"It is like an old-fashioned lace," is how one of the members of the LibraryThing Persephone Readers group described Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson, and I think that is a beautiful summation of a beautiful book. A bittersweet romance, this Persephone is enchanting and makes lovely reading for a quiet, weekend afternoon, or as a superb choice for this week's challenge as you will easily while away the hours.
Romance is a key-word when it comes to Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary as it is set in the lush landscape of aristocratic, Victorian Scotland with references to Jacobite Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary, Queen of Scots, that evoke images of Romanticism as much as they do thistles and heather. Candida Williams, in her preface, declares it "a love story and a love letter - to Scotland" and it certainly is; Lady Rose Targenet, the novel's protagonist, is fiercely and passionately patriotic. Being a Scot myself may count for some of my love for this wonderful story but I defy anyone not to become caught up in its magic, tartan-blooded or not.
It is wonderfully charming and delightful and, like Miss Pettigrew, is "a fairy tale for grown ups". I was captivated and spell-bound by the story of Lady Rose Targenet, who grew up and became the Countess of Lochlule. Although romantic, with fairy tale elements, Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, is also a social commentary of the time and is poignant and heartbreaking. The novel gives an insight into the uncompromising and unforgiving nature of Victorian society, which is bitterly evoked in its treatment of Lady Rose.
The tale of Lady Rose is framed by the tour of Lochlule House of three American tourists, given by the house's caretaker, Mrs Memmary. Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary are both central to the plot as are their love for the house and for Scotland. This Persephone is undoubtedly my favourite and it was also a favourite of the late Queen Mother.
A favourite passage:
Somewhere hidden away in the dusty portfolio of Time was a picture that fitted here. It was as though the Old Man with the forelock and the scythe was watching, with folded arms, that arrested moment when three tourists and an old caretaker stood in the silent and almost empty shell of Lochlule House, in the blue nursery which had belonged to Lady Rose as a child. So old Time seized his book and began to turn back the pages, ten, twenty at a time -- more than seventy years of yellow leaves. Through them all the great white house gleamed whiter, and soon the Greek girl at the fountain was laughing as the waters of a bygone day gushed over her reaching fingers.