A Laird for the Governess by Catherine Tinley
A lovely Scottish island, an attractive governess and a quiet widowed Laird is a recipe for a wonderful historical novel, and talented Catherine Tinley has certainly delivered in this book. This is a book of unfair treatment for women, uncertainty, tragedy and regrets. It also depicts brilliantly a remote island that has a community that means everyone is valued, but where life can be challenging at the mercy of the elements and absentee landlords. Both the main characters Lydia Farnham and Alasdair MacDonald have secrets in their past which makes trust and romance difficult to achieve.
Being a governess in 1810 was not a secure job, and in Lydia’s case means that she has suffered as the result of unwanted advances from wealthy men who have either employed her or been associated with the household. Despite her attachment to the children in her charge and her undoubted skills as a teacher, she has been turned away repeatedly. The plight of unmarried women left without support in this period is well covered in literature; those from middle class backgrounds were especially vulnerable. Tinley has taken this theme and carefully placed the woman in question on an island many miles away from everything she knows and understands. She is aware that if she is dismissed from this job she will be many days travel away from London, and so the stakes are high for her in her new employment. The first sight of the Laird makes her anxious once more, but she knows little of history or why she has been summoned to the island. This is a most enjoyable novel, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
Lydia has been assured by the clever and intuitive employment agency owner Mrs. Gray that she will be treated differently in Scotland, and that the salary will be generous to reflect the fact that it is so far from London. The child she will teach has not had any education and has physical problems. The household of Ardmore castle is truly welcoming, and she is assigned her own maid. When Alasdair encounters Lydia he is over whelmed by her appearance, but quickly remembers that he has had unfortunate experiences with a beautiful woman. It transpires that he is a devoted father to his only child, Mairead, and she is the focus of attention for the whole household, being carried around and humoured in her avoidance of being taught. When Lydia is given charge of the child, she makes lessons enjoyable, and begins to suspect that the little girl’s disability is capable of improvement. As the cycle of weddings and romances take place in the glorious setting of the islands, there seems to be much to love in the close-knit community. Lydia soon becomes aware of the problems of the islands, that there are those who are forced to leave as absentee landlords do not care for their tenants, and the sea provides a potentially dangerous element in islanders’ lives. The Laird meanwhile gradually becomes suspicious and a little jealous of Lydia’s relationship with her charge. He is also painfully aware of how attractive she is, and because his earlier experience of a beautiful woman who became unhappy with island life, fears that she will soon want to return to London, leaving both Mairead and him bereft. He struggles not to become too close to her, and Lydia is fearful of another unfair dismissal. It seems they can never be close, both painfully aware of the dangers of love.
I really enjoyed this book. Life on the island is well described, and the community is well described. A lot of research has obviously gone into describing island life at the time, as well as the varying weather that can become treacherous so quickly. The atmosphere that Tinley creates is truly enthralling, and the characters are so consistent and have real depth, even though their actual role may be relatively small. I recommend this book as an exciting read.