Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

Here's what I love about historical fiction:  each novel is a mini-history lesson that leads me on a search to find out more about the subject.  Sometimes I read historical fiction already familiar with the historical background of the novel, other times it's a brand new bit of history I've never heard of before.  Such is the case of A Memory of Violets.  It is the story of the London flower girls during the late Victorian and Edwardian Eras.  The exact opposite life of Downton Abbey.  

This novel is told in two parts; one by diary, the other by Tilly Harper, who travels from her home in the Lake District to London in 1912 to become a housemother at one of Mr. Shaw's Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls.  It's quite a mouthful!  Mr. Shaw, a social activist of his time, rescues crippled and blind flower girls off the streets of London.  He has a row of homes in which the girls live, and a factory where they create silk flowers to sell.  Their skills are remarkable, and the flower girls have a reputation for quality and beauty in their work.  All of these young ladies have come from desperate situations, living in the most horrific and dangerous conditions.  This is their chance to have a happy, productive life. 

Tilly Harper has left her home and come to London because of a terrible accident that injured her younger sister and left Tilly full of blame and completely shunned by her mother.  She leaves hoping for a new life and some happiness.  Once at Violet House, she discovers a diary hidden in her room and soon becomes engrossed in the lives of Flora and Rose, two young flower girls from 1876.  Written by Flora, it reveals the heart wrenching details of Flora's search to find Rose, her younger sister.  Rose, only four at the time--and blind, was wrenched out of Flora's hands one day while they were out selling flowers.  Flora, crippled and unable to walk without a crutch, can't find Rose.  She never finds Rose.  Flora is rescued by Mr. Shaw, and becomes a housemother at Violet House.  She dies without ever knowing what happened to Rose. Can Tilly finish the search for Flora, and find out what happened to Rose? 

At the heart of this novel is the love of sisters and family, whether it's a family you're born into, or a family you create.  It is about being brave enough to look for answers in places that may cause pain, but ultimately are cathartic and healing.  It is about good people doing what they can to help others less fortunate, with no wish but to bring comfort, happiness, and hope.  

If you're interested in more information about the flowers seller of London, click on this link:http://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/10/11/the-flowergirls-of-1851/ .  It's a short bit of history on the flower girls.  

I enjoyed this novel.  I'd recommend it to fans of English history, flowers and gardening, and historical fiction. Hazel Gaynor is also the author of The Girl Who Came Home.  

Rating:  7/10 for a unique subject, a storyline that flows quickly, and characters that tug at your heart. 

Available in paperback and e-book.  


  1. I love reading any book that makes me want to know more about the subject/era. This historical sounds great. The cover is wonderful too. :-)

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