Magazine article The Spectator

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary

Magazine article The Spectator

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary

Article excerpt

LADY ROSE AND MRS MEMMARY by Ruby Ferguson Persephone, £12, pp. 222, ISBN 1903155436

After the fall

There is nothing new about the 'had-it-all, lost-it-all' plot. It provides common ground for the story of Adam and Eve and the labyrinthine ramifications of any high-gloss American soap opera. It is also the stuff of Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, a fairytale for adult readers with a sting in its tail, a bite in the telling.

Ruby Ferguson's novel was first published in 1937. It is the story of Lady Victoria Elspeth Rose Grahame-Rooth-Targenet, 'the happiest little girl in Scotland' and also its most materially blessed, heir to the 'dream mansion' of Keepsfield on the shores of Fife and its park stretching 'as far as the eye could see, as they always say in books'. Lady Rose grows up to make a suitable marriage and provide an heir and a spare for her suitable husband, then throws it all away in a single, impulsive, unconsidered romantic gesture. Pivotal to the 'had-it-all, lost-it-air plot are the folly of human nature and the transience of earthly joys. So Lady Rose pays a savage price for her transgression, but significantly, in this bittersweet novel that is only part girlish soufflé, never entirely forfeits her happiness.

The novel is a curiosity. Its 80-year timespan is orchestrated through a series of flashbacks, beginning at the end, in 1933, with Keepsfield abandoned, shuttered and to let. Lawyer's wife Helen Dacre looks over the house in the company of its caretaker Mrs Memmary, who tells her, and the reader, the story of her mistress Lady Rose's life. …

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