This is rather an odd romance; it doesn’t start out like one at all. The heroine is Margaret Vincent, a fact stated in the first line. But we hardly meet her until chapter five. The first four chapters deal with her parents – how they met, the years of their marriage, her father’s circumstances, and I can’t help but feel that were the MS of this novel to be sent to an agent or a publisher these days it would summarily rejected for not starting with enough oomph. And yet, this background is important to the story, because without it, we would not understand the events that follow. To summarise, Margaret’s father was the practically penniless younger son of a debt-ridden and extravagant noble family. His wife, a farmer’s daughter some years his senior, unaware of her spouse’s background.
The plot involves Margaret’s gradual introduction to the friends and connections of her father’s youth, including the spiteful ex-fiancée who jilted him on his declaring his agnosticism – she was the daughter of a bishop. Margaret herself is pursued, stalked even, by a local grocer’s assistant, determined to marry her although having ostensibly got to know the family to pursue her elder half sister, a female of unpleasantly fundamentalist outlook. One of the ex- connections takes a shine to Margaret, and she to him, however, the ex-fiancée has determined that he will marry her daughter, and sets out to put a spoke in their wheels. The twists and turns of the course of true love make up the rest of the story.
In Mr Garret the grocer’s pursuit of Margaret, I was reminded of the equally unpleasant pursuit of Hulda by her cousin Ivo in Cousin Ivo, by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick, and also of the novels by Mills and Boon author Louise Gerard, although in the latter case, it was always the hero who behaved so unpleasantly.
I think there is also an echo of late nineteenth century pastoralism in the highly educated sophisticate finding sanctuary in a rural fastness only for his daughter to narrowly escape the corrupting influence of his ex-fiancée. Although of course, it isn’t quite as straightforward as that. The rural idyll isn’t that wonderful, and not all inhabitants of his former life are corrupt.
It’s worth a read, if you can find a copy; it’s not that hard to come across, but I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to track it down.