There is a smell of history, old days about this book - not about my actual copy but about the story. It is not the fusty, musty smell of something old and shoved-away-into-a-corner-of-the-attic, it is more like the smell of distant memories. A smell of a silk dress hanging in a wardrobe, a smell of good quality tea leaves and autumn leaves falling from teas. It is a good thing, a good smell.
"Palladian" is a governess novel, much in the tradition of Jane Eyre. The poor, orphaned Cassandra Dashwood (a nod to Jane Austen whose sister was called Cassandra and who wrote about the Dashwood sisters?) is not all alone in the world. Her former head mistress and now friend Mrs. Turner has found her a position as a governess with a good, wealthy family and now she has to leave her childhood behind and take charge of someone elses.
Being a young, bookish, shy and timid girl, Cassandra is not the best suited person to fit into a family where everyone have their cross to bear and their secrets to hide.
Marion Vanbrugh is a widower whose love of books and Greek has left him with little interest in the real world whereas his brother Tom is so bruised by reality that he sedates himself with drink and sex. Aunt Tinty suffers from anxiety to a degree where it is almost disabling her but which nobody acknowledges. Pregnant Margaret has much to be happy about, her pregnancy, her career as a doctor, but she is depressed and unhappy and snaps at people at every turn. Nanny has seen better days, nothing is as good now as it once was, it is all going to the dogs...
Sophy Vanbrugh, Cassandra's young charge, is a ray of sunlight even though she has a morbid fascination with graveyards and funerals and fears that she will never be as beautiful as her late mother.
It is a novel that is hard to pin down. Some pages are so sad that I wanted to stop reading, while others are full of hope and Cassandra's youthful optimism. It is beautiful, the words building a little world so full of characters and all of them come to life, none are left one-dimensional.
In "Palladian", Elizabeth Taylor draws on great authors such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier, yet the novel is fully her own. It is a bittersweet story full of sadness yet with little sparkles of humour and love. It is a joy to read and while reading the second half, I was unable to put it down, so enchanted was I with the story.
Read it if: Your favourite Jane Austen heroine is Anne Elliott. If you enjoy Virago classics and a good cup of tea.
For other bloggers' review of "Palladian", try:
Fleur Fish in her World