Kirkus Star


Email this review


Stubbs' second novel in the Howarth family dynasty saga is set in Lancashire, England, 1785-1812; and not only does she bring to her characters a warm involvement and quiet wit, but, like Forbes Bramble (The Iron Roads, p. 882), she illuminates ponderous industrial history as an extension of very human passion and need. William, Charlotte, and farmer Dick are children of yeoman Ned Howarth and resilient, gently-reared Dorcas, whose story was told in By Our Beginnings (1979); and the younger generation will see their lovely Kit's Hill home landscape, ""a necklace of little places, linked by a winding river,"" become a chain of foundries and mills settled in sulphurous air. Even sadder, the Howarths have mostly only themselves to blame. Beginning on a low rung as a village blacksmith, William discovers an old blast furnace; acquires land; wins the support of his shrewd old employer, Quaker Caleb Scholes; and, to Caleb's initial anguish, William weds his gentle daughter Zelah . . . while William's pregnant mistress, widow Hannah, sacrificially departs. So William's iron works will eventually dominate the valley. Meanwhile, sister Charlotte marries (much to the family's displeasure) a charming political radical who turns out to be tenderly oblivious to material things; thus, once a mother, Charlotte more or less supports the family by editing and pamphleteering on behalf of workers' rights. But, after her husband's death in revolutionary France, Charlotte returns to family security while regaining some intellectual stimulation in an inexplicable affair with schoolmaster/ reformer Jack Ackroyd--who leads her into the nightmare of secret societies, the self-destructive violence of looting, burning, murdering Luddites. Charlotte and Jack are doomed. But the family never withdraws its love, and there's a sense of reunion before the fadeout. In meticulous caring prose--a second, even better volume in a superior series.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1981
Publisher: St. Martin's