Yesterday I finished ‘Miss Plum and Miss Penny’ written by Dorothy Evelyn Smith and republished by Dean Street Press as part of the Furrowed Middlebrow Collection. The e-book has been sent to me for review.
First of all I want to alert everyone that this particular book is the perfect one to read in the lead up to the Christmas season. The book starts two months before Christmas Day, on the day of Miss Penny’s fortieth birthday and most of the major events happen around and after Christmas. This is hence the perfect festive read.
The story introduces us to the world of Miss Alison Penny, unmarried and leading a comfortable life in the small Yorkshire village of Greeth, in a house, romantically called ‘The Laurels’ bequeathed to her by her parents. Alison Penny wants for nothing in life, except a suitable romantic interest. On the day of her birthday, her most pressing problem is with whom she shall while away the few hours of the evening, in front of the television. Will it be her faithful maid of many many years, Ada, the retired and slightly hypochondriacal bachelor, Stanley Hartley or the village vicar – the widowed Hubert Sturgess?
All things come to a pass however, when Miss Penny steps into the village park on her birthday morning and thereby rescues a suicidal woman from drowning herself in the duck pond. Unsure of how to deal with the situation, kind hearted Miss Penny, decides to bring Miss Victoria Plum home. Since, Miss Plum has no relations, no friends and no place in the world- this seems to be the best option to her.
Miss Plum is brought home, much to Ada’s consternation and Miss Penny and Ada help her to regain her health and strength in a long convalescence. However, in the lead up to Christmas, Miss Penny doesn’t have the heart to turn Miss Plum out, or help her find a job at the local employment agency. Everything is postponed till after Christmas, especially as Miss Plum seems likely to have hysterics whenever the future is mentioned.
Ada and Alison both fall ill simultaneously and in that instance, Miss Plum nurses them back to health. Though her efforts at housekeeping aren’t up to Ada’s standards, she does seem eager to please and certainly seems aware of where things are kept and how the house is run. Everyone wonders about the new member residing at The Laurels. Hubert and Stanley are asked to help in resolving Miss Plum’s future but everyone’s plans are disturbed when a mysterious stranger from Miss Penny’s past, knocks on her doorstep on Christmas Eve and threatens to disturb the delicate balance of things at The Laurels and in the village, in general.
Though the book is centred around Miss Penny’s simple life in the small Yorkshire village of Greeth, it is noteworthy that the title of the story is ‘Miss Plum and Miss Penny’ and not the other way around. Definitely, the character of Miss Plum is at the centre of affairs in the book. The reader’s sympathies wax and wane for Miss Plum as the story progresses. She certainly seems very alone in the world but is she more manipulative than is apparent at first glance? Why is it that the interests and sympathies of the entire village menfolk are aroused by Miss Penny’s predicament? What quality does Miss Penny possess, that makes her the centre of attention in Greeth?
I won’t say much more because this would reveal too much about the plot but suffice it to say that I thought that the writing and the character development in this book were excellent. Each individual character was beautifully fleshed out and seemed so real. I loved the quirks of character in the old-aged bachelor Stanley Hartley. So pernickety and used to having his comforts arranged ‘just-so’, it was a delight to read about his life and his domestic arrangements. At the other end of the spectrum was the widowed vicar and his estranged teenage son – in dire need of home comforts. Even minor characters were so well drawn.
I found Miss Penny’s predicament most interesting – to give up the comforts of hearth and home or lead a more adventurous, exciting life abroad with a rakish character? Luckily, for Miss Penny, she was a woman of independent means, and she didn’t need to resort to the path of marriage as her only salvation, like many others.
On the surface, Miss Plum and Miss Penny is a delight of a story. Set in a charming Yorkshire village in the autumn and winter – there are idyllic chapters of night time carol singing, skating on frozen lakes in the depths of midwinter. Below these layers though, this is a more serious story about women and their struggle for financial independence. It is a story about homelessness, loneliness and the choices that women make in life to secure their future. It is a story of personal worries, anxiety, the need to do good but also the conflicting emotion of not wanting one’s life rearranged to please someone else.
I’m so pleased to have read this heartwarming story. In my opinion, one of the best from the Furrowed Middlebrow publications so far!