While it may be seen from my plot summary below, that I find this book pretty objectionable, I do recognise that it has some interesting elements to it.
On the death of her father, the heroine is left to the guardianship of her only brother (somewhat older than she is). He, for some reason, sends her to school in Germany, while he buggers of to South Africa, that useful place for disposing of unwanted relatives. He does quite well, but then when the Boer War blows up, insists on enlisting and getting himself killed. Left with no relatives, the school headmistress secures her a post as playmate/companion to a Russian aristocrat, who appears to live in darkest Siberia. When the aristocrat is conveniently removed by a plot device (she gets married), our heroine heads off to Paris when she is ruthlessly exploited, by the headmistress of a school. Finally, she comes to London and sets about earning a crust there. This is where it gets a bit more interesting. I feel that there are strong autobiographical elements in the heroine’s search for work, her struggle as a writer, and daily life in a grotty bedsit.
However, taken as a whole, the plot is utterly preposterous, and the heroine is of such breathtaking naivety that it borders on mental deficiency. She also has many sterling Mary Sue qualities including knee length hair, weird coloured eyes, and numerous talents – I mean, good grief she writes a book and the first publisher she sends it to accepts it!
I can’t say I’m enamoured of the ‘hero’ either. He’s a doctor, and comes across the heroine when she collapses in the street with pneumonia and is brought into his hospital. He decides that he loves her. She seems to have no say in the matter, but must eventually acquiesce to his wishes. His pursuit is relentless, manipulative and seemingly derives from a desire to control and possess that these days would leave him open to prosecution for stalking; he is an unscrupulous sexual predator who deserves a long jail term rather than the eventual love and understanding of the idiotic heroine. What I find particularly disturbing is that this behaviour (the hero’s) is presented both as normal and desirable in one’s ideal chap. Not only does he stalk her, manipulate her into complete isolation from people who might have warned her about him, deceive her into a bigamous marriage, he pretty much rapes her, and gets her pregnant (all of which she blames herself for). As a result, she of course falls in love with him. But as he’s already married, It Cannot Be, and she nobly flees.
This is where it gets interesting again. We then have an interval of some years during which his wife conveniently croaks. In the meantime however, our heroine is busy becoming a successful and financially independent writer, so that when she is eventually reunited with the hero, the dynamics of the relationship have changed. No longer is he the Prince Cophetua to her Beggar Maid, but much more equal.
Finally, for all it’s exotic details about Russian aristocrats etc, there is not a single mention of the war, although the novel’s timeline does bring us up to date.