Lady's Maid by Margaret Forster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Lily Wilson is not in her first youth when she is hired in 1844 to be lady’s maid to Elizabeth Barrett. She finds a seriously dysfunctional family, under the complete control of the Barrett father, who forbids any of his children to marry. When Lily arrives Elizabeth Barrett is seriously neurotic, but also suffering from an unidentified lung condition and an addiction to opiates. With the help of Elizabeth’s sisters Lily slowly encourages EB to leave the house and eventually to take walks in the park.
Lily Wilson was a real person though no letters to or from her have been found and all we know of her is what we read in EB’s letters, a highly biased account. Margaret Forster has taken the few things we know about Lily and the many things we know about EB and created a first-rate novel.
Lily would like to marry and have children but she has trouble finding a man since “followers” are forbidden in the Barrett household. When EB becomes friends with Robert Browning, falls in love with him, and then secretly marries him in 1845 Lily sees a chance for herself when she accompanies them to Italy.
I stopped reading there, at the end of Part I. The book continues on to tell of the birth of EBB’s son and her death in 1861 and the story of Lily’s marriages and children but I decided to stop and just enjoy this first part, which works as a self-contained short novel. The book was published in 1990 so you may need to go to a library or ABE.com to find a copy.
2011 No 56 Coming soon: Rawhide Down
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