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In this uninspired but competent costume-drama, the three lovely daughters of Lord George Vestrey adjust--in varying degrees of 1850s acquiescence or rebellion-to the Victorian double standards of sex and class. And there's a stately-home pace to it all as the prominent Vestrey family, of Kent and London, manage to absorb the dislocations within. Jane, a strong-minded student of egalitarian political savants, falls deeply in love with Daniel LÉvy, an exiled French revolutionist who rescued her from rape in the bowels of Soho where she worked with the poor. They live together and have a child, supported by generous Sir George, who (like everyone except Jane) finds LÉvy insufferable. Caroline, the good and nurturing, has sacrificially cared for Mother Agnes (a constant invalid) and little sister Debbie (who dies); but now Caroline looks for real meaning in her life, finding it nursing with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea. And then there's Emily--the pretty, witty, yet conventional lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Unfortunately, however, both Caroline and Emily love the same man: Rawton Foxton, a neighbor and family friend who wavers between the compassionate soothing Caroline and the exciting Emily. He finally proposes to Caroline, but she opts for a freer life of service and career--so Emily's other fiancÉ is tactfully bundled off by the Queen. There are deaths (young brother Oliver dies needlessly in the Crimea) and births--including a son to Sir George by his elegant mistress, Mrs. Ashburne, the woman who ""rejuvenated him."" And there are historical personages, unobtrusively slipped in--from the dear Queen to Karl Marx (a gentle soul); from chatty Ruskin to the heroic Lady with the Lamp. In all, a neatly tacked and tailored tale of stiff cravats and stiffer brandies, domestic flurries and state occasions; old hat, but comfortable, solid, and sturdy.

Pub Date: May 8th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday