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Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

More Complex and Layered Than Expected

The Black Velvet Gown - Catherine Cookson

From the book cover:


There would be times when Riah Millican came to regret that her husband had learned to read and write, and then shared his knowledge with her and their children.  For this was Durham in the 1830's, when employers tended to regard the spread of education with suspicion.  But now Seth Millican was dead and she was a widow with the need to find a home and a living for herself and her children.

The chance of becoming a housekeeper didn't work out, but it led to Moor House and a scholarly recluse obsessed with that very book learning that could open so many doors and yet create so many problems; especially with her daughter, Biddy, who was not only bright, but witful...

THE BLACK VELVET GOWN is the story of a mother and daughter, often at odds with each other, facing the need to challenge and fight the prejudice of an age--a narrative of great power and diversity that is one of Catherine Cookson's major achievements.

The book description doesn't do is justice.  The scholarly recluse is more than obsessed with book learning; he's also obsessed with Riah son, and not in a healthy way.  The black gown of the title becomes a multi-layered symbol -- of betterment, of erotic possibility, of thwarted dreams, of power... 


I think in North America we have been prejudiced against Ms. Clarkson, thinking of her as some sort of light romantic writer.  This is a mistake.  Although this is the first of her books I've read, it won't be the last.  The multiple plot threads are well handled and she tackles difficult questions while staying firmly rooted in the north country of England that was her life-long home.  She writes sub-text extremely well and the characters are wonderfully engaging.  A wonderful late-summer read.