Thursday, October 26, 2017

Book Review: 'Counting the Cost' by Jemima Brigges

Jemima Brigges is an exiled Salopian (a native of Shropshire), who left the county to begin a career in nursing and midwifery. She also is an author focusing on the Georgian era and the social mores of that period. Her debut novel was BROTHERS AT ARMS and she continues her survey of a fascinating family history that encompasses the class system on both sides of the social divide. She distills her concepts in her brief author’s not at the opening of this book COUNTING THE COST: ‘In the year of our Lord, seventeen hundred and ninety four, the common man had few rights and women had none other than those their menfolk deigned to bestow on them. I ask those who enjoy greater liberty to remember that this story relates to a different era.’

Jemima opens windows on a period all but forgotten, especially now in this time of feminist importance. The number of women in charge of entire countries appears to be growing each year and the feminists have all but assured that these changes are permanent and for the better! Where Jemima excels (in addition to her eloquent prose, able to capture the Georgian period not only in atmosphere but also in conversational passages) is her ability to create characters with whom we can comfortably relate, thus making her cause for shedding light on the disparities of equal rights shine more brightly.

A taste of her prose at the opening chapter substantiates the praise: ‘Yesterday seemed a long time ago. That was the time to have stayed on the main road to Westbridge, which would have taken her nearer home. Instead, when a carrier offered her a lift, she, with her fear of men, declined. But in running away she became lost in a maze of country lanes, forced to rely on dairymaids for a cup of milk to sustain her. How sad that the last person to whom she spoke was a miserly cleric in one of the villages through which she passed, who rained down condemnation on her head when she presumed to ask for directions to Westbridge. It was the final moment of humiliation when hope, her faithful friend, deserted her. If the parson had had an ounce of Christian charity, or uttered a word of kindness, Maria would not have taken the wrong path through Linmore Dale to escape his ranting voice.’

Jemima’s synopsis serves the book well: ‘A woman's life in Pre-Regency Shropshire (1794 – 1808). Maria knows to her cost that a woman alone must do what she can to survive. Ten years ago, with her life in ruins, she determined to restore her good name and reputation - even if it took subterfuge. Now she is Miss Dinchope, housekeeper, the epitome of primness and virtue. Her past is forgotten, but she has learned that the respectable faces around her hide dark secrets, every bit as threatening as her own...Somehow, Maria must protect the vulnerable young servant entrusted to her care. But how can she teach Nell to avoid the pitfalls she encountered? And will her help be enough? A heart warming story, which gives a rare insight into the lives of women to whom kindness, honesty and friendship mean more than money and social class. It is the second part of an interlinking series that is filled with love, loss, life and laughs.’

Not only does Jemima Brigges add to her growing stature as a writer with this fine novel, but she also resurrects our attention to a time of sexual inequality – a lesson we must never forget. Grady Harp, September 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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