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A fragile, decorously-paced novella about a middle-aged Englishwoman's sudden twist for independence from her repressive relations--the surprising by-product of a tourist Rhine journey of the 1850s. The Rev. Charles Morrison, fatuous and humorless, his self-centered wife Marion, and their pretty young daughter Elite, all dominate Charles' sister Charlotte, a quiet, 40-ish spinster. But Charlotte who earnestly loves her brother, adjusts to Marion's vapors, adores her niece, conscientiously strives to do good. And now, after 20 years as an elderly clergyman's housekeeper, Charlotte is praying that she will be asked to live with Charles' family. On this family trip, however, events will occur to throw doubts upon Charlotte's ""agreed upon"" persona, to remind her of a time when she seemed to ""stand at the center of the universe on the very apex of time."" Indeed, her rather melancholy peace is thoroughly shattered at Coblenz when she sees, on the quay, a face with a shocking and painful resemblance to the man she had loved and been forced to part from years before. Furthermore, to her horror, the man on the quay and his family will become fellow-traveling friends of the Morrisons. So, fueled by some shipboard incidents and a dreamlike journey alone on the streets of Cologne, Charlotte's fantasies, given body and voice by this mystery man's presence, throb with heartache and latent fury. But fantasy also forces Charlotte to examine a future with Charles and examine the reality of her long-ago love. Finally, then, she works through her crisis and--looking forward to her own home and to a Charlotte who truly exists rather than one that's ""agreed upon""--she makes her first independent, daring, faintly wicked step. . . by introducing her niece to an ""unsuitable"" suitor. An appealing little tale, with immaculate period ambience.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1980
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston