A lush account by British novelist and actress Ewing (a memoir: Strangers, 1978) of a young Victorian lady who crosses the globe alone to make a new life for herself in New Zealand.
Harriet Cooper’s mother died in childbirth, and she was raised in London largely by her older sister Mary. Intelligent and well read, Mary has inherited very progressive notions regarding the equality of the sexes from her mother and passes them in turn to Harriet. She also protects her younger sister from the perverted desires of their father, Sir Charles Cooper, MP, and secretly sets aside a portion of their mother’s inheritance to provide for Harriet in the event of her own death. A lucky thing, too, for when Mary dies of cholera in 1849 (about a third of the way through the story), Harriet is soon subjected to nightly degradations at the hands of Sir Charles, whose idea of fun is doping her with laudanum and feeling her up between the sheets. Her cousin Edward emigrated to New Zealand some months before Mary’s death, and Harriet now longs to follow him there. But how can she travel all the way to the antipodes by herself, in an age when decent women can’t go shopping without a chaperone? Fortunately for Harriet, she has her sister’s inheritance and her own independence of mind at her disposal. But she also has to deal with the attentions of Lord Ralph Kingdom, a young nobleman who has fallen in love with her. Learning of Harriet’s plans at the last minute, Ralph tries to stop her at the dock and, when that fails, eventually follows her to New Zealand and proposes marriage. Harriet has the pioneer spirit, all right, but she is a true Victorian as well. Can she turn her back on England forever?
Fast-paced and surprisingly free of heavy breathing: an excellent historical novel enlivened with a dash of romance.