The Family from Devonshire

Jane has a history and a very successful history at that, of introducing me to authors, I would never know off or read about, had she not encouraged or posted about their works. She alone has the credit and therewith my gratitude for introducing me to the wonderful works of Margaret Kennedy, Martine Bailey and  Hélène Gestern among many others!Going by this kind of track record, it made good sense that I follow her directions, when she decided to host the Margery Sharp Reading Event to celebrate the authors 110th birthday; and got down to reading Ms. Sharp’s  works.

The only challenge and I bemoaned to Jane enough about this was getting hold of one of her works. There are no printed books available and nothing on Kindle or Gutenberg. The Open Library has some of her works, but they refuse to download as epub, therefore I could only read it online and could loan the book online for only a certain number of days. All in all, there was limited choice and limited time to read and the whole exercise was exhausting.

But as the wise men of the past have told us, that the fruits of hard labor are very sweet. Those wise guys really knew their stuff and suspending all the suspense, let me state up front that The Gipsy In The Parlor was totally worth the hard work. Returning the book by the stated date was no problem, because I read it through 2 days; whenever I got time to get on the internet for recreation purpose as in no work! (Funny, in my parallel life of imagination, reading is the primary purpose of my life and can hardly be termed as recreation, but as usual I digress.)

Back to The Gipsy in the Parlor….

It is 1870 Victorian England and the Sylvesters, large in stature and less in words, run a rich farm in Devonshire. Originally, the clan consisted of a father and his 4 sons who led a wild and barbaric life until the eldest son Tobias married Charlotte. Charlotte , a big blonde woman, took the men under her wing, civilized them, cleaned up the house and generally made life as good and comfortable as possible for the clan. She even found wives for the second and the third brother, Grace and Rachel. The three women got along brilliantly, working together, laughing together and managing the concerns and joys of the Sylvester as one. They all in time gave birth to boys, seven in all and they were all sent to Australia and Canada to better the fortunes, while Tobais and his brothers ran the farm. Things went on splendidly and finally in 1870, the youngest brother Stephen, brought home a girl whom he intended to take as a bride, whom he had Plymouth. Fanny Davis was nothing like the Sylvester woman, she was not built like them, small to their large and dark to their blonde. Nor could she seem to do the kind of back breaking work that the Sylvester women seem to do; however the Sylvester women, kind and gracious, let her alone and managed their lives as before. The date of wedding was fixed after two days of the Assembly, which was a great social event of Frampton, the town around which the farm was located. To add to the atmosphere of gaiety, Charles, the eldest son of Tobais returned form Australia. There was a new peacock colored brocade cloth bought so that Fanny Davis could look splendid on the night of the ball and the Sylvesters could take pride from the same. The much awaited ball finally happened and was as much of a success as was expected. However, things began to go downhill from the very next day and the Sylvesters, especially the women were put to test like never before, threatening the home and the joy they had worked all their lives to build.

This is a lovely novel with wonderful characters and fast paced plot, that keeps you turning to the next page. The novel again goes to show that while stories about human relations are old as hill, the ability and the craft of the author can make the book not only readable, but lovable! The characters took my breathe away – you cannot help but cheer on the great Sylvester woman, especially Charlotte and wish you had an aunt like her …kind, generous, patient and decisive. Fanny Davis and Clara Blow are two characters that wonderfully and in a very unique manner showcase two spectrum of human nature. The only character I could not abide by was Charles, but as the narrator said “Charlie was incorrigible”. Speaking of the narrator, Ms. Sharp makes a very innovative choice of telling the story through the voice of now much older, but then an 11 year old niece of Charlotte who visits the farm every summer for her health. There is constant balance of the 11 year old acting and the older adult version telling us of that action and what led to that particular. The reader gets a constant sense of how the child perceives  something and how the same child would interpret the same event/action as an adult! The language is simple and beautiful, and the portrayals so vivid ….I could see the farm, I could see the much prided parlor, I could see Jackson’s Economical Saloon and I could see Charlotte riding the omnibus in London!

Sharp, funny, witty and heartwarming… cheer the Sylester women on, from the beginning till the end and you close the book with warm, fuzzy feeling of goodwill all around!



10 thoughts on “The Family from Devonshire

  1. I love when an author can make the characters come alive. I was thinking of Dodie Smith and her I Capture The Castle today and thinking the same thing of her.

    But I’m not sure I should have read this review, however, because ……… last year I found out too late about the Margery Sharp event and I bought one of her books to be prepared for this year and ….. I forgot all about it! I have so much on my plate that I don’t think I could fit it in, or perhaps only fit it in as a “maybe”? I have “The Jewel in the Crown” sitting as a “maybe” but perhaps that should go in deference to Sharp. Aaargh! I’ll have to think about it ……

    1. I love Dodie Smith, but Sharp while very witty, is more I guess gentler! More ladylike I would say! But try and read her work Cleo…she is an easy read and one those books you sit down and just have to finish!

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