newfound ambition? Unable to trust the whims of her own heart, Mary is forced to confront the question that has forever plagued her: Who is she and where does she come from?
I’ve read for Melanie Kerr before, principally Follies Past, so when I was contacted to read Mary Green, her second book, I was more than happy to do so. I received a preview copy, but didn’t have any major issues with the formatting – however, I won’t be quoting items direct from the text as things are always liable to change with previews.
The book starts with Mary, niece and cousin, who lives with her deceased mother’s family, the Hargreaves. They are well off, and whilst Mary has a a roof over her head and food in her stomach, she’s never had new clothes and still sleeps in the nursery. Her Uncle (Sir Richard) works out in the Caribbean, so is rarely home. Mary lives an almost Cinderella-like existence, not quite a servant, but certainly not treated as equal by her cousins Dorothea and Augusta, or by her Aunt Preston.
Not knowing her parents, she was adopted at the age of 4 by a loving husband and wife, but unfortunately they died not long after, leaving her to be brought up by her Uncle, spinster aunt and her cousins. Always treated as the poor relation, she has little confidence, and little self worth.
On her 21st birthday, Mary has an unexpected visitor in the shape of a solicitor, who tells her about her inheritance from the people who briefly adopted her when she was young. Having reached the end of her tether, and following a heated argument with her aunt and cousins, Mary departs from the house that very moment and doesn’t look back, even to say goodbye.
The solicitor has a widowed sister, who proves to be an invaluable companion, and introduces Mary into London society. She makes new friends, tries to spend her money in a suitable manner and thinks little of the family she left behind. Things come to ahead however when her new friends meet her cousins who are in town for the season, and start asking questions as to why she never talked about such delightful women. Mary escapes to her house outside Bath (she is rich enough to have both a town house and a place outside Bath). Her new friends come to visit, only for them to have invited the cousins too, without checking with Mary first.
It turns out that the situations have changed, and Uncle Hargraves has lost all his money, and the family are now poor relations. Augusta and Dorothea need to marry soon, before the gossip gets around as to their sudden loss in income. Mary is expected to stump up the dowry. Uncle Hargreaves finds out that Mary’s life wasn’t happy as she grew up, and that the Aunt had misrepresented how things had gone on (claiming it was Mary’s choice to remain in the nursery). Thankfully an investigation into the accounts proves that the Aunt had not committed fraud with regards to Mary’s inheritance.
Mary is being courted by a number of men, including one man from the Ingles family, who she’s known all her life, and whom she believed she was in love with. Turns out that he is selfish and didn’t hold her in the regard she thought he did. He is planning to be a missionary in Africa, and never comes to visit her, even when explicitly invited. However, the other brother, who Mary had initially thought shallow and not worthy of interest, in stead proves to be worthy and always someone on her side (hits of Pride and Prejudice here!).
There are a couple of surprises near the end – the resolution of the Aunt Preston’s situation – the initial Ingles beau goes off to Africa, taking Aunt Preston with him. He also takes a surfeit of items with him that shows that he considers being a missionary is not an excuse to not have home comforts. Mary gets to find out more about where she comes from, who her parents were and that she is certainly not as illegitimate as everyone thought.
In essence: there are some echoes of Jane Austen’s work here, including Pride and Prejudice and Emma, though this is to be expected, considering Kerr’s stated influences. It’s certainly a book that has it’s influences on it’s sleeves, but noone loses out from reading this book!
About the Author
Melanie Kerr studied linguistics, English, and theatre at the University of British Columbia, and law at the University of Alberta. Kerr is a reckless lover of clotted cream, a staunch defender of the semi-colon, and a fierce opponent of unpleasant music. She wooed her current and only husband with false promises of skill at word games and eternally good hair. She lives in Edmonton, where she raises her three young children, sews her own Regency costumes, organizes Regency costume events, blogs on all things old and English, endeavours to take over the world, and occasionally practices law.
When Follies Past came out, I did an interview with Melanie, and it can be found here