The Master of Measham Hall by Anna Abney
A wonderful historical novel set in the exciting period of the monarchy’s Restoration In 1665. It is the story of Alethea, a young woman standing alone in the face of plague, religious differences and discrimination against her gender. There are many strands in this book which are not all confined to history, especially the fear of illness, of others who are different, the treatment of women who are seen as incapable of independent action. Alethea is a strong character, who has to grow up fast and depend on her wits to survive in a turbulent time. She has a deep affection for her family, especially her disgraced brother William, who she is very close to, and even her younger step sisters occupy her thoughts.
This is an ambitious novel which covers a great deal in a book of a reasonable length, which flows really well. The author has done a great deal of research into the history of the family that lived in a now missing house in Derbyshire, the time at which the novel is set, and even the clothes and estate management of the period. This research is never allowed to slow the narrative down, as it crisply rolls along with some surprises and twists. This is a really well written novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
As the novel begins Alethea is staying in London, at the house of a family friend, Lord Calverton and his wife Lady Margaret. It is an uneasy time for everyone in London, as a plague is raging through the houses and streets. Fear and suspicion is not confined to the poorer areas, as even those who have come through a time of civil war and are relatively wealthy. There are also problems relating to old loyalties, as those who fought on the two sides are only now becoming reconciled and their financial situations being stabilised. Alethea is a poor relation in the household, but his lordship seems vaguely interested in her for her evident intelligence and vivaciousness. A terrible change means that Alethea is left to fend for herself in London, and it is fortunate that she encounters Jack, whose whole attitude to life is very different. She is plunged into a world that is wildly outside her experience, and her fundamental beliefs are deeply challenged. Her decisions are those of a young woman discovering so much at a young age, and there are many surprises yet to come. Her decisions and reactions will have long running implications for her and many others.
This novel essentially represents Alethea’s progress, in which she has to improvise in order to survive. There are others around who have different agendas, the urge to survive, follow a leader, to live what they believe is a religious life. Alethea’s own beliefs are shaped by many elements, including the difficulties of being a Catholic in a country where persecution is still a danger. This novel is a vibrant and memorable book which introduces an eminently sympathetic heroine.I really enjoyed reading of her varying fortunes as she tries to work out the best way of life for herself, those around her, and her beloved home, Measham Hall.