First US hardcover publication of the late Dame Cookson’s first novel.
The notorious slums of Tyneside in the early 1900s are not easy to escape, but young Kate Hannigan dreams of doing just that. Her gentle beauty and her spirit are much admired by the son of the upper-class family for whom she works, but a brief and ill-fated dalliance results in a pregnancy of which he knows nothing. Nine months later, Kate tries desperately to give birth, attended by drunken midwife Dorrie. As the story opens, the midwife is ordered away by Rodney Prince, an idealistic doctor who struggles to save Kate and her unborn child (this strong and beautifully written scene was considered scandalously graphic in 1950, when the book was first published). Thereafter, Dr. Prince takes a gossip-friendly interest in little Annie and her mother Kate, who then goes into service for a kindly family. The Tolemaches, an elderly sister and two brothers, are unexpectedly generous to both baby and mother (whose fine new clothes cause still more malicious gossip), and, more importantly, they provide an education for Kate. Her weak-willed mother Sarah is secretly proud, but Tim Hannigan, Sarah’s brutish husband, is not. He’s convinced that Kate is not his, and indeed his wife has never come clean with the truth. Dr. Prince, a passionate man enmeshed in a battle of wills with Stella, his icy, controlling wife, inevitably falls in love with Kate, but his noble nature keeps him from revealing his true feelings. Yet Stella, a would-be poet who lords over her own literary soirees, will not give him a divorce. Kate soldiers on as the years go by, driven almost mad by poverty and Tim Hannigan’s vicious beatings. As WWI looms over Europe, Dr. Prince vows his love—and when he returns, badly wounded, their hidden love blossoms at last.
Employing the melodramatic clichés we’ve come to expect after 90 bestsellers, Cookson (1907–98) was a natural successor to the great English writers of the Romantic era. Vivid, emotionally stirring: one of her best.