[ an ordinary review]
Title: Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary
Author: Ruby Ferguson (bio)
Copyright: Originally published 1937; Reissued in 2004 by Persephone Books, London, paperback, ISBN 1-903155-436
Length: 222 pages
Summary: This book is so short that one hesitates to summarize it for fear of giving anything away. The tale's framework is three tourists being shown about one of the great houses of Scotland by its elderly caretaker. The owner can no longer maintain the property and is seeking a tenant; the tourists, a young English couple and an American friend, are simply looking for an afternoon's entertainment. In the space of an afternoon therefore we are allowed a glimpse into another era's social setting and practices, specifically into the life of Lady Rose Targenet over a span of some fifty or more years. She has perhaps a less eventful life than some women, but her story is both sweet and ultimately heartbreaking. You, the reader, like Lady Rose -- in the scenes with her governess, with her adult friends, with her children. You can't bear to think that misfortune may come, but of course, as in every lifetime, it does. No one (even in that period, even with all that wealth) ever had a perfect life.
Somewhere hidden away in the dusty portfolio of Time was a picture that fitted here. It was as though the Old Man with the forelock and the scythe was watching, with folded arms, that arrested moment when three tourists and an old caretaker stood in the silent and almost empty shell of Lochlule House, in the blue nursery which had belonged to Lady Rose as a child. So old Time seized his book and began to turn back the pages, ten, twenty at a time -- more than seventy years of yellow leaves. Through them all the great white house gleamed whiter, and soon the Greek girl at the fountain was laughing as the waters of a bygone day gushed over her reaching fingers.
Really, the whole book has that lilt and loveliness.
Also Relevant: I finished this book in an evening. The romantic in me emerged, it cast a spell and, despite the late hour, I didn't want to put it down. I don't think this is a book that an American could ever have written; we lack the history and the romance that Ferguson managed to bring into the tale - references to Mary, Queen of Scots, and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Indeed, there is the sweetest scene of three young ladies gathered together who have just made their curtsey to the Queen, but pause briefly to view and sigh over a picture of the romantically-exiled prince. [ American teens sighing over Orlando Bloom just aren't quite in the same league. ]
Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary is, I suppose, best described as a character portrait but the author's rendering is light and deft.
There are lovely illustrations in the Persephone edition and an introduction by Candia McWilliam who writes, "It's a little book about dreams and the hard world of money and position and their relation to one another. It's also a love story and a love letter.."
I heartily recommend this one, from the bottom of my heart. Do get your hands on a copy and read it.