Spring Flowering by Farah Mendlesohn takes place in an English Regency-era setting that owes more to Jane Austen, with its parson’s daughters and everyday family dynamics, than to Georgette Heyer’s dashing aristocrats and Gothic perils.
We are invited into the life of Ann Gray. The death of her father has left her unmoored, once the formalities of mourning have become routine. Living with relatives in a Birmingham manufacturing family, her future opens up with two very different possibilities: a proposal of marriage from the young curate who has taken her father’s place, and the offer of a job as governess and companion in the household of the handsome widow Mrs. King, a business partner of her uncle.
But Ann doesn’t feel as she thinks she ought at the prospect of marriage, and the passionate friendship she shared with her beloved Jane until the latter’s marriage has given Ann other ideas of what happiness could look like.
Ann is an intelligent, contemplative protagonist rather than a fiery one, making a good counterpoint to Mrs. King’s more knowing, flirtatious approach. The story depicts the attitudes and mores of the times with a social historian’s eye.
The most common failure mode of historical romance is to drop modern women into the past and have them react in anachronistic ways. Mendlesohn’s characters are a delightful exception: neither too modern in their self-awareness of their sexuality, nor tormented and angsty about it in a way that only really developed in the 20th century.
The physicality of Ann’s romantic friendship with her friend Jane is portrayed as completely ordinary for her times, but just as ordinary is their expectation that such friendships do not preclude marriage.
The Writing Style
Mendlesohn has a masterful command of the language and rhythms of early 19th century prose that is particularly suited to the subject matter.
This is a refreshingly different sort of lesbian romance–one that could have been written at the time of its setting rather than imposing modern expectations of what a happy ending should look like. Ann and the other women in her social circle don’t feel the need to run roughshod over social conventions and expectations. They feel their way carefully to fulfilling their desires, but in a way that is true to the setting. The happy ending (which has an unexpected twist) is both suitable to the times and deserved by the characters, and the several tasteful but explicit sex scenes are well integrated into the story.
This isn’t exactly a con unless you aren’t expecting it: in structural terms, this isn’t a romance novel, but is a slice of life with romance as part of that life, and a part that begins unfolding relatively late in the book. The detailed descriptions sweep the reader into a world both familiar and intriguingly different. There are a very few places where those descriptions seemed to bog down the already leisurely pacing, but never in a way that derailed the story entirely.
This is a book for those who want their historic romance to be as true to the history as to the romance. I found it a breath of fresh air and hope it will be an inspriation for more stories of this type.
Excerpt from Spring Flowering by Farah Mendlesohn
“I will miss you,” Ann said, feeling the lump in her throat that always came when she thought of Jane leaving. “I will miss knowing you are just down the lane, knowing that I will see you at the start of the day and at the end of the day.”
“Oh my dear.” Jane slipped off her chair and onto her knees on the rag rug that lay before the fire. “I will miss you so much.” She took Ann’s hands between hers and kissed them tenderly.
Ann kept her hands limp. She wanted too much to run them through Jane’s hair as she had done when they were children, playing with the curls, braiding and twisting them as if Jane were her doll.
As though Jane had heard her friend’s thoughts, she reached back and pulled down her top-knot and then turned her back, settling into place between Ann’s skirts as she had when they were children. She leaned back with a sigh and Ann, inhaling the sweet, heady breath of her, began gently to stroke the fine, wren-brown hair. After some time, in which they enjoyed the stillness and the closeness of the moment, Ann leaned down and kissed the top of Jane’s head. Jane reached one hand up to pull her down, her face turned up for a kiss. Ann gave it: long and deep. She hadn’t kissed Jane this way in months. She felt the softness of her skin, the curve of her cheek and the soft, violet breath – but somehow, it didn’t feel the same as it had before.”
Get This Book On Amazon
Bits and Bobs
- Publisher: Manifold Press