A few years ago I went to a book sale here in Colchester and came across a little pile of books by E H Young. They were all in the wonderful Virago green cover editions and were being totally ignored in the mad rush to grab the Dan Browns, Danielle Steeles and John Grishams piled up on the trestle tables. This suited me down to the ground as I had spotted these from the far end of the hall as I entered and had made a beeline for them pretty sure nobody else would want them. But you can never tell so I pushed and shoved until I had them safely in my bag. I knew nothing of the author but the fact that they were published by Virago was good enough for me and home they came, and went on my shelves and there they languished. Until last week when, surrounded by review and proof copies and unable to choose which one to choose, I decided to read Miss Mole. This happens to me quite often, sometimes a book will just call to me that it is time to be read and when the siren call comes, I don't fight it.
And when I had finished it I was annoyed that I had left it so long and denied myself this pleasure. What a simply wonderful book. Miss Hannah Mole, a farmer's daughter, has for twenty years earned her living as
a nursery governess or companion to a succession of difficult old women. She is now forty and has returned to the city of Radstowe where she lived as a child. She faces an uncertain future and has nothing to look forward to but a lonely and poverty stricken old age and at the start of the book is well on the way to losing her latest post. Miss Mole has a sense of the ridiculous and a quick wit which she has to keep well under wraps as employers don't care for this but it breaks out and has lost her countless jobs.
"Who would suspect her for a sense of fun and irony, of passionate love for beauty and the power to drag it from its hidden places? Who could imagine that Miss Mole had pictured herself, at different times, as an explorer in strange lands, as a lady wrapped in luxury and delicate garments...?"
Hannah has a rich cousin living in Radstowe who prefers not to acknowledge her as she mistrusts this mischievous streak and is wary of getting involved in case she has to pull her out of a scrape or, worse still, financially support her. On her recommendation Miss Mole becomes housekeeper to a non conformist minister, Reverend Corder, a widower full of pomposity and self satisfaction, whose motherless daughters are sorely in need of care and good food.
Also living with the family is the Reverend's nephew, Wilfred, who has no truck with his uncle and goes his own sweet way. He unerringly spots that Miss Mole is concealing her real character and it is with him that sometimes she relaxes and lets her true nature peep through much to his delight. On the odd occasion when she forgets and strikes a note of levity with Reverend Corder she runs perilously close to being asked to leave but manages to keep herself under control, though he views her with a vague mistrust and a feeling that all is not as it should be.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this book. It reminded me very much of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, published by Persephone. Miss Pettigrew is in the same situation as Miss Mole, at the beck and call of anybody who will employ her and she, too, faces a dreary and lonely future. But as with Miss Mole, Miss Pettigrew has an inner strength which comes to her aid and allows her character to blossom.
However, unlike Miss Pettigrew, Miss Mole has had a lover in her past and a secret that she conceals knowing that she will be ruined if the truth is revealed and this becomes very likely when another person from her past turns up in Radstowe.
I am not sure if this title still in print, but if you can I do urge you to obtain a copy. I was entranced by Hannah, her wit and humour and above all, her bravery. So pleased I have another four by this author awaiting my attention. Finding these books was serendipity of the highest order.