It was wonderful escaping into the romantic world of Charlotte Fairlie this week. Although some of the characters had quite noticeable flaws and the plot was somewhat predictable I couldn’t help just revelling in the cosy atmosphere of this novel. I’m glad the #1954Club gave me the perfect excuse to do so. Please check out Simon and Karen’s wonderful blogs for more book reviews by book bloggers who read a variety of books this week that were published in 1954.
Charlotte Fairlie is a young and lonely headmistress of a respected Girls’ Boarding School in rural England. Although the position is most coveted, young Charlotte finds herself quite distanced from friends and family. The other teachers view her from a position of respect and as an authoritative figure – although Charlotte certainly seems to navigate her administrative activities calmly and without being too overbearing. There is one particular teacher though, who bears a grudge upon Charlotte – and that is a senior mistress called Miss Pinkerton. Due to her seniority, Miss Pinkerton had hoped to secure the position of headmistress of Saint Elizabeth’s – but the members of the Board favoured the young, freshly graduated Charlotte Fairlie instead, an ex-student of Saint Elizabeth’s, an Oxford scholar and expert in modern languages.
As the story unfolds, we learn about Charlotte’s family history. Having lost her mother at an early age, Charlotte and her father shared a very close bond until her wicked stepmother arrived on the scene and sent her to boarding school, never to see her father again. Having no close family except an old aunt and a maternal uncle to look after her, Charlotte’s familial life and a lack of close connections – paints a rather lonely and bleak picture.
A new girl arrives at Saint Elizabeth – a Scottish girl called Tessa MacRynne. She is the daughter of a well known Scottish land owner – a man who in fact owns an entire Scottish island called Targ and lives in isolation with a whole group of people who revere him as the head of their clan. Tessa’s Mother, an American deposits her daughter with Charlotte and soon afterwards, Tessa receive news from her Mother, that she has left her husband and plans to sail back to the States to live with her own parents. Distraught with the news, Tessa tries to run away and go back to her Father in Targ. Charlotte discovers the child trying to escape and convinces her to come back to school and thus suppresses any kind of scandal. In doing so, Charlotte forms a close connection with the lonely Tessa MacRynne.
Tessa also makes friends with another motherless girl, Dione or Donny Eastwood, whose family lives in the town near school. Dione and her two brothers visit home on Sundays, where they meet their overbearing and verbally abusive Father – Professor Eastwood.
Donny and her two brothers and Charlotte are both invited to spend their summer holidays at Targ with Tessa and her Father – Rory MacRynne.
The part of the novel that is set on Targ is my favourite. The history and the people of Targ and the old house with modern conveniences where the guests stay with the MacRynnes is wonderfully described. There are some interesting old maiden aunts and people in the village who are also very interesting characters. Tessa’s Father and Charlotte immediately have a connection – but I won’t reveal anymore about that aspect of the story.
One of the underlying themes in the novel that frequently cropped up in the novel was the lack of a stable, loving and secure home environment and it’s detrimental effects on children. Several of the central characters in the novel grew up with the lack of a mother figure and in certain cases, a harsh or indifferent father figure. If I had to make a criticism about the novel, it would be that I don’t think that the unpleasant characters in the book seemed to be real life, fleshed out characters. In certain aspects they seemed to be too evil and malignant. I think DE Stevenson portrays likeable characters particularly wel though.
One of my favourite things about the novel, aside from the descriptions of home life in Targ, were the couple of chapters set during Christmas in a remote English village. Devoid of the usual merriment, it depicted a Christmas spent rather quietly and with a great deal of contemplation – and I enjoyed reading about this. There is also a brief interlude spent in Copenhagen. DE Stevenson writes about place particularly well.
A big thank you to Simon and Karen for prompting me to pick up this book. If you fancy a trip to a lovely Scottish isle with a handsome and rugged clan chieftain, then do pick up this book. I’ll definitely be re reading this book in future.
Thanks to Dean Street Press for sending me an e-book of ‘Charlotte Fairlie’ from the Furrowed Middlebrow Series for review purposes. All impressions are my own.