Second novelist (The Grown-ups, 1989) and biographer (Trollope, Rebecca West, Elizabeth Bowen) Glendinning reveals a flawless knowledge of daily existence in late-Victorian England as her heroine tells the private and often absorbing story of her life. The attractive Charlotte Mortimer is 19 years old in 1883, when her father loses his bookkeeper's job (there've been irregularities) and the family takes in a boarder to help with the income. The boarder, as chance will have it, is one Peter Fisher, a frail but intelligent young man passionately convinced that his field of studyelectric poweris the wave of the future. Charlotte, far brighter than either rather bigoted parent (Dad likes young girls, on top of it) and lucky enough to have had at least some schooling before her family's income fell away, is smitten with the idealistic Peter partly because ``I wanted to have a special destiny too.'' Married at year's end, the young couple move to Hertfordshire, where a certain Lord Godwin wants to electrify his huge country estate, with Peter as chief engineer. All bodes well in this new and perfectly bucolic settinguntil Peter begins to lose himself in his work, Charlotte to drift into adultery with the handsome and opportunistic Godwin, and the devil to leap to his hideous work with a miscarriage (Charlotte, brilliantly described), sudden death (Peter), and abrupt cold shoulder (Godwin). How will the all-at-once bereft and abandoned Charlotte survive, both her parents now also gone? She'll turn to practicing the occult back in London, where her success as a medium will too soon endthough not before bringing a prospective new husband her way. In Glendinning's capable hands, a ``Victorian'' novel told in a voice almost like today's, so that along with details of kitchen, bath, pantry, and street, you hear much that's also far more intimate than ever talked about ``then,'' if often every bit as moving.